Abandoning Dewey

As a librarian, of course, I get all the Dewey jokes (“are they still teaching that?!”) and mock-horror stories (“God, I don’t know why that’s still around!”). It’s still claimed to be the most widely used filing system for libraries in the world (200,000+ libraries) and, as a “language” of libraries, I still think it’s highly worth learning. I’m impressed that large public libraries like the SFPL use it to classify their 550 million+ volumes–that’s a lot of items to give only 999 categories to!

The “bulletproofness” of the systems definitely is not its Judeo-Christian, Euro-centric bent. Only the last section of the 200’s, the 290’s, are given over to classifying the rest of the world’s religions. And don’t get me started with literature in non-Latin languages (890’s) or history in Mexico and other central American societies (972). These number sets are just too small. Instead, libraries continue to use it more as an Esperanto, where it serves the needs of so many libraries, it’s convenient and well-documented, and there are, at least, tens of thousands libraries cataloging with it. Not to mentioned that it is owned and maintained by a non-profit dedicated to its survival.

Some libraries try and step outside of this system, such as the famous Hennepin County Library (who restructured their subject headings with “real world” applicability) and, now, Gilbert, Arizona’s public library (dropped the Dewey system altogether). It takes guts (and money, and time) to dump a common system that’s out of date…