Dewey is dying?

While I was away last week, there was a flurry of frantic and defensive posts on a teacher-librarian listserv in regards to an academic postulating the fading away of the Dewey Decimal Classification system. (As per the hyperlinked article.)

I understand that some Australian public libraries (City of Joondalup, WA, as one example) now organise their non fiction items in “genres” – presenting the collection more like a bookshop does – and that when they get new (pre-catalogued?) items in, they cover the Dewey spine label with a genre sticker and shelve the books in alphabetical order in genre areas.

Hmmm, I’m already having trouble conceiving of many “genres” for non fiction that don’t reconcile with Dewey. I mean, “Animal books” will still end up in the one place whether they have a Dewey number in the 500s or a coloured sticker on the spine that indicates “Animals”. (There have always been people who wished the “Domesticated Animal” books were nearer the other animal books, instead of near the “Agriculture and Farming” resources.) Whether the 500 section ends up in a far corner with a huge heading called “A for Animals”, or wedged between the 400s and the 600s on regular shelves, it’s not all that different to a school library creating a separate Fiction section (instead of all “Literature” over in the 800s), or a funky spinner stand for popular graphic novels. Accurate OPACs give users the location, and it hardly matters a damn, to most people, what the actual Dewey number is.

Covering the Dewey number with a sticker does sound a bit extreme, though, creating lots of work undoing the experiment if it fails. Why not show both, but shelve according to one?

Surely what the original proposer meant, when he predicted/promoted an end to Dewey was that libraries should always be open to incorporating new ways of responding to its users. Dewey may, one day, be surpassed by a different method of classifying human (and alien?) knowledge. If young people are thinking differently now, due to the multimedia ways in which they (and we) receive and create information every hour of the day (hello Facebook, MySpace, Yammer and Twitter!), then innovative strategies such as “covers out” shelving (like a modern book shop) instead of “spines out”, grouping books into genres instead of alphabetical or Dewey order, lounging areas and comfy beanbags for browsing, laptop terminals, intermixing fiction and non fiction (eg. putting novels about horses into the non fiction “Horses” section), automated self-borrowing systems, adding terminals for eBook downloads, specialty spinner racks, etc., are just some of the possibilities.

You’ll never force everyone into understanding or tolerating Dewey in libraries. Teachers make an interesting group to observe. Probably every teacher in NSW would have been exposed to Dewey in “library lessons” as a student (in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s), and yet I find that the only teachers who “understand” or appreciate the Dewey Decimal System are those who used to be library monitors during their own school days. For most information needs in a school or public library, an OPAC that gives users the exact, unique local location, whether that be a Dewey number of a shelf, a spinner rack near the front desk or a cardboard box in Archives, is all that is needed.

Librarians should always be open to testing out new ideas and seeing which innovations work for their users. I thought the stodgy “shushing” stereotype librarian was supposed to be long gone, but now we have people saying, “Don’t take away my Dewey!” and “Don’t dumb down my library!” – which is destined to become old-fashioned the moment innovative ideas are trampled upon before they are even tried.

Ha! Can you tell I haven’t shelved a book since early Term 1? Roll on my BER library!

Where I write

Today was the first day of Term 1, and already it feels like the year is chugging along under it’s own steam!

Novelist Tara Moss has been running a series of blog posts called, “I’ve Shown You Mine, Now Show Me Yours”, in which she invited her writer friends, colleagues and blog followers to send in photos of their personal/professional writing spaces. Judith Ridge (formerly of NSW DET’s “School Magazine” editorial team) was featured last week, actor/writer Rhys Muldoon (who recently co-wrote a children’s book Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) the week before that – and today…. my writing desk is featured.

It’s a bit of a buzz to be in the company of Tara’s esteemed and talented colleagues. Now I really have to get that first book written/published.

Teacher-librarians and English teachers looking for interesting snippets about Australian writers, to inspire their budding young writers, may well find some useful material. There are eleven segments so far, with three or four writers’ desks featured each time.

See today’s entries at:

First day back at school.

Not too long to wait now. A new school library will be built on the site of the old one!

And I must share my favourite holiday snap; all that work on polar bears the last two terms made me yearn to see one up close:

(Seaworld, Queensland, December 2009.)

