Hybrids of Dewey
Posted by repplinger
Barbara Fister wrote a great article a few months ago on “The Dewey Dilemma.” It discusses how libraries are rethinking their customer service approach to browsing book collections and finding specific titles. According to the article, of the 200,000 libraries that use the Dewey system of classification in 138 countries around the world, most are sticking with the Dewey system. However more and more libraries are considering the benefits of using alternatives to Dewey, such as the Word Think system (see previous two posts: one and two) which uses broad categories & subcategories and then shelves books by title or hybrid systems where broad category labels are added above the call number on the book’s spine and reorganized within the library by broad categories.
The article also took into account a survey performed by the author on what librarians think of Dewey, and why patrons have trouble finding (non-fiction) materials with Dewey. It is always interesting to compare perspectives of patrons to librarians and see what each group perceives as the problem. I always have to wonder how the surveys are constructed–whether the survey is assuming that there is a problem (the problem I find most daunting is…) opposed to having a graduated response (on a scale of 1-10, how do you feel about this problem), granted it appears that there was at least an option for there is no perceived problems & things should stay the way the are.
From the results, nearly half of librarians (48.4%) surveyed said that the current system of Dewey could be improved with combining it with a more general subject scheme, followed by the sentiment that if we improve signage, patrons would be able to find what they want more easily (26.9%). Patrons on the other hand described why they have trouble finding nonfiction materials, the top four reasons are cited as:
– Trouble understanding the online catalog (68.4%)
– They feel intimidated by a classification system they don’t understand very well (66.3%)
– Want to go straight to the right shelf without having to look something up (63.2%)
– Call numbers are too complicated to use (50.5%)
What do I think? I think that we should listen to our patrons. If they think browsing materials is too difficult, something needs to be done with either better signage and/or regrouping collections to reflect a more intuitive way to browse for books. The system however must have an efficient way to track down specific titles and group similar items together, or the system misses it core purpose of organizing collections.
The hybrid systems mentioned in this article seem very promising. I was particularly impressed with the children’s division which took the opportunity to address the most common question they encounter (reading by age group). This arrangement makes enormous sense, and I wonder how this system will work in the long run. From the stats that were mentioned, it sounds like it is very intuitive to use and even little children know exactly where to go. Now I only wish my own public library would arrange its children’s books this way!