Discussion on the Word Think Library Book Classification System
Posted by repplinger
It has been interesting to see the higher number of views on my previous post of the Word Think Book Classification System, so I thought I would investigate some more.
The Denver Post published an article about how the Adam County library system will move all of its branches to the Word Think system at the end of 2009. There was discussion from concerned citizens in the Denver Post Neighbor Community Forum hosted a great discussion about the Word Think system.
Many of the arguments involve locating specific titles within a collection, and its usefulness within large collections (physically housed with a building and call numbers within large online catalogs). These are clear down falls of this classification system since it has fewer unique identifying letters of number to locate specific items, and it may take longer to locate specific titles.
Within a given collection area, such as cookbooks, the items will be arranged into subcategories like french cooking. One of the libraries that currently use Word Think now uses 45 alphabetical categories that have a wide range from antique, humor, poetry, self-help, sports, travel, and more. Dewey only uses 10 major categories, which is limiting (for better or worse).
Word Think was developed by the Rangeview Library District (according to Wikipedia). It is based off of the Book Industry Standards and Communications and the word-based system (topic areas versus Dewey) used by Maricopa County Library District.
However, the real benefit is that sections are fairly intuitive to find and browse; you don’t need to know a specific number range to browse the collection, especially if you are new to the library or don’t visit frequently. Consider walking into a home improvement store. One can look down the aisles and find a general area of where the stuff might be located (e.g. lawn stuff, electrical, tools). I can browse around until I find the area I want (hammers) and view the selection (framing hammers, finishing hammers, etc). If I don’t see what I really want (a finishing hammer with a curved claw), I can locate the closest help associate and ask if they might have something similar in a different location.
Here is another benefit that might have escaped notice: Since I was able to quickly & easily find the hammer collection, and discover that my hammer was not there, I more quickly realized that I needed help.
Now imagine if a store organized their items by SKU number, assuming all vendors used the same SKU system? You would first have to find the SKU number on a computer for a specific item (e.g. V4C539D1R0098), then figure out how the numbers are arranged within the building, and then locate the item. It could almost be as bad as locating a government document!
Speaking from my own experience, the reality is that many people like to browse through a collection to see what books are available on a topic. This system is geared towards the casual browser, which I think most public library patrons would fit into this category. If they don’t find exactly what they want, they may find something similar that sparks their interest or consult a librarian to locate a title.
This system will probably be more appealing and applicable for public libraries, especially with smaller collections, since their patrons are not necessarily research oriented (meaning they are not performing research on specific topics or asking for specific titles regularly). Public library patrons are frequently looking for something that interests them such as hobbies or general genres, and are more likely to pick up another book in a different genre opposed to the researcher who needs something specific.
The Word Think System would be much challenging for libraries with large collections, but still very doable. Perhaps additional sub-subcategories would be needed. Academic libraries, however, might take note of the popularity of this system and intuitive nature of this system. One thing academic libraries can learn for this is better labeling within the library building. Instead of signs that read “Call Number BF,” the signs could read “Psychology” for “Psychology, Call# BF.”
In terms of reading call numbers, it is not necessarily easy to locate documents. I remember shelving books in grad school and trying to figure out if GE 100 went before or after GE 15. Are locating books via call number intuitive? Think about it from the infrequent library user’s perspective; if you are not familiar with the layout of the library or call number, chances are they will encounter difficulty.
As for the argument of Word Think not working with traditional interlibrary loan services, I don’t follow the logic. The technology that runs the ILL system, such as Innovative or SirsiDynix, don’t care what call number the local library uses. They just plug in the info automatically. One may not be able to browse by the call number if that option is available, but it does not matter what call number is used (library already have various call numbers for books, but ILL still works to retrieve these books & send to the requesting library).
The Denver post provides an example of how a book would appear on the actual shelve using the three main library cataloging systems:
THE BOOK EXAMPLE
Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl,” as it might appear under three cataloging systems. Compiled by Barry Osborne; photo by Reza A. Marvashti, The Denver Post
Collection: Adult Nonfiction
Call No.: HISTORY US20TH
Under WordThink, the call number appears in a plain, perhaps more intuitive language that might appeal to library users. Here it shows the book shelved under history, in the subcategory of U.S. 20th-century history.
Collection: Adult Nonfiction
Call No.: 978.032 EGA
Dewey uses a mix of numbers to classify items. Though confusing to some, Dewey offers flexibility for growing and larger systems and is common in many public libraries. The number 978 stands for Western U.S. history, with the numbers that follow placing it into more specific context. In this case, 032 may stand for an era or an event, such as the Dust Bowl. EGA stands for the author’s last name, Egan.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Collection: University of Colorado at Boulder’s Norlin Library, home of the humanities and social-sciences collections
Call No.: F595.E38 2006
The system of choice for many research-university libraries, Library of Congress uses a letter-and-number scheme to classify items and is perhaps the most complex of the three. In this catalog, F stands for History of the Americas; 595 stands for the Western United States; E stands for the author’s name, Egan; and the following numbers help place it among similar titles.
Sources: CU-Boulder, Dewey Decimal Classification, Library of Congress, Rangeview Library District