Plotting, planning, packing, roving

Lots of NSW DET school libraries seem to be preparing to pack up everything for longterm (temporary) storage while their new BER libraries are built on the site of portable buildings.

That will be happening here, too, but we haven’t been given evacuation orders yet.

A teacher librarian of my acquaintance asked about the security and weather-tightness of the supplied storage container, and was worried about the condition of the books when they emerge. nd what about the potential for vandalism of the container

I say, “Why worry?”

Many, many people store their possessions in large shipping containers for years on end – and most of our imported books arrive in Australia in the same type of shipping containers, surviving three months of perilous seas and weather. If some books get damaged, well… they get damaged. I suggested they think of this whole experience as an enforced cull. If necessary, make the insurance claims and then buy new resources to replace the damaged ones. Or simply have a smaller collection.

I did a massive cull of huge, dusty old hardcover tomes (and el cheapo, yellowing, brittle, 1970s paperbacks) at a school when we converted it to OASIS from a card catalogue in the 1990s. We cleared the shelves of hundreds of books, much to my principal’s horror – and yet our borrowing rates went way up!

(In any case, if vandals want to destroy library books, they’d have a much better time waiting till the new library is built. Vandalising books in a storage container is hardly much fun. Too much like shooting ducks in a barrel.)

Think positive: visualise our wonderful new school libraries – and spend the intervening months as a roving TL, getting to know the teachers on their own turf (ie. in their own classrooms!) – and plotting and planning how to maximise the learning possibilities of the new library when it arrives.

As for me, I’m really looking forward to plotting, planning, packing and roving – sometime in 2010!

Advocacy: part of our role?

From 1991 to 2002 I was an active committee member of the Australian Library & Information Association (ALIA) – and gladly gave up many hours of personal time to attend School Libraries Section (NSW Group) meetings, ALIA NSW Branch meetings and national ALIA Renewal meetings – only leaving when I returned to classroom teaching in 2003. (Sadly for the local School Libraries Section, it did not survive the “renewal” program of ALIA, or the retirements of many of its committee. Try as we did, we couldn’t tempt too many new/young TLs to commit to advocacy from a professional association stance.)

What other strategies can TLs can use now, to make sure that we do have the ongoing/evolving support of “politicians, unions, and professional associations”? Yes, of course every student in Australia deserves equity, but has recent Australian research demonstrated that it really is the “services of a professional qualified teacher librarian” in NSW that increases student achievement of outcomes? What else can NSW TLs and their professional associations do to convince other states’ powers-that-be that they need trained teacher-librarians in every interstate school?

As I said a previous post, NSW TLs can (and do) at least send messages via our actions in schools to the people making the decisions about NSW schools. Furthermore, we can make presentations at annual NSW DET and ASLA NSW conferences, (as I have been doing these past three years since returning to teacher-librarianship – so far no interstate invitations, but I’m willing to travel). The whole point of evidence-based practice is so we can actually prove that TLs make value-added contributions to our students’ educations. Then, hopefully, we find ways to bring those successes to the attention of the other states’ stakeholders, demonstrating that they are missing out on a crucial human resource: a trained TL.

Something very dramatic does need to happen to alter the current state of play. If the advocacy load should not be on the already-overburdened NSW TL, how will the politicians and unions suddenly be convinced to take up advocacy on our behalf, especially if we decide we are simply too over-burdened to do it ourselves?

We can blow a lot of hot air their way, sure, and write lots of letters and blog entries – and the other states can gnash their teeth in jealous misery – but it is solid action research that is going to provide the evidence for change. We have a prime minister bequeathing grants for new BER school libraries – all over NSW – over the next two years. Isn’t that a strong sign of someone noticing the work of NSW TLs? (Why wasn’t the money shunted into other types of buildings?)

NSW TLs do need to commit ourselves to proving that these promising, current efforts are going to be worthwhile. Unfortunately, that’s more advocacy work for us. A lot more.

What does a school library of the future look like?

This is such a daunting question.

A few things come to mind:

The future is now. Or at least by the end of next year.

