My summer internship project is re-classifying books in a public library. At the library in question, the books come already catalogued and ready for the shelves. This particular publisher’s default category for non-fiction books seems to biography, so, as I’ve discovered, are plenty of books that shouldn’t be there. My job is to give them new call numbers that better reflect their topic and where they will hopefully be found by patrons. Trying to assign new Dewey numbers got me to thinking about patrons and their relationship to library systems, and I’d like to share my thoughts and hopefully receive some of yours in return.
One of my main worries is whether I’m putting the books in the correct Dewey classification. More specifically, I am concerned about how my decisions affect users. The Dewey Decimal System sorts books based on the subject of the book, and it can get pretty darn specific. The cool thing about these kinds of systems is that it puts related books in the same area and can connect materials in ways that a search engine such as Google is unable to. However, with technological developments, the library’s role is being challenged, which, to me, means a reexamination of our services and structure. I have heard complaints that systems like Dewey are not particularly sensitive to users and their way of thinking. The problem lies in the type of vocabulary used, and the fact that people focus on different things than what is used to assign call numbers. Although I think this issue is pretty nuanced, I think these concerns need to be examined and addressed.
I am of the opinion that a library needs a foundation for their information architecture, such as Dewey, but that users should be able to contribute their own connections to the materials. Folksonomy–or tagging–is being explored as an option, with the idea being that users can help provide connections in ways that the classification systems may not allow for. Tagging currently has achieved mixed success in libraries, mainly due to the level of interest and types of tags used.
So, my question to you all is: What do you think? Do Dewey and other formal systems put you off? What would you change if you could? You don’t have to have an MLIS to respond. It’s actually more important that people without the degree speak up. So, please do so.