Who needs Dewey?

Leave it to an upscale-ish college town like Berea OH to dump a century of subject analysis and arrange their books into “neighborhoods”, so they’ll be more like Borders : i.e., so you won’t be able to find anything unless you ask a librarian with multiple piercings who won’t be able to find it either.

The neighborhoods collection was inspired and guided by a celebrity librarian, Nancy Pearl of National Public Radio. She visited Berea and attended the first few meetings to plan the collection.

“Celebrity Librarian?” Never heard of her. “Radio celebrity“, perhaps. And the idea of getting an entire city to read the same book at the same time strikes me as being Orwellian, and certainly not part of the “value of diversity” we both imbibed at the University of Michigan.  There’s an interview here with a recurring motif which gives me the willies: “People need to believe that they can find themselves or a version of themselves on library shelves.”  I guess that might work in this narcissistic culture. I’ve always read to escape myself, whom I know all too well, and to learn how the world works, which is necessary to my survival. And I wanted to know and hang with cool people, even if only between the covers. (That’s why I can’t abide to be in the same room as Desperate Housewives; those people are disgusting!) However, the idea of a librarian action figure opens many possibilities. One might even make a better range accessory than the Ted Strickland “Read” poster.

To be fair, they haven’t totally dumped traditional shelf classification, even within the “neighborhoods”. But I really don’t see the fundamental relationship of foreign languages, travel, and US History (Oddly enough, foreign history is not included, even though it has a more intrinsic relationship to foreign languages than US history does.) Will anyone else?

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2 Responses to Who needs Dewey?

  1. kishnevi says:

    First off, Borders arrangement is probably more convenient for anyone who is not doing scholarly research. Consider this: if I want to locate The Virtue of Selfishness at Border’s, I simply go to Philosophy and look through the R’s, since the authors are arranged alphabetically, and I don’t have to consult a catalogue. If I want to find it at my local public library [although, in fact, I wouldn’t be able to, since they don’t seem to have any of Rand’s non fiction works in the area branches–maybe they have it at the main library in downtown Fort Lauderdale, but I never go there because, of course, it’s downtown] I must either first look it up in the computerized catologue and copy down the call number, and then locate the call number–or find the philosophy shelves, and look in at least three places: ethics, American philosophy, and 20th century philosophy. It might be shelved with any of those three groups. It’s not a big imposition–the entire philosophy section is one row, so we’re talking browsing no more than ten feet of shelving–but it’s not the most efficient unless you’re researching a specific topic. And even then, it’s not always efficient. My local library puts books about magick and witchcraft with psychology (classified as parapsychology, I guess) and also with religion and spirituality, three whole rows away. And some classifications are not intuitively obvious. The music holdings are organized in something like this (going from memory): music history, composer biographies (small batch), American pop music from 1900 to present, books on how to write pop music songs and how to record them, jazz, country, reggae and some other forms of popular music, composer biographies (a bigger batch) mixed in with musical criticism (this is where they put Alex Ross’ The Rest if Noise) and special topic books on individual composers and periods (ie, Beethoven’s late period, Schubert’s songs, etc.) that aren’t overall biographies or general music history, opera guides, opera composers, opera as a theatrical art (meaning, say, a memoir of a stagehand at the Met and a critic’s collection of opening nights at the Met would go here), leading into Broadway musicals–which is logical, unless you want to focus on Broadway theater, and that means hunting up a completely different group of shelves to feed your hunger for non musical Broadway productions. There’s an order here, but it’s not immediately apparent, and can be misleading. A browser might see the half dozen book on Mozart lumped in the composer biographies, and not realize that on the next row (you have to physically turn a corner in the middle of the opera holdings) sits another book devoted exclusively to the operas of Mozart. That wouldn’t happen at Border’s–all of Mozart would be clumped together.
    In fact, the whole system is based on the premise that you are you doing research, and will consult the card catalog before looking for an actual book on the shelves. It’s not made for browsing. Border’s arrangement is.

    And the travel arrangement makes sense. A major motive for US domestic travel is to see historical sights–didn’t your parents ever take you on at least one summer vacation trip to see some piece of US history? (My parents took me to DC.) Historical sightseeing is important in foreign travel, but has rivals in art sightseeing, experiencing a foreign country, etc. So US history gets lumped in the “You want to travel” section and foreign history doesn’t.

  2. jeffreyquick says:

    Sounds like Dewey music. We’re LC here, which actually works pretty well, with a number of repeating patterns and room for flexibility. However, your Mozart example is also a problem in LC, where books on Mozart operas would go into MT100, while Mozart biographies and general studies are ML410.M9.

    This all smacks of trendy and PC though. It’s hard to objectively quantify the work of a librarian, so flash tends to outweigh productivity in job assessment.

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