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!

Front-on displays – rules of attraction!

I’ve put a lot of thought into Kevin Hennah’s urging that librarians and teacher-librarians take note of how shops promote the books (and other goods) they wish to sell quickly: they have the beautiful covers turned out to face the customers. Most libraries have the spines out: to save room, to save reshelving time, and to make it easy to locate books by their call numbers. And shops maximise the use of the ends of their rows of shelves.

Since many students come to the library to browse, maybe strict Dewey order and “spines out” is not the most user-friendly strategy?

Slant boards seemed to be a great way to maximise the use of shelf ends, for covers-out displays, in the libraries shown in Kevin’s slideshow presentation. But I imagine these slant boards are very expensive, and our school library doesn’t have all that many exposed shelf ends anyway.

I’ve had a picture in my mind of something sturdy enough to withstand students (I’ve seen plenty of fragile, perspex, document holders), and yet it can’t require more painting for my wearing-out wrists. Yesterday, I found a fascinating selection of Japanese homewares:

* plastic (and very strongly magnetic) Magnet Pockets (in the colours of dayglo lime, dayglo orange and brown)

* two sizes of Sukitto white plastic baskets, which can be suspended by plastic hooks.

Each of these pieces: only $3 from Hot Dollar.

Boxes and baskets

The magnetic boxes fitted perfectly on the Premier’s Reading Challenge shelf ends, and the boxes easily take the mass of a paperback book:

magnetic display boxes

After taking this picture, I found one more lime box left in the shop and was able to improve my colour coordination a bit. (Actually, this one was wrongly price-ticketed and I was charged only $2.50.) The orange boxes are now being used in another section of the library, coicidentally this was the colour I’d be using in “Non Fiction”, remember? I’m contemplating spray-painting the brown boxes PRC purple, but the brown does match the shelving frames.

PRC magnetic boxes 2

This long white basket hangs from the otherwise-exposed (and completely wasted) back of a huge wire book rack. The basket can supposedly hold ten kilograms of books:

rack basket

These smaller white baskets fill an otherwise-dead corner of “Junior Fiction”, right near the front door!

book baskets

So, until there’s money to fritter away on purpose-built wooden slant boards, these nifty Japanese baskets will at least get us thinking more like a shop, and hopefully more browser-conscious than reshelver-conscious.

The other simple “front-on” success was choosing to stock this spinner rack with vibrant “animal books” – I find it’s almost impossible to keep it restocked! The students gravitate towards the rack, and it’s often picked clean! I have several students who love to come in at lunchtime and restock it.

Spinner rack of animal books

Likewise, this “Hot” spinner rack of “Aussie bites”, “Aussie nibbles” and “Aussie chomps”:

"Hot" rack of "Aussie bites" books