Some Suggestions in Regard to the Use of the Dewey Decimal Classification

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Some Suggestions in Regard to the Use of the Dewey Decimal Classification

Francis D. Tandy, Denver public library.

In adopting any general system of classification, the fact that it is a general system, while the needs of the library are specific, should always be borne in mind. Different libraries have different needs in classification as in everything else The library of a technical school will want its books on electricity and electrical engineering near the books on mechanical engineering; while the library of a scientific society will find them more convenient in the department of physics A person, therefore,designing a system of classification to meet the needs of many diverse people will often set aside two, and sometimes more than two, places for works upon the same subject. In this way each person can use that form of classification which best suits his individual needs and let the rest go.

While this is the only way in which the same system of classification can be made to meet the demands of different libraries, the multiplication of classes for works of the same nature adds greatly to the difficulties of the classier. The purpose of this article is to point out some of these difficulties, and the manner in which they may be treated. It is not to be supposed that all will find it advisable to give the same answers to Mr Dewey's conundrums. But it is thought that a statement of some of the answers, and the reasons for them, can do little harm and may be of some assistance to others.

Christian science is a typical example. Shall it be put in 615,851, 265.8, or be crowded into some subdivision of 130? It is hardly satisfactory to put it in the first place, especially if the medical department is of much importance; 265.8 is better, but they seem to be more in place under 131, this bringing them near the works on spiritualism, palmistry, hypnotism, etc There may be no very close affinity between these subjects and Christian science, but the same

class of people seem to study them all, so it is convenient to have them close together. For the same reason there is a great temptation to put theosophy close at hand also, though it may well go in 147 instead of 212 or 294, and Free thought may very conveniently be put in 146.

It is often advisable to strain a point in order to keep the works of an author together. For example, Self help, by Smiles, will easily go in 374, while Duty will naturally be put in some subdivision of 170. It will be found far more convenient, however, to keep such works all together, and perhaps the best place for them is in Ethics. The same rule holds good in regard to philosophers. It is often a greater convenience to have Spencer's Synthetic philosophy all together in 192 than to have First principles in 149.7, Principles of biology in 575, and Principles of sociology in 390. Of course, when one is adopting a subject classification it is not well to sacrifice that classification too much in order to bring all the works of one author together, but it is well to consider the great advantage of an author classification in a particular case, when the sacrifice is not too great.

It is only in exceptional cases, in the library of a political club, for instance, where it would be advisable to put Woman suffrage in 324.3. Under ordinary circumstances it would be better to put all books about women, except medical books, under the subdivisions of 396. It is also unsatisfactory to separate civil government from constitutional history. These may conveniently be brought together under 342.

The whole department of education is a source of worry, if the Decimal classification be very closely followed. The books about the teaching of arithmetic and the text-books get separated, and frequently some of each are put in 372.7 and some in 511. The school readers are worse yet. They stray all over the library. They bob up serenely in 372.4, 428.6, 808.8. Often the different readers of the same series will be infected with the roving dispositions of their class, and in order to get a set of Barnes' readers together, the weary counter attendant will have to institute a regular "round-up."

The only way to avoid this is to decide definitely where each subject is wanted, and then put the books on the teaching of that subject and the textbooks there together. If much attention is to be bestowed upon the pedagogical department put them, text-books and all, in their respective subdivisions of 370. But when you have conscientiously done this for several months you will wake up in the small hours of the morning and shudder to think that you have scattered People and places here and there, by Mara L. Pratt, all through the travels, instead of gathering them all comfortably in 372.8. Or if you have put them in 372.8 you will wonder why you did not scatter them in 910. Whichever way you do you will worry about it. But don't do it. That way madness lies, and you cannot even be sure if your madness is 132 or 616.8.

The most difficult matter in regard to the classes of 500 and 6co is to determine whether the scientific or the technical side of the library shall preponderate. Having decided this point,stick to it. Don't scatter your electrical books between 537 and 621.3. Don't be afraid of straining the classification in order to bring books of the same nature together The library in a mining community will find it advisable to bring all works on assaying, metallurgy, and mineralogy under 622.7 instead of separating them in 549, 622, and 669. In the same way care must be exercised in the subdivisions of 690 and 720; 630 and 710; 901, 572, and 390, and in short, all through the classification.

One of the points which needs to be decided at the start is how far the classification should be carried. Usually the tendency is to carry it too far. To a person of frugal mind it seems a pity to let so much good classification go to waste, and so an attempt is made to use it all. As a usual thing it would seem to be sufficient to carry the classification to one place of decimals in a library

of 100,000. This allows for 10,000 classes, or an average of 10 books for every class. Of course very many—more than half—of these classes will never be used, and many of the classes will contain several hundred volumes. In some departments it will be advisable to carry the classification further than this, and in a good many it will not be well to go to that length. As a general thing 800 should not be subdivided beyond the first three figures, though a few special collections need numbers of their own. Shakesperiana, for example, would get scattered in 822, so give it 822.3. But this is no reason for subdividing the whole of 800 by period.

A library in which the public is allowed access to the shelves will need a closer system of classification than one in which the shelves are closed. Many other factors have to be taken into account in laying out the general plan to be followed and in attacking its details and it is in the decision of these points that the necessity of intelligence in the classifier is felt.

A few changes could perhaps be profitably made in the classification. Travels and biography might just as well be made 980 and 990, respectively, instead of 910 and 920. By giving them these numbers they would not separate general history from ancient history. The classification would then run 900 general history, 910 ancient history, 920 European history, etc., and 982 travels in Europe. In the same way it might be advisable to change commerce from 380 to 340, so that it would be close to political economy instead of being separated from it by several large classes. Any particular division in which the library may have a large number of books, and which for convenience it is desirable to put in a separate room, may very well be put at the end of the general class to which it belongs If a library is contemplating a large law or medical department, these may be given the numbers 390 and 690, respectively. The numbers of the other divisions of the same class will have to be changed to correspond. Of course when such a plan is followed all the subdivisions can be carried out without alteration. Your own nervous prostration will be 696.8 instead of 616.8, that is all the difference.

It is rather a good thing to take a few liberties of this sort with a system of classification, in order to realize, and perhaps make it realize, that it is your servant and not your master. To establish clearly this relation is the first essential of success. The second essential is to maintain it. This requires firmness, great firmness, and classifiers should possess a great quantity of it. I once asked an experienced classifier what she did when she made a mistake. I don't make any, she replied When I classify a book in a certain place the fact that it is put there makes that the right place. If I started to change things I should have been in a lunatic asylum long ago.

Verily, these are the words of wisdom.

Template:Source: Francis D Tandy, “Some Suggestions in Regard to the Use of the Dewey Decimal Classification,” Public Libraries 4, no. 3 (March 1899): 139-141.