Thursday, September 17, 2009

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

Library assistant Janet Brennan (left) and branch manager Jennifer Miele start shelving books at Gilbert's Perry Branch, which is set to open in June.

Old news, but we're revisiting this topic currently in the online class I am teaching. The Maricopa County Library system is dumping the Dewey Decimal Classification system for more of a bookstore approach to organization, where there are fewer subject headings and resources are grouped together. Some valid questions are:
  • Is the bookstore method of organization actually more browsable, more user-friendly than traditional library classification systems, like Dewey?
  • Does this browsability come at the expense of findability? In other words, can a library user or employee find a book in the library's electronic catalog and walk directly to the book's exact location on the shelf?
Doubtful, but I'm obviously biased toward a more disciplined approach to organization and access. While the browsable, bookstore method of rough organization may appeal to some users, is it not a dilution, a dumbing down of a proven organizational method? Finally, what about retraining costs for the library staff and a complete overhaul of the electronic catalog? In this economy, is it cost-effective to dump a system and transition to a new means of cataloging, arranging, providing signage and reapplying spine labels?

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