Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

First They Came for the Children

Since it’s Halloween, I have a scary story for you.

Adolf Hitler once said: When an opponent declares, “I will not come over to your side,” I calmly say, “Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.”

This is great. I’ve never gotten to start a blog post with a Hitler quote, and nothing says fun or over-the-top like a good Hitler quote.

Until now, I didn’t have an appropriately frightening subject, but now I do. No, it’s not the school librarian who allegedly took shushing to a whole new level by choking a student. That’s right, an elementary school library is getting rid of its Dewey Classification system.

Instead of replacing it with the LC system to prepare the little kiddies for college, they’ve replaced it with a bookstore organization model, to prepare the little kiddies to shop in bookstores that probably won’t exist anymore by the time they’re grown up.

It’s one thing when public libraries replace a precise classification scheme for a bookstore model, because public libraries are there to provide infotainment, not precise research collections. Besides, public libraries have long organized fiction and biographies into separate sections having nothing to do with Dewey. Public libraries are designed for the casual browser.

But school libraries? Aren’t these the libraries that are supposed to be preparing our children to do library research in high school and college? Information literacy and all that?

If school libraries abandon classification schemes for bookstore models, there goes that hope. By they time these kids get to college – if they’ll even be able to afford college – they’ll be so used to just rambling among disorganized books that they won’t know what to do in the library.

Maybe they’ll protest that instead of having books arranged so they can be easily identified and found, their college library should just arrange them in a “user friendly” manner like bookstores and their old school libraries.

That could work. Libraries could have sections of 50 to 100,000 books on “general history.”

That’s where the pirate books ended up: “Each category requires at least 15 titles, but when it came to books on pirates, for example, there weren’t enough. Those books ended up in general history.” Huh?

There’s some irony here. Librarians, traditionally sticklers for organization and control, are abandoning an actual classification scheme that requires books to be organized in controlled ways. But then they’re adhering religiously to an arbitrary rule that says a category requires at least 15 titles?
If you’re not going to be precise and shelve pirates at 910.45, then what difference does it make if there’s a little section labeled “pirates” with 10 books instead of 15?

And if you’re that wedded to the arbitrary roles of a loose organization model, would it kill the library to order a few more books on pirates to get the level to 15 titles so that the kiddies could find them?

I guess in a lot of academic libraries the problem would be different. They’ll have sections of 30,000 books on “World History,” shelved alphabetically by author. What fun it will be!

This is the beginning of the end. The thin end of the wedge. The…never mind, I’m out of cliches.

I guess it’s easier to arrange libraries like bookstores than to spend ten minutes teaching children how to use the DDC. By the time they’re grown, that will be the only library they know.

Remember, first they came for the children.



  1. What’s so striking about this library initiative and others like it, (DPLA, Chemung libraries turning a new page) is an apparent lack of mission. What societal goals are libraries trying to help us attain? What value are they trying to deliver?

    Libraries need to articulate a clear mission and measurable goals, then organize their vast resources to support them. Otherwise all this rejiggering is merely a rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic.

  2. You’re starting from the premise that elementary/middle/high school libraries have a nonfiction reference collection worth precisely cataloging in the first place. What with budget cuts and all most schools are mandating that their “school media centers” get rid of those pesky quickly-outdated paper and ink titles in favor of praying that students can find whatever they need on that Internet thingamajig.

    And that’s in the schools that still pay lip service to the idea of libraries in the guise of “school media centers.”

  3. I’m sorry, I live in a city where we are trying to keep libraries and librarians in the schools. For some reason taxpayers think that kids don’t care about reading AT ALL! I don’t mind if you take out a few shelves for a few computers, as long at it doesn’t effect the budget and I can have the books accessible in storage. As for catalogs, who cares?!

    BISAC might be a lazy approach to managing a collection, but I use it at home for my own collection (3k and holding) and for really small collections it’s not that bad. Deng Xiaoping said, “No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat.” What I find disgusting is when a city library of a 1 million plus books hangs on to DDC or even use BISAC.

    Perish the thought!

  4. I would actually say that you’re starting with the premise that the DDC is actually still taught in schools. I can’t recall the last time I encountered a student (at the college level) who remembers being taught how to find books in a library.

    If they’re not going to teach it at all, then who really cares how the books are organized? Why bother organizing them at all? Just stack them on the floor in piles and let the kids knock ’em down and pick up any book that strikes their fancy.

    • Anita Miller says:

      Perhaps your state does not have school librarians that are certified. I have spent my 20+ years of teaching library education to help students become self-sufficient and life long learners. A person who understands the DDC system, can find what he/she needs without your help, thus allowing them to become self-sufficient lifelong users of information. As my students come to understand the system, they find it gratifying to be able to information by themselves.

