February 17, 2018

PLA 2010 Conference: Cracking the Code: Beyond Dewey

By Norman Oder

Public Library Association – PLA 2010 – Annual Conference – Portland

  • A shift among librarians since 2007
  • True crime is still a challenge
  • Better for smaller collections

It may have been in the last time slot of the Public Library Association conference in Portland on March 27, but Beyond Dewey, PLA Conferencemore than 300 people came to learn just how the Rangeview Library District, CO, (of the Anythink Libraries brand) and the Maricopa County Library District, AZ, have traded the Dewey Decimal Classification System for systems based on the BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communication) subject headings.

And several people who described themselves as skeptics said that they were coming around to the change, which admittedly is easier to implement in smaller, popular libraries rather than deep research collections. (Also see LJ‘s 10/1/09 feature, The Dewey Dilemma, featuring these libraries. Photo courtesy of Marshall Shore.)

Lessons from the bookstore
"Cracking the Code: Beyond Dewey" began with Molly Moyer, a librarian who spent the last 25 years at the famous Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver. (“I do not work for Rangview, though sometimes I think I do,” she quipped. “And sometimes they think I do.”) 

Initially, Moyer recalled, she had to learn to be more flexible, to listen to how customers asked for books. “We tried to uncreate barriers between the customer and the book,” she said.

For example, in some sections, books are alphabetized by author, in others by title. “It depends on how people ask for things: we put business biographies in the business section,” she said. “We put all of our poetry alphabetically by poet; we don’t care if they’re British or American.” 

“We never knew what to do with true crime,” Moyer reflected, saying that it was once placed with mysteries and at another time filed with romance. She laughed. “We finally put it next to the law books,” she said. “If it’s not selling and it’s a popular book, we need to move it to where people can find it.”

The store also tries hard to merchandise books, with staff picks to entice readers. 

Weddings are supposed to be in the reference section, but that doesn’t work. “We created a section near cookbooks,” she said, “kind of like entertaining.”

Lessons from Perry
Former MCLD staffer Marshall Shore, who led the dropping of Dewey at the Perry branch, recalled how he was inspired by focus groups to create a branch with large, colorful signage, movable bookshelves, and chairs that worked for everybody. (Branch photos by Jeff Scott here.)

Now, as Maricopa builds new branches, they’re Deweyless. In 2007, Shore recalled, “I was called an idiot, stupid, sacrilege… It’s interesting that conversation has really progressed beyond that. It’s not really about Dropping Dewey, it’s about customer service, about those hurdles we place for the public.”

On the day that the Perry branch opened, he recalled, “we bought into the hype,” assigning extra staffers to guide patrons who might be confounded. They weren’t.

Lessons from Rangeview
Lynda Freas, Director of Family Services at Rangeview, described how five colleagues from her library visited Rangeview WordThink PLAMCLD about 18 months ago, meeting with director Harry Courtwright. “We got off the plane back in Denver and said, we can do this.”

While the library has five people in collection development, “every person in every branch put labels on books.”

Rangeview Collection Development Manager Rachel Fewell said the library drew on Maricopa’s experience with vendors to create the WordThink Grid. “Probably 90 percent of our materials are cataloged and processed out of house.”

Baker & Taylor offers customer cataloging. “We communicate all the time,” she said, “but for the most part, that grid has been the best tool for them.”

The topic of Weddings, for example, goes into Relationships. Several subcategories within RELATION are subsumed in a second word, such as Abuse (child abuse, partner abuse, etc.), Family (siblings, adoption, etc.), and Sex.

“We didn’t know how long it was going to take,” Fewell reflected, noting that Rangeview was ordering WordThink for new libraries and Dewey for existing libraries.
"We continue to get feedback from the staff,” she said, noting that some categories have shrunken because they became too large. Meanwhile, the biography collection grew enormously, with many books pulled from history.

Fewell said she wanted to “dispel another myth: we’re not throwing the whole thing out.” Rangeview is still using a traditional MARC record.

“True crime: it’s a problem for us, too,” she acknowledged. But graphic novels “have been such a great project to work on,” since they’re now much easier to find.

How go get there
“I’ve been in technical services almost 30 years,” one audience member commented. “It’s refreshing. How do I get the other departments to buy in?”

Freas said it was important to have leadership from the top; her library board wanted to shake things up by hiring a new director Pam Sandlian Smith.

Shore noted that Perry, as a new library, recruited new staff and could ask them how they felt about the change. Some were on board, while others weren’t—so they didn’t get hired.

Success and challenges
At Rangeview, circulation of biographies has doubled in most locations. Teen nonfiction has tripled. Also booming is test preparation. “People weren’t finding that stuff in Dewey,” Fewell said. (They’ve also done a lot of weeding.)

“I came in as a pretty big skeptic, I find this exciting,” one audience member commented, before asking whether the switch could work for collections like local history and musical scores.

“We have a popular browsing collection,” Fewell said, with no extensive historical or government documents. The process would have to be modified for a more technical collection.

“We thought it would work only in a small library,” said Shore, who then referenced a Portland institution: “Have any of you been to a place called Powell’s [bookstore]?”

He said he’s even been talking with an academic library interested in moving to a word schematic.

Could dropping Dewey for only some branches work with a floating collection?

No, said Shore. “That was one reason Maricopa was not doing floating collections.”
Click here for more PLA 2010 Conference News coverage from the editors of Library Journal and School Library Journal.


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