Friday, June 18, 2010

DDC and it's utility in Public Libraries

So here is a library related post :-)

A while back (a long while back according the date!) I came across this article on LIS news - a short essay on the utility of the Dewey Decimal System in public libraries.

For as long as I can remember there has been debate in the public library sphere as to whether to continue to use the Dewey Decimal System (henceforth: DDC) or if they should switch to something called BISAC. If you've ever walked into a bookstore in the US (and probably in Canada as well) the shelves are organized by the BISAC system. The argument for BISAC is that it's easy for people to find books, whereas in DDC (or in LC numberings) it's not as easy. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think that Dewey is infallible, it is after all a man-made system and as such it has flaws, however I could not really put my finger on why I would not like my public library to switch to BISAC. And then I read this:

“Customers often comment that when they visit bookstores, they can find things easily and would like that ease of use in libraries.” This statement is unsurprising. Bookstores, along with the public relations and marketing firms that guide their corporate philosophies, have invested heavily in selling an experience to customers. That experience includes the notion that the customer has found exactly what was wanted or needed: a manufactured need. Whether or not the item the customer takes home is what the customer wanted or needed in the first place – if, in fact, the customer wanted or needed anything in the first place – is irrelevant, because bookstores are designed to make the customer take something home

This is what I could not place my finger on! A bookstore is designed to sell books, it doesn't matter what they sell you, they just want to sell something to you! I often don't go to bookstores if I am looking for a specific book because I have a hard time finding what I want! I have an easier time on Amazon. If I just want to browse, then I go to the bookstore (which isn't very often, I must admit!)

It all comes down to goals: Libraries (for the most part) are repositories on knowledge, information and entertainment. When you go to the library you are looking for a specific title (book, CD or DVD), you don't necessarily go to browse - If it's hard to find a book, the solution isn't a whole new system - it's using text to replace numbers! In DDC for example the 400 range is "Language" - Why write 400? Why not put "LANGUAGE" at the end of the stacks and then further label the dictionaries, the research, the French, Italian, English and German sections? In essence you are accomplishing the same thing as converting to BISAC without the expense of converting.

Furthermore, there can be (and there are!) temporary holding locations for new stuff and stuff that you want to move around - just like a store. You can have your back catalog in the main stacks, but items you want to showcase can be up front, near the entry of the library (I know my public library does this).

So in the end, what have we learned? All this talk about converting to BISAC and handwringing on whether DDC has reached the end of its useful life is just a bunch of worrying (from where I sit). It's not the system! It's the marketing and user experience that's the problem :-)
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