  5. These decisions to go Deweyless are often made by library directors who don’t understand Dewey themselves. I am not kidding. I personally am familiar with 2 of them in my state. They have the authority but not the knowledge.

  6. I don’t understand how this is a benefit to anyone. It’s going to be harder to locate books. It’s going to hurt serendipitous research discoveries afforded via co-location in a well organized system.

    Having worked at bookstores before becomeing a librarian, the only benefit I can see is making it easier to showcase certain titles in certain collections without worrying about things being in the right place. I can also tell you, though, that the point of these layouts, other than pushing the most profitable sales, is to make you ask for help so that the bookSELLERS can get as many suggestions into your hands as possible. The idea is that once the book is in your hands you are much more likely to purchase it.

    So, more labor intensive, but potentially higher circ. Maybe that’s the bottom line they’re trying to hit?

    • anonymous says:

      And for libraries the idea should be that once the book is in your hands, you are much more likely to read it.

  7. Whatever gets them to the information they want/need. Any system you use will have its drawbacks and its highlights. But as long as you have some staff around to assist, you are golden. YAY for librarians and library staff!

  8. Randal Powell says:

    It’s clear that a lot of students aren’t being taught the fundamentals of how to use a library and conduct research: Dewey, LC, indexes, Boolean logic, primary sources, reference books. School media centers supposedly exist to teach this; if they don’t, then their purpose is way to convoluted for my taste.

  9. Today publishing veteran Joe Esposito offered an intriguing idea on how to support patrons, libraries and publishers. His passion and the way he speaks about what we’re losing in the rush to digital makes this idea worth checking out:

  10. anonymous says:

    BISAC is especially good at encouraging physical browse, with search available through the OPAC. Why do you think bookstores use it? They know their customers better than libraries do. And that translates to BISAC in the virtual bookstores as well. The books are still classified, just not shelved in that order. DDC/LC serve physical search, but that’s arguably better served by the OPAC, which will point to the shelf. Browse is important and sorely neglected given the focus of the OPAC on search. BISAC is perfectly fine for school and small branch libraries.

    • On what are you basing your statements, anonymous? Just because you say it doesn’t make it so.

      Yes, bookstores under THEIR customers. They understand, as Spencer points out, how to arrange books in order to sell something — anything. They do not arrange books in an order that permits users to find specific materials on specific topics. They don’t even organize them in order for users to browse for materials on specific topics.

      DDC and LCC are not only for “physical search.” They both organize materials in a subject hierarchy which moves from broad, general works on a topic through to increasingly more specific works on the same topic. This makes it possible not only to find a specific work on a specific topic, by looking it up in the OPAC, but also to browse topics more effectively. And any decent OPAC will also offer search by DDC or LCC number, so anyone can browse through the shelves virtually.

      “Browse” can mean to wander aimlessly, picking up items at random, or to skim titles within a subject hoping to find something of interest, or it can mean a more structured search, looking at the range of available materials on a given topic. Libraries support all types. Bookstores support only the first two.

  11. Suzanne here’s a lit review, as far as your ‘says who’ question. Let me know if you have any other questions.

    Bailey, A., & Bak, G. (2004). libX – A firefox extension for enhanced library access. Library Hi Tech, 24(2), 290-304.
    Bates, M. J. (1989). The design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for the online search interface. Online Review, 13(5), 407-424.
    Beheshti, J. (1992). Browsing through public access catalogs. Information Technology & Libraries, 11(3), 220-228.
    Björneborn, L. (2008). Serendipity dimensions and users’ information behaviour in the physical library interface. Information Research, 13(4), 38-38.
    Bodoff, D. (2006). Relevance for browsing, relevance for searching. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(1), 69-86.
    Chan, L. M. (1990). The library of congress classification system in an online environment. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 11(1), 7.
    Coleman, J. (2007). Browsing 101: How do you find a good book? Library Media Connection, 25(4), 42-43.
    Cooper, J. W., & Prager, J. M. (2000). Anti-serendipity: Finding useless documents and similar documents. System Sciences, 2000. Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Hawaii International Conference on, 8 pp. vol.1.
    Foster, A., & Ford, N. (2003). Serendipity and information seeking: An empirical study. Journal of Documentation, 59(3), 321-340.
    Griffiths, Jillian and Brophy, Peter. (2005). Student searching behavior and the web: Use of academic resources and Google. Library Trends, 53(4), 539-554.
    Gup, T. (1997, November 21). Point of view; the end of serendipity. Chronicle of Higher Education,
    Koch, T., Golub, K., & Ardo, A. (2006). Users browsing behaviour in a DDC-based web service: A log analysis. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 42(3/4), n.
    Matsuda, C. (2003). Browsing behavior in information seeking process: On the basis of observation of information-seeking behavior in libraries and bookstores. (english). Library & Information Science, (49), 1-31.
    McDonald, D. M., & Chen, H. (2006). Summary in context: Searching versus browsing. ACM Transactions on Information Systems, 24(1), 111-141.
    Pollard, R.A hypertext-based thesaurus as a subject browsing aid for bibliographic databases. Information Processing & Management, 29(3), 345-357.
    Reitz, J. M. (2004). Dictionary for library and information science. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.
    Rorvig, M. E. (1988). How do you browse? Library Journal, 113(1), 61.
    Sathe, N., Grady, J., & Guise, N. (2002). Print versus electronic journals: A preliminary investigation into the effect of journal format on research processes. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 90(2), 235-243.
    Singer, R. (2008). In search of a really “next generation” catalog. Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 20(3), 139.
    Tam, W., Cox, A., & Bussey, A.Student user preferences for features of next-generation OPACs: A case study of University of Sheffield international students. Program: Electronic Library and Information Systems, 43(4), 349-374. doi:10.1108/00330330910998020
    Trant, J. (2009). Studying social tagging and folksonomy: A review and framework. Journal of Digital Information, 10(1)
    Vizine-Goetz, D. (2006). Dewey browser. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 42(3), 213.
    Westcott, J., Chappel, A., & Lebel, C. (2009). LibraryThing for libraries at Claremont. Library Hi Tech, 27(1), 78-81. doi:10.1108/07378830910942937
    Yu, H., & Young, M. (2004). The impact of web search engines on subject searching in OPAC. Information Technology and LIbraries, 23(4), 168-180.

