Thought provocation: Dewey Decimal Classification


A very thought-provoking video on user preferences related to classification and shelfing systems.

One thing that I find peculiar is that people don’t see DDC as semantic in any way; it is, but the wrongness of certain aspects of its semantics is really beginning to show. Looking at DDC in broad strokes, you can note that going to the area labelled 820-829 means looking at British literature. We could just drop the numbers and label it “British literature”. Most Dewey libraries don’t use the full expressivity of Dewey, but rather a subset of this; this restricted subset will typically map well onto convenient and intuitive semantic categories, like “British literature”.

At Dragvoll Library, we use 820 for any English-language fiction; 820.9 is criticism and analysis of English-language literature; the series 820.9001, 820.9003…820.9009 is reserved for time periods; 828 is the section for biography and analysis of individual authors — and here we add the author name to the classification. This kind of common-sense approach is used in most serious libraries, because librarians know that users find long numbers difficult when finding books, and librarians find long numbers difficult when shelfing.

DDCs capabilities in microfacetting means that it is possible to build up expressive numbers, but why do this? I’m sure that some people like this kind of thing, but I don’t think that shelfing the book on a long number is really going to help — we’re a small library with little reason to create the kind of microgroups  of two or three books on a related topic that long numbers create. If you need to have expressive numbers for lookup services, use 082 $b.

Another thing specific to Dragvoll Library is that our collection though small is just about large enough to make searching directly among the books impractical (it’s even worse since we actually have two open collections with two different classification systems, and a whole load of stuff in closed shelfing), so we are — of course — entirely dependent on our OPAC to find books.


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