Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Almost everyday I get to learn something new (or, seems new to me if I’ve forgotten – effectively, the same) particularly when one of my children asks me a question.

Last night at the library, my daughter, apparently confounded by her inability to find a favorite Barbie fashion book in the non-fiction section, asked me “What do these mean?” She was referring to the posters at the end of each aisle which contained the list of numbers and subjects in accordance with the Dewey Decimal Classification system. With the ease of using the internet for research, and the lack of a physical card catalogue system to show her (a shocking discovery I made a few years back), I was more than happy to explain the DDC to her – in as much as I understood it. Much to my surprise, I didn’t even know this Dewey character’s first name was Melvil (as reported on the poster).

In looking a little further into the system, and Melvil Dewey’s background, I found some interesting information. The DDC rivals the Library of Congress Classification system, and is often thought to be better regarding ease of use and hierarchical abilities. By attempting to divide all knowledge into 10 main classes, each with 10 divisions, which in turn have 10 sections each, The Dewey Decimal system actually has an infinite ability to classify things by adding numbers after the decimal point. Fiction is included in the system (under literature, 810-900) it’s just usually put into a separate section of the library for convenience sake. Mr. Dewey parlayed an honorary job as an assistant librarian at Amherst College (where he attended school) into his life’s work. He developed his classification system there. He is also credited with the development of hanging vertical files. DDC is not generally used in academic libraries because of its top-down structure which is difficult to adopt new subject areas; however, it has been revised 22 times since its beginning and as a proprietary system, is now owned by Online Computer Library Center since 1988.

I find library sciences to be fascinating as they are basically how to collect, store, and integrate all the written information in the world. If you don't know something, you at least know where to look for the answer. That’s cool.


Kim said...

And I thank you for passing on those interesting tidbits of info. I had no idea about Dewey's base 10.

LB said...

Funny, given that it so sounds much like the "duodecimal system" (base 12).