    • Oh, and did I forget to mention Dilevko, J., & Hayman, A. (2000). Collection development patterns of fiction titles in public libraries: The place of independent and small presses. Library & Information Science Research, 22(1), 35-59.

      “Tisdale (1997) has controversially argued that the local Barnes & Noble store of the late 1990s resembles more of what a public library should be than does the local public library itself. The evidence put forward in the present article suggests that, from the perspective of supplying a broad and diverse array of titles published by numerous small and independent presses,
      Barnes & Noble is, in fact, doing a better job than the public library.”

      Peer reviewed, of course.

    • That is old data, from the prosperous 1990s, pre-ebooks. Now Borders has closed. I wonder if B&N’s business plan re availability of print books from small/independent presses has changed.

      Too often we look to what has happened in the past to point our way to the future.

      Dilevko has never worked in a public library, and has some major axes to grind.

    • anonymous says:

      The point about B&N is actually Tisdale’s not Dilevkos. Dilevko’s point is about objective analysis of collection practices and diversity of resources, or lack thereof, a point that is hard to argue against.

  12. Well, if this becomes a popular school library trend – we are going to need a lot more universities offering more librarian instruction 101 classes than they already do – and make them all required (versus some optional!) Which in turn, could mean that maybe I’d have a better chance at finding that library job after spending $60,000 to get the MLIS!!! I still think ditching a library classification system is a horrible idea.

    • anonymous says:

      The books are still classified. They are just shelved in a way that makes more sense to the typical library customer and also conforms to how resources are organized in the many other ways people search for books, both physically and virtually. Librarians and advanced searchers are free to use the OPAC and ddc internally; that is a separate issue from how they are shelved.

      Nobody does local cataloging anymore, and OCLC Worldcat lists both dewey and lc. Interestingly, Worldcat local doesn’t. Might be a trend. Anyway, everyone (especially those with an MLS, if they were paying attention) knows that DDC isn’t really a very good classification system today. We use it because it’s entrenched. Everyone also knows that faceted classification is a better way to do things. But it’s not entrenched.

      Since public libraries don’t use LC classification, universities have to reteach them anyway. But studies overwhelmingly show that students prefer to search books on Amazon or Googlebooks, even if they will go to their academic library to retrieve them.

      This is all much ado about nothing. Or everything. Times change. Libraries should too.

  13. Gads, this is such a stupid fad. Library books are already arranged conveniently for browsing–put up a sign saying “Science” or “Literature,” and you’re done–plus adding the value of making it possible to retrieve a certain book.

    Basically, what libraries who do this are saying is, “Our patrons are too stupid to count.” Sorry, but that’s not my view.

  14. You’re right. The heinous Hitler analogy is WAY over the top. What happened to professional courtesy? If we don’t respect each other, who will? An apology is in order to your colleagues who implemented this idea. Hitler, really?
    Do you remember how earthshaking it was when “How Baltimore Chooses” was published regarding public libraries? It was supposed to be the death of all standards.
    I don’t know if I agree with the bookstore model for schools, either, but what’s wrong with experimentation? And information literacy teaching will have to tackle the user-friendly interface that all students will be navigating in the years to come.

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