February 17, 2018

Behind the Maricopa County Library District’s Dewey-less Plan

Well, it won’t be the first public library in the country to drop the Dewey Decimal Classification system, as the Arizona Republic suggested May 30, but the Maricopa County Library District, Phoenix, AZ, is pushing the envelope in its new Perry branch, scheduled to open next week. The branch’s 24,000-item collection will take its cue from bookstores, drawing on the 50 or so subject headings used by the Book Industry Study Group. Director Harry Courtright came up with the idea and assigned Marshall Shore, the adult services coordinator, to implement it. Most library users, Courtright told LJ, say they come to browse, but Dewey doesn’t facilitate browsing. Thus the the new subject headings, as well as an effort to get more books shelved at eye level.

Shore says the layout of the branch, which is part of a high school campus in the fast-growing town of Gilbert, also aims to echo bookstores with nooks and crannies aimed “to create a sense of intimacy and privacy.” Maricopa outsources all of its cataloging, and Brodart, which provided the opening day collection, worked to translate Dewey to the new taxonomy. In the catalog, the record will indicate the subject heading, and books are then alphabetized by author. “We’ll be working with staff to develop the taxonomy,” Shore said. “It’s a small branch, and the collection is not huge. If we open a larger branch, we’d need to fine tune it.”

Asked about potential pitfalls, Courtright said, “We might find out our customers don’t like it.” Added Deputy Director Cindy Kolaczynski, “The pages are probably a little nervous,” but she noted that the sections in the library would each be fairly small. She added that staff were hired for the branch who embraced the evolving mission. And, where, for example, might the biography of sports figure go? Probably biography, Shore said, but the library would remain flexible as it assesses patron response. In some cases, the new taxonomy might allow for more granularity; DVDs, for example, won’t be labeled simply as fiction, but will be broken down by genre, as in video stores. Movable bookshelves on wheels, added Shore, will help the library create flexible displays of books.

The news of the new branch stimulated several comments on the Arizona Republic web site, as well as on librarian mailing lists. For example, Francis Buckley, former Superintendent of Documents at the United States Government Printing Office, commented in a message re-posted on pub-lib, “Approximately 50 years ago, under the legendary Ralph Ulveling, the Detroit Public Library instituted Reader Interest classification in its branches. The books in each branch were arranged by categories of interest to the local population by the librarians in that branch. It finally petered out as reduced staff no longer had the time for customization and since it was difficult for staff transferred from one location to another to locate books.”

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