I, for one, am tired of defending Dewey.
Come on down to the 600’s you say. To technology. Where you’ll find dogs and sewing and airplanes. That might have been technology 125 years ago but things change, words change. Ask any person what technology is and we guarantee that they won’t mention domesticated animals or sewing or the human body.
For years we taught Dewey through relay races and scavenger hunts, computer games and posters. We worked to make it as engaging and fun as possible. Our students would eagerly play along. They could answer questions about where to find books on elephants or India and alphabetize 8 words that started with Ar, but the moment we shifted the books on the shelf they were at a loss as to where to go. They had memorized the location of the books they liked, not how the system worked.
Successful systems have clear logic and the different pieces are connected in ways that make sense to people who’re using the system. Students may be able to navigate the numbers if you spend enough time teaching Dewey, and find pieces of it, such as the 636.7 books or the 745.5 books. But the logic, the sense of it, will escape them because it’s based on criteria that are unknown or irrelevant to them.
Why is sewing in 646 and knitting in 746? From a child’s point of view both of these are crafts, skills to learn, ways to make something real. You can certainly teach that sewing is in one place and knitting in another, and teach kids to find them in those places, but it doesn’t constitute a system that is manageable by general principles. The logic, that sewing is in Technology under Domestic Sciences and knitting is in Arts, is hidden and in any case the whole scenario seems arbitrary to children and adults.
It’s no accident that once we had shifted to a new kid-centered system, Metis, many of our students told us that they felt the library was “more organized” or even that “the library is organized now.”
We still teach children to navigate a system, but now that the system we use is more intuitive, our students are able to find the books they want independently. Instead of spending our time walking students to the shelves explaining as we go that you’ll find human body at 612 because Dewey connected medical science and the human body, and medical science is “technology,” now we just say, “you’ll find it in the ‘Ourselves’ section; look under B for the word Body.” With all the time we save we have more time to do readers advisory at a higher level and explore more complex questions.
One has to wonder why this conversation keeps coming up in professional circles. Maybe it’s because librarians have to put more and more effort into making DDC a relevant system in an increasingly information-rich and technologically-savvy culture. Dewey might not be dead yet but now that we have an alternative in Metis we’re taking him off life support.
Our guest blogger today is Tali Balas Kaplan. Tali has been a school librarian at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School for the last 14 years. She is actively involved with ALSC and currently sits on the board as the Fiscal Officer.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.