Central Oregon Daily▶️ Deschutes Public Library dumping 150-year-old Dewey Decimal System

▶️ Deschutes Public Library dumping 150-year-old Dewey Decimal System

Change is coming to the Deschutes Public Library. And it’s not just about the new headquarters being built in southeast Bend.

It’s an even bigger adjustment coming to the books on the shelves

It’s the end of the Dewey Decimal System.

We took a tour with Emily O’Neal, the library’s technical services manager.

“Which means I am the department where all the library materials you check out come into the libraries,” she says.

It’s a big job, overseeing the current collection of 270,000 items.

“What makes a library book a library book as opposed to a normal book is how we keep them organized so that members of our community can easily find them,” Emily says.

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Say you want to brew beer.

“This is going to be cocktails, spirits, and wine. This is where most people would anticipate home brewing being.”

But go back to the 660s of the Dewey Decimal System and…

“We have business strategy, we have social media and craft making; soap making in particular. So this area is hobbies which may or may not be of interest if all you want to do is learn how to home brew,” Emily says.

The Dewey Decimal system is more than 150 years old, she says. And that makes for some limitations.

“Anything and everything that came within the last 150 years wasn’t initially built into the system,” Emily says. “Air travel and the internet and computers and small businesses and women’s right to vote.”

All things that weren’t around in 1870’s when Melvil Dewey came up with his scheme to organize books.

“It makes it difficult for modern society to discover materials in a system that was structured that long ago,” Emily says.

So what’s a librarian like Emily to do with Dewey?

“We’re abandoning that and moving forward with a homemade proprietary system that we have called Wayfinder.”

Dumping Dewey is a change that won’t stop many library users.

“We learned those in school 50 years ago and I haven’t used them since,” said David Green.

“Usually I just come up here to the manga section and I know where that is,” said Liddy Eskew.

“The public, when it’s done, will hopefully walk into the library, have a topic of interest and immediately be able go to the shelf,” Emily says. “Probably discovering new authors, new titles that they maybe would have never come across if they weren’t lumped together.” 

The idea is to organize the library more like a bookstore — grouping titles by category and genre and make browsing easier.

“We’re not meant to be the only people that understand how things are shelved and cataloged,” Emily says.

Professor Joseph Tennis from Information School at the University Of Washington specializes in classification theory.

“This thing that’s supposed to be useful to people isn’t useful anymore so it’s visible all of a sudden to everybody because it’s breaking down. It’s like when the plumbing breaks behind the walls. You see it, but you don’t see the plumbing until it breaks,” said Tennis.

Libraries around the county have created their own classification systems to patch up Dewey’s shortcomings.

The idea isn’t new. In fact, the library reclassified their picture books by category four years ago.

“And our circulation increased by 20% in that collection,” Emily says.

And that’s the goal. Make it easier for folks to get information. Honoring some quotes on the library’s facade.

“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people — John Adams.”

His biography will end up in a relevant Wayfinder category.

“Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations — Toni Morrison.”

Her novels could be broken up by genre.

So is Dewey done for?

“No it’s not the demise of Dewey, Dewey is an international classification scheme used all over the world,” said Tennis.

“We are keeping the Dewey Decimal as a secondary level for us,” says Emily.

A company contracted to relabel books will start work this winter and work in phases. The swap should be complete by the April 2023.

“It’s all about the users. So I applaud the librarians and the community coming together and saying we need a better system for our community,” said Tennis.

Because in this business, it’s all about finding things.

“Our support to the community is that you should be able to find the information you seek as easily as possible,” Emily says.

And if a new way to navigate the stacks stresses you, you can leave Wayfinder to a librarian and use the hold option.

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