Building the Education Revolution (BER)
is here, whether we asked for it or not. For schools such as mine, which has “made do” with an old, portable library module (the school was supposedly promised it would be there for only three years, until a permanent brick building was erected, but it’s been at least 16 years now, I’m told). The “Primary Schools for the 21st Century” program is bringing us a new library (hurray!), but it won’t be quite what we’d always envisaged. (We’d assumed we’d, one day, have a new administration building, with a library on top. Now, new building regulations say that any new multi-storey public building must have an elevator, to ensure equity, and that takes such a concept out of our price range.) So, it’ll be single storey, on the site of the old portable, with an annexed room – to make up for the fact that we won’t be getting that new administration building we’ve only ever dreamed about, and desperately needed.

But that’s only the structural stuff. What has my brain whizzing at the moment is how much input and choice schools and staff will have on the internal layout of these new libraries. What does a 21st century school library need, and will it be expected to keep us happy in five years time, ten years time, or even as we approach the 22nd century?

My school’s current administration building is over 90 years old. When it was built, did people imagine it would still be being used as a school building nearly 100 years later? (If only they’d known then that we needed more than one power point in each classroom; what a saving we’d have made!) Because we live and work in the building every day, we usually only think of it in terms of its inadequacies. But to others, it’s a building of uniqueness. Attempts to revamp it would, no doubt, attract the attention of heritage-conscious locals.

Similarly, the portable library reminds me of its inadequacies – every time the floor bounces on the way to answer the telephone, and every time we complain about our lack of storage space, or when two or more classes are in the library at once. I can assume the new building will have a sturdy floor and adequate storerooms, but what internal layout and devices do we need to ensure our new library will be able to cope with the changing nature of how students need to access information?

I glance at my handy-dandy iPhone and am bewildered by the many functions it has, most of which I’ve never had time to explore in the eight months or so that I’ve owned it. My iPhone lets me locate myself on Google Maps (I’ve found some rather tricky addresses with ease, which is great when you’re a pedestrian and unlikely to have a Gregory’s directory on hand). I am never without a digital camera. I can check my emails and update my Facebook page whenever I’m bored. By clicking any URL in an email, I am taken immediately to the website being recommended. I can play all the iTunes music that’s ever been downloaded to my laptop at home, because my iPhone downloads all changes for me every time I plug it in for a recharge. I’ve bought things on eBay while on vacation using my iPhone, and paid for them with PayPal. I can instantly check four preset timezones to ensure my four library “newsroom” clocks are always accurate. A downloaded clever application keeps track of my extensive DVD collection, and automatically links me to IMDb on the ‘Net whenever I require cast and crew information about movies in my collection.

Most amazing is the “Mobile Me” program which enables my trusty iPhone and dependable Apple laptop to talk with each other – and exchange the latest changes to my calendar and address book – whenever they come into proximity with each other! No wires required. And, as I said, I suspect my iPhone does thousands of things I haven’t yet discovered.

I assume that, within a few years, everybody will have something similar (and smaller, and more powerful). Including our students, who’ll be quite blaze about having one. Such an ICT marvel shall be as important as wearing a wristwatch was until recently. When so much access to so much information can come with just one little device, I find it overwhelming to even try to imagination what we may have at our fingertips in five years time, let alone ten or twenty years.

As we know, our students are not usually daunted by touching a button to see what something can do. It’s the adults who sit there, sometimes frozen in fear, attempting to be brave enough to tackle the new technologies. There are still some teachers out there who’ve never sent an email.

We, and our students, are going to have access to an enormous amount of information, and soon no one may see a school library building as their first port of call. Hopefully, though, the concept of the school library (some of it virtual) as the hub of a school’s information needs, and the place (again, some of it virtual) where users can be guided to navigate information overload successfully, will remain paramount.

It seems to me that our school library webpages, online pathfinders, blogs, wikis, moodles, etc – and whatever else is yet to come in the virtual world – are going to be just as important, or more important, as the new BER library buildings.

The physical BER library buildings are what the public will see, and probably how they will judge if the money was well-spent. The important stuff may be (virtually) impossible to see from the outside, or even from the inside, because much of it may be virtual.

The discussion continues at School Libraries 21C.