A couple of months ago I had a interesting conversation with a company rep about the Dewey Decimal systems in schools. He was very critical of some school decision to remove the Dewey Decimal system from its shelves, and sometimes even the books as well (you can read about that here).
I don’t remember ever formally learning how to find books using Dewey, but after two undergraduate degrees and most of a master’s degree, and a job as a library aide, navigating Dewey comes as second nature. However, I can definitely see how attempting to find a book in the non-fiction section can be daunting, especially to those who are still learning about numbers and the alphabet.
There is much discussion in the Library and information sector about the relevance of Dewey, particularly in the primary school library. Holli Buchter in her article ‘Dewey vs. Genre Throw down’ ( my apologies to those who are unable to access this article) outlines how her school replaced Dewey with a genre based system, which organises non-fiction based on its subject. Kaplan’s (et al) article, ‘Are Dewey’s day numbered?’ also recounts how a primary school abandoned Dewey for a similar system.
Both articles are enthusiastic about the increased patronage and circulation after the change to a genre based system and recount how students were able to navigate their way around the non- fiction without the help of the librarian. Buchter’s article explains that this experience of success for students helped to alleviate feelings of failure and anxiety created by the confusion of the Dewey system and creates seamless links between classroom learning and research. Kaplan (et al) mirrors this idea, saying that students achieved an ‘aha’ moment when they found the information they were looking for independently.
These libraries are identifying a need in their client base and being flexible and creative in their solutions. By doing this they have achieved an environment which supports the student’s learning and develops a safe, interesting place where students can delve deeper into the subjects that inspire them. However, what happens to these students once they move beyond these libraries? The library experience (hopefully) doesn’t end in primary school. How will these students cope when they move into High school, or public or academic libraries?
While Dewey can be daunting, even to those who are used to it, it does provide the library with a consistent way of organising resources. Shirley Bateman also points out that Dewey is universal, meaning that students can conceivably access information in a variety of libraries and it can accommodate a multitude of subjects in a detailed way.
Maybe the Dewey vs Genre argument can’t be solved with a black and white solution. Maybe some libraries need to the strictly Dewey, while others need a Genre system or a combination of both. The ultimate goal is to achieve an environment where the clients are able to find what they need, and provide an enjoyable (or at least satisfying) experience. I think, however, that school libraries need to be mindful that they are establishing the habits of future library users and that Dewey is likely to be in that future.
What do you think? Are you comfortable with Dewey? Would you prefer a browsable, genre based system?