Thursday, 22 March 2012

025.431 DEW

Classification is like Marmite: you either hate it or love it. I am in the latter camp. I feel as though I’m working my way through a mystery by trying to deduce the classmark hidden in Dewey’s four weighty tomes.

This week I upgraded the library’s classification system from DDC22 to DDC23. Moving to DDC23 was something I’d both looked forward to and dreaded, but in the end it was painless. In our manuals there are hand-written annotations relating to various subjects and it took an entire day to transfer these over to the new manuals, checking that each note was still relevant on the catalogue. Doing this brought back memories of when I assisted with an upgrade from Dewey 17 to DDC 20. There were various problematic differences between these editions, but by upgrading to the next published edition we should avoid any such mishaps this time. I’ve worked in three different libraries and my journey down Memory Lane led me to think of the various editions I’ve used so far:

When I worked in a secondary school we used Abridged 12. I hadn't heard of the Abridged editions before but they are aimed specifically at libraries with less than 20,000 texts. Using this meant that classification was a far simplier process but I was worried I would forget how to use Dewey in any great depth. When I started my current role last year, masses and masses of classification awaited me (I think they'd been stock-piling it for my arrival!) but I needn't have worried and was soon in the swing of it. (I really ought to have more belief in my own abilities sometimes.)

Dewey is sometimes like wading through mud, so in order to improve the usability of the system I follow it only as much as it meets my needs. There is no Dewey Police Force to throw me in prison if I use an incorrect number so - as a classifier - I am free to adjust classmarks to suit our library. I allocate classmarks where the books are most likely to be found by the learners who need them, irrespective of the book’s ‘true’ classmark. I’ve often created my own classmarks too, if there hasn’t been one I’ve felt suited my needs, and I avoid creating overly long classmarks. What good would this do? Yes, it would demonstrate my superhuman ability to implement hardcore classification, but it would also confuse and complicate matters for the learners.

Am I alone in my thinking here? Does anybody rigorously keep to the manuals in order to implement a pure DDC system? Or does anyone do as I do and assign classmarks you feel suit your particular book stock? The key to a successful classification system is ease of use for learners, and that is the mantra I stick to, regardless of what Dewey tells me.

*Added this column to the table because I like to visualise the different manuals when writing about them.


  1. Hi Cara,

    I'm all for adapting Dewey to suit your own library. However, I must admit to one moment - in our current Dewey (we're a bit behind and haven't updated mainly due to cost) fashion illustration books weren't classified in fashion but in design. I created my own Dewey number by taking the bit I wanted from fashion and sticking the bit for design on the end - it ended up a bit long but for some reason I couldn't deny Dewey the numbers it wanted!!

  2. Hi Cara, Really interesting post!
    We're currently moving our stock to DDC23 from an internally developed system and there has been a few times where its been 'Dewey Pragmatism' vs. 'Dewey Perfection'! Being such a specialised collection (a small primary health care) DDC23 was a little vague so we have moulded it to meet ours - and most importantly - our users needs! There is no point having the stock is perfectly classified if no-one can find anything.

  3. Hi Cara. I too am in the middle of changing from DDC22 to 23. Not too many changes for us but I'm only half-way through, so there could be some big areas to come yet! I'd be surprised if anyone in FE sticks rigidly to Dewey. I think the numbers just become meaningless to students if they're too long, and it doesn't help them find anything. And yes, we too have our own invented class numbers and add-ons to make it all a bit easier. I enjoyed your description of classification as being like a mystery. I quite like trying to work out the correct place to put something. Cataloguing though, now that's a different matter altogether. Not my most favourite job!