Do We Need to Discard Dewey?

In an effort to be more patron-centric, a nearby library system, Rangeview Library District (CO), is getting rid of Dewey and going to a bookstore type organization.  Other libraries have done this, including Frankfort Public Library District (IL), (they have a blog, Free Dewey, explaining their plans and detailing their progress). 

In looking at their catalogs, it seems that changing locations online is a little more difficult than changing physical locations and I have to wonder how confusing this is for some (probably older) customers familiar with Dewey and what they think of the changes.  But, libraries have been putting things in unexpected places for years and with the increase in merchandising leading to more displayed materials, lots of items aren’t where you might expect them to be.  Luckily library staff can usually help find these things.  For people like me though, who pay no attention to signs (I like to think the reason I can drive by a store 10 times a week and never notice it is that I’m focused, though some would use the term oblivious), it could make for a bewildering experience.  But I concede that most people enjoy browsing and for that purpose, this method certainly is an improvement, especially on some of the more arcane Dewey concepts (like putting Health titles in the 300’s as well as the 600’s).

Some people seem to think these libraries are just chasing the latest trend, but having seen so many patrons confused by Dewey, I do think this is a user-friendly practice. 

But I’d love to hear from those of you who are doing this.  Do people seem to need more or less help locating items with this arrangement as opposed to Dewey?  What about when they are looking for a specific title?  What do your long time customers who were used to the old method think?  And what do you personally prefer?

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4 Responses to Do We Need to Discard Dewey?

  1. Christopher says:

    I fail to see why the bookstore arrangement is “less” confusing then dewey. I really think this is just chasing the latest trend. The bookstore configuration is the same as dewey except with different catagories and I don’t think there is anything inherently less confusing about it. I know from hearing from people who work in a bookstore that bookstores don’t care were an individual book is and don’t have to deal with books returning to the shelves. If a patron is looking for a specific title they aren’t going to want to hear that it’s somewhere “in that area.” Despite being old you can still browse with dewey and unless you have multiple copies of a book in multiple locations the subject areas aren’t always going to make sense.

  2. Justine Shaffner says:

    Good points Christopher, thanks! I’ve never tried finding something in a library with a bookstore configuration, but I’d think it could be tough. Are these libraries giving preference to the browser over the researcher? Will it lead to a dumbing down of the library? Why do so many people seem to prefer a bookstore set up? Are they really such a majority that we should change our whole system of organization? Or should libraries strive to meet the demands of all our patrons by only having parts of their collections set up like bookstores? BTW, I just heard ARSL (Association for Rural & Small Libraries) is doing a preconference on the subject – see Dewey or Do We Not
    Designing and Building a Merchandized / Book Store Format Library – The Gatlinburg Story

  3. Kathy Smargiassi says:

    Would the needs of finding a specific book and reshelving, versus easier findability and browsability be served merely by better signage, rather than scrapping Dewey altogether?

    • jshaffner says:

      It’s possible, though libraries usually have tons of signage which patrons often seem to overlook. I’d really like to survey Rangeview patrons and librarians after a year and see what they think – what are the plusses and pitfalls of no more Dewey?

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