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)
Or, if you don’t know what I’m taking about, go read this story: Discord Over Dewey. It’s loosely about the Arizona library that decided to get rid of Dewey and make the shelves more bookstore-like, you know the one, but it gets bigger. To quote the article
[T]he debate, say many librarians, is about more than one branch’s organizational system. It feeds into a broader, increasingly urgent discussion about libraries, where a growing number of patrons, used to Google and Yahoo, simply don’t look for books and information the way they used to. Some are drawing on cues from the Internet in proposals for overhauls of cataloging systems, but others are more hesitant, saying that the Web’s tendency to provide thousands of somewhat-relevant results flies in the face of the carefully tailored research libraries pride themselves on.
And if the Wall Street Journal can end a sentence with a preposition, we know the times are changing, right? I’m quoted a little in the article. I had a nice long chat with the writer — as with the NYT piece — and just a tiny bit of it got quoted which I think confuses a few issues, but hey it links here so I can spell them out now in more detail.
- The difference between research and looking for information for other purposes. There are much stricter requirements for research — what’s citeable, what’s a good source, what’s authoritative — and a lot of the agitation has been about less-authoritative sites being used more and more not just for people looking up things that interest them, but also for research or attempted research. Is it okay to cite Wikipedia as long as you can prove that you understand that it’s not authoritative? Isn’t there research value to saying that some fact is in Wikipedia, even if it’s not necessarily the same value as that thing being true?
- The age gap. People not raised with Google are often more okay with their searches being iterative processes that take longer. Some aren’t. Similarly, younger users are often impatient with iterative searching or the very familiar “try these sources and let me know if they’re okay and if not we can find some others” approach.
- Google slicing. I was making a point that because Google is so popular, people forget that information can be indexed by different things than Google decides to index it under. So, searching for content by filesize, by “most recently added to the catalog”, by date added, these are all things Google could do but doesn’t. The problem is that we are forgetting that there are other ways to determine relevance, or relevance to US.
In any case, I liked the article and it had good quotes from a lot of people, some you will recognize and a few you may not. They end the bit with a good line from Michael Casey “Librarians like to think that we’re indispensable,” he said. “While I think that is true to a point, I don’t think we should continue to propagate the idea that we’re indispensable by keeping a complicated cataloging system.”
David Weinberger has taken the time to transcribe the tape that William Denton posted where Ranganathan discusses Melvil Dewey, from 1964. Thank you, David.
when Dewey came to the Columbia University, he was insisting that he should have lady assistants. But the Columbia university in those days did not allow ladies into the university building. So the authorities would not allow it. But he would not have any other assistants. Then they found a compromise. The lady said that they agreed that the lady assistants of Melvil Dewey would be allowed to come into the building not through the main door but by the spiral service staircase in the back of the building. Well, that compromise was accepted. After some time, Melvil Dewey reported to the authorities that that spiral staircase was missing and that his students were unable to come into the building. Then they were in a great fix. Are they to put up another spiral and wait for a week or ten days without work in the library or what were they to do? Melvil Dewey I suppose did not even smile on that occasion for he was very very serious looking, and they said “Alright, I shall allow your lady assistants to come through the main door.” That’s a very remarkable experience I heard from that old student of Melvil Dewey.
I count audio books on my reading list, same as all other books, as long as they’re unabridged. Two links about audiobooks, the New York Times writes in defense of audiobooks in Loud, Proud, Unabridged: It Is Too Reading! while audible.com has been strutting around with this “edgy” ad campaign at dontread.org, while I applaud their chutzpah (and their printable DON’T READ posters) I’m always a little squicked out when a for-profit entity sells me stuff through a .org domain.
Speaking of audiocontent, take a listen to this recording of Ranganathan talking about Dewey from a 1964 recording (it’s noisy at the beginning, stick with it)