Fuse #8

Friday, June 01, 2007

As the Library of Congress System Bides Its Time . . .

"A lot of times, patrons feel like they're going to a library and admitting defeat because they don't understand Dewey Decimal and can't find the book they're looking for," said Marshall Shore, adult service coordinator for the Maricopa County Library District and driving force behind the idea. "People think of books by subject. Very few people say, 'Oh, I know Dewey by heart.' "
The solution? The new Gilbert library in Arizona has thrown the Dewey Decimal system out the winder and is shelving everything by topic. They say it works for bookstores and that libraries these days are, "in a fight for our own survival."

I'll admit that I've always wondered what a library shaped like a bookstore would look like, so I understand the inclination here. I'm used to patrons walking in and looking for the "historical fiction section," and the like. That said, bookstores have a distinct advantage over libraries. They don't stock anything that's old unless it's hugely popular or a "classic". In terms of sheer mass, libraries win nine times out of ten. They can only copy bookstores so much. And if you've enough catalog computers lying about the place then you really don't have to worry whether or not your patrons know Dewey by heart. Sillies.

Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.

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At 7:22 AM , Blogger Roger Sutton said...

My first thought was, but the DDC does list everything by topic. That's its point. But my second thought was, you know, I've never really been able to get up close and personal with LC classification and pratically flunked cataloging, so maybe I'm not the best person to judge.

At 8:29 AM , Blogger RM1(SS) (ret) said...

At 7:22 AM , Roger Sutton said...
My first thought was, but the DDC does list everything by topic. That's its point.

Ditto. What's difficult to understand about Dewey?

At 8:46 AM , Anonymous Tracy in Michigan said...

I think our problem is signage. Book stores want to SELL their items, so they mark them well. Libraries mark for Dewey and neglect topic. Maybe we should start a movement!

At 9:35 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Sounds good to me. Just so long as we don't make huge signs above the Reference Desk that read something dated like "Info Point" and the like. That's all I ask.

At 9:44 AM , Blogger Jennifer Schultz said...

Libraries can make their sections more browser-friendly without chucking out Dewey. The tiny Gainesville library branch in Prince William County Library uses supermarket-style signs that you see in store aisles. You can make a map or aisle listing.

You can pull out your popular genre fiction and have a romance section, mystery/detective story section, science fiction setting, etc. Although historical fiction is popular, do many libraries have a separate HF section? I've worked in three library systems and haven't seen one.

However, if you pull out too many sections, things get confusing and it's awful for both patrons and staff. I saw this first hand at a branch in one of my former places of employment. They had so many pulled out sections that it got in the way of regular library traffic (you had to constantly step around the stacks). I used to dread filling in there, because a search would always end in me leading a patron on a wild goose chase. Very embarrassing. It also didn't help that the branch manager would create new sections and bring the old section back into the regular collection.

It's not just about clear signage and keeping the separate sections to a minimum. It's training public services staff to be aware of patrons walking by their desk (just a simple hello if you can catch their eye), noticing signs of hesitation, asking them if they need any assistance, etc. Clear signage and a decent layout only go so far; if public services ignore or act disinterested, that jeopardizes that person's desire to return to the library.

However, eagerness to help can quickly become annoying to those who just want to browse. You don't have to act like a mall sales clerk on her fifth shot of espresso.

Those in youth services staff frequently encounter adults who have not been in a library for years. They say that many people start attending religious services again/for the first time when they have a child, and it's the same thing for public libraries. They bring their child to programs, or they bring their child to find materials for an assignment. And now they are here.

This is a good thing. They are like the Prodigal Son, and while we don't need to kill a fatted calf, we need to make the experience as intimidation-free (if that's a word) as possible. Libraries and library staff can very intimidating to those who aren't regular patrons.

I have school groups, homeschool groups, and Scouting troops visit for library skills workshops. They do a scavenger hunt and can grasp searching for and finding library materials. If their school administration hasn't foolishly elimiated the school media specialist position, they learn this in greater detail and by someone far better trained in this than I. What patrons need from DDC can be learned by those of average intelligence.

However, it goes back to the attitude of public services staff. If you quickly type in the title or subject and beckon the patron to follow you (or just write the call number on a piece of paper and hope for the best), then they are not learning anything. You don't need to tell them what the 9, 1, and 7 mean in the 917 section; you can just tell them that travel guidebooks are found in the 917, cookbooks are in 641, baby name books in 929. When you're finding the book, you can also show them that the other heart-healthy cookbooks are located here, and the diabetic cookbooks are located there, etc. Same thing for a child looking for books about France-it's located in the same sections as books about Europe.

Now, I know that this isn't possible, or needed, with every patron. But for those who seem particularly lost or hesistant, it can definitely ease the situation. Add in clear signage, and you can make your branch that much more patron-friendly. You don't need to chuck out Dewey.

Finally, I wonder if there is more to the story than "library chucks out Dewey." They're not going to shelve the materials willy-nilly. There may be something more to the story, as there was with the New York Times and the listserv discussion on The Higher Power of Lucky, or with Fairfax County Library and the Washington Post article on their weeding practices.

At 9:55 AM , Blogger Jennifer Schultz said...

Ooops! Forgot to add that having avid readers who read a variety of material is also vital, even if you have separate sections for genre fiction.

At 2:04 PM , Blogger Kimberly/lectitans said...

*rubbing hands together and petting Library of Congress system* Yes, soon will be our time, precious.

Public libraries would do well to take a hint from school libraries, I think, and hang big signs with the Dewey numbers and their associated general topics on them, plus perhaps posters at key points (doors to a particular room, inside the elevator, etc) giving a quick overview of the system. I'm pretty sure my public library does have the topic labeled along with the number.

At 10:41 PM , Anonymous lori prince said...

As far as I've experienced, organization really doesn't become a problem in public libraries until you hit fiction, which is pretty much ignored by good ole Dewey.

So the question becomes, how subdivided do you want your fiction and how do you determine those subdivisions. Kidslit gets especially messy, in my opinion: Is The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle: a)Historical Fiction, b)Action & Adventure, c)Award Winner, or you can go on and on.

I understand that people want to browse, but there's only so much to be done? I think the problem isn't how we locate the items, it's the points of access that we create within catalog records. Better fiction subject headings now!


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