Monthly Archives: June 2012

Melvil Dewey…do I really need you?

So I took a new job this past year where I am running two middle school libraries.  I love it.  I enjoy the kids, the faculty, administration and conducting lessons with the fifth grade students. However, the libraries I inheritated where a bitt out of date (one particularly more than the other).  My adminsitration at said school has been wonderful.  Allowing me to rearrange the layout, auction off books and furniture to other classroom teachers, and opening up the library for an more on-line presence.  How ever I am not sure if they will work with me on my next big venture.  You see I teach fifth grade students library skills.  This involves how to conduct research, how to use the Internet properly, and how to find books using the Dewey Decimal System. 

Now this last one is poses the biggest challenge.  You see, this is a tough concept for some students to grasp.  And a majority of them just can not understand the nature of it, or why we use.  They have a hard time understanding that each number represents a category or sub-category. This is a concept that is foreign to them, and the idea is just, in some cases, to hard to comprehend.  Often when the students are looking for materials they are asking me questions like “where are your books about world war ii?” “where are your books about the environment?” “where are you books about vampires?” I use these topics as examples because they can be found in a variety of places throughout the library. 

World War II can be found in the following areas: 900’s (history) the 300’s (social sciences with books about army, navy and marines), 600’s (technology/applied sciences with books about airplanes, ships, etc), BIOGRAPHY or 920 (where there are books likeThe Diary of Anne Frankor books about Holocaust survivors)

Environment can be found in the 500’s (science), and the 300’s (social sciences. with books like An Inconvenient Truth or how the environment is effecting all of us)

And vampires well those are found in the 000’s (general, where you will find books concerning supernatural creatures) and the 700’s (arts & recreation, with books that talk about famous vampires in film history)

So you see a student can travel all over the library trying to find exactly what they are looking for. But now think about how a bookstore is set up.  They are broken up by subject, where several books about the same topic would be in the same row, where if they were in the library they would be in several different categories or Dewey number groups. So then why do libraries continue to use the Dewey system when a subject based system would seem to make more sense? 

I know I took the long way around to get to the major point but I am trying to see if doing away with the Dewey Decimal System would help or hurt the students?  I have read articles supporting both sides. And I have explored catalogs for libraries that have adopted a “Dewey Free” system, and both work extremely well.  I just wonder if it wouldn’t make the library a more inviting and easy-to-use facility. The Dewey Decimal System truly did help the way the books are categorized and how they are sorted, however is it worth using in today’s society?  Does it help to do away with a system that has worked for decades, though hard to understand? Is it worth changing to a subject based system that by grouping like topic books together might not give you the narrow focus you would be looking for?  I wonder if creating a combination of Dewey based and subject based collection is possible. Or if you have one, you can’t have the other.  This is currently the situation I am debating. 

By getting a feel from the the teachers, administrators, and students I should hopefully have a clearer understanding of how the library is or is not used, and if a subject based system would be a better fit.

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