Rangeview (CO) library system 1st system to abandon Dewey

I sort of knew about this for a while but the Rangeview Library District is ditching Dewey in favor of a self-created WordThink system which more closely mimics bookstore categories. No word on whether they’ll ditch that horrible catalog though. They’ve only implemented the switch at one branch so far which means the systemwide catalog returns results with both WordThink and Dewey codes. Press coverage is the predictable “uptight librarians forced into uncomfortable situations by open minded knowledge workers!” and I have the same old twitch when I see libraries referring to patrons as customers.

That said, it will be interesting to see now just how this works in the new library but how it makes that library play with other libraries who use other systems Is ILL affected? How do you locate a book on the shelves (by author?) What are vendors saying about this and what are the ramifications for all the copy-cataloging that happens? I’m definitely just barely able to understand the longer range implications, but pretty much happy to see people trying things. More discussion on MetaFilter where someone included this terrific poem.

Dewey took Manila
and soon after invented the decimal system
that keeps libraries from collapsing even unto this day.
A lot of mothers immediately started naming their male offspring ‘Dewey’
which made him queasy. He was already having second thoughts about imperialism.
In his dreams he saw library books with milky numbers
on their spines floating in Manila Bay.
Soon even words like ‘vanilla’ or ‘mantilla’ would cause him to vomit.
The sight of a manila envelope precipitated him
into his study, where all day, with the blinds drawn,
he would press fingers against temples, muttering ‘What have I done?’
all the while. Then, gradually, he began feeling a bit better.
The world hadn’t ended. He’d go for walks in his old neighborhood,
marveling at the changes there, or at the lack of them. ‘If one is
to go down in history, it is better to do so for two things
rather than one,’ he would stammer, none too meaningfully.

One day his wife took him aside
in her boudoir, pulling the black lace mantilla from her head
and across her bare breasts until his head was entangled in it.
‘Honey, what am I supposed to say?’ ‘Say nothing, you big boob.
Just be glad you got away with it and are famous.’ ‘Speaking of
boobs ..’ ‘Now you’re getting the idea. Go file those books
on those shelves over there. Come back only when you’re finished.’
(John Ashbery, ‘Memories of Imperialism’, listen to it here)

11 thoughts on “Rangeview (CO) library system 1st system to abandon Dewey

  1. Since my library started Questionpoint IM reference and I now have to navigate many other libraries’ catalogues, I think that improving catalogs and web pages is a higher priority (good signage is good too). My pet peeve is when the library web site is subordinated to whatever government entity it is part of and every page has links to government agency’s departments at the top so you can’t tell you are on the library’s site at all. I know it’s probably not the library;s fault and it’s mandated by the government entity, but still. . .

  2. Funny poem. I’m sure Ashbery knew the difference between George and Melvil Dewey, but I wonder if his readers did? If poetry were more widely read, we’d have another library myth.

  3. I absolutley hate thinking of library patrons as “customers” and have debated this point with workshop runners for years. I don’t think libraries should think of themselves as in competition with bookstores. We aren’t bookstores and trying to act like we are ignores the unique services we offer.grrr! /rant

    Anyway, very interesting moving away from Dewey… Part of me is intrigued, but a bigger part of me is thinking “if it ain’t broke…”. Sure Dewey isn’t perfect, but it works and is easy enough to understand the basics for public library patrons. Perhaps this opinion though just confirms the stereotype of the “uptight librarians forced into uncomfortable situations by open minded knowledge workers!”

    *adjusts my glasses on a chain, straightens my bun, smooths my mid-calf length skirt and walks away huffily in my sensible shoes* ;D

  4. Rick is right, when I started reading the poem, I thought, clearly the author has “Dewey confusion” although Melvil was a reputed “womanizer.” Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melvil_Dewey] says “his role in the ALA was curtailed by his overly familiar attention to women.”

    On the other hand, I also agree with Shannan, and have said so elsewhere.

    Thanks for the poem Jessamyn.

  5. “…I have the same old twitch when I see libraries referring to patrons as customers.”

    I almost wrote my MLIS thesis on this very topic – I cringe every time I hear a librarian say “customers.” Nice to hear someone else shares this.

  6. I loathe the use of the term ‘customers’ in relation to public libraries, it implies a commercial relationship which runs completely contrary to the ethos of public librarianship. Is the more neutral term ‘patron’ not preferable ? In the UK & Ireland you will also hear the terms ‘readers’ or ‘borrowers’ employed, which while slightly inaccurate (not all library users are there to read or borrow) have a certain charm to them.

  7. In one of the Barnes and Noble stores I sometimes go to, Biography and Autobiography are in one category, I think just called “Autobiography.”

  8. I am finding all this is classic dumbing down, supposedly we live (or at least till the GFC hit)in an information economy but why are we throwing out ways of finding information? I am no fan of Dewey as minority interests, such as archaeology, seem to get very odd Dewey numbers but having played around with various systems of classification (mainly tagging)so I can find a particular PDF or some of my research notes and I am convinced you need a systematic way of organising things otherwise information will be lost.

    Which has brought me back to librarians who have dealt with this problem and as others have said why “improve” something that isn’t really all that broken”

  9. As far as I can see non-fiction goes, e.g. Art then drawing then alphabeticallly by title. mm, bad example on their own website, since I’d have thought you’d want the author’s name fairly often and the title far less often in art books.

  10. I wish they would publish or give a link to their list of categories & subcategories… I’m not against it per se, but wonder about it’s expandability (a nice feature in Dewey) — don’t want to have to reclassify everything just because something changes in the world…

  11. The Southlake Public Library in Texas was also doing this. And I vaguely remember visiting library in the suburbs of Minneapolis about 10 years ago that still had dewey but also had categories, which i thought was interesting and confusing at the same time.

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