Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Dewey Dilemma?

Time to put on the librarian hat ;-)

Sooooo, I was reading on Library Journal recently and article called "The Dewey Dilemma". For those of you how haven't stepped foot in a public library recently, most books are categorized according to the Dewey Decimal System (see this wiki article for more info on the DDC). Now many libraries are trying to make their collections more accessible to the public and they are thinking of either switching to the BISAC system (the one used in bookstores in the US), or having some sort of hybrid system between Dewey and BISAC.

As I was reading this article, and as I have followed along with debates on listservs on the issue, I can say that this is not a Dewey system, it's not even a classification issue (how you organize books). Rather it's an issue of how your customers (or "patrons" in library speak) are looking for information. What is the purpose of the library? and How are are people going about their information retrieval?

In all fairness, Dewey is now difficult. The LC (library of congress) system is not difficult. The systems are not perfect, but they are functional, even if you don't know the lingo. These systems help with discoverability of related books to the one your originally were looking for - and they help you when you don't know which book is helpful to you if you just want to browse. Of course this presupposes that you know the lingo. With BISAC you just have to look for "travel" or "computers" and then you can burrow down to more books. When you put it like this, of course the layman will prefer "Travel" over 910 (in Dewey) - D'uh :-)

What this boils down to, and this applies to people in the knowledge management field, and other information professions, is knowing your customer and how that customer looks for information - and whether you would want to have someone just come in and inherently know where to look (something that is impossible if you ask me), or whether they would need a quick bootcamp course to help them figure out how the system works.

Personally I don't know how anyone can be successful in using a library to find things if they don't know how that library is organized and how to use an electronic card catalogue. I think that books should be organized in a way to promote research, rather than a bookstore-like atmosphere, but at the end of the day, this is a town-by-town decision.
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