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Andrea Phelps Assignment 4 Information Resources: Organization and Access Professor Jian Qin 12/6/2010

Organizing Information in the Digital World: Traditional Classification Systems or Bookstore Browsing?

Classification schemes have long been a subject of debate amongst librarians. What system is the "right" one, should there be different schema in different situations, do the existing systems actually serve the librarians and users? More recently, the hot topic has been whether to use Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), Library of Congress Classification (LCC), or the bookstore categories, known as Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC). Choosing between DDC and LCC has been primarily limited to the academic setting, while the public libraries have been the focus of the DDC versus BISAC debate. This paper will focus on the literature surrounding the increasing use of BISAC or similar bookstore style layouts in public libraries, drawing on some school library articles as well. For many years, public librarians have debated discontinuing the use of Dewey Classification in their libraries to varying extents. Recently, a number of libraries have made very public changes to their cataloging and shelving systems, adopting systems similar to the organization found in most bookstores. The first to make the shift on a nationally publicized scale was the Perry Branch of the Maricopa County Library District in Phoenix, Arizona in 2007, which dropped Dewey classification of the non-fiction section. Since the Perry Branch opened with the Dewey-free organization scheme, there have been a number of other libraries taking the same route, which has led to a number of articles about how a certain library made the change and why they did. These changes have brought about numerous impassioned letters and research articles on whether this method is advantageous or disadvantageous. There are also a number of articles researching or discussing searching and browsing techniques used by the average person of various ages, which is relevant to the topic. Those three categories compose the majority of the literature on the Dewey and BISAC dichotomy. Explanatory: how and why we made the switch The first category of articles is perhaps the most useful to other libraries contemplating the switch. These articles are written by librarians involved in going Dewey-free, and describe


Phelps, 12/6/2010 not only why they chose to do so, but also reveal how the process worked to varying degrees. Three examples of this type of article and resource come from two different libraries, the aforementioned Maricopa County Library District and the Frankfort Public Library District. The first of the libraries to make the change, the Perry Branch of Maricopa County Library District, was a new branch opening with the new system already in place, so did not provide as much documentation of how they made the change. However, there are a number of brief articles about the Perry Branch change and the reasons behind it. As Norman Oder describes in his Library Journal article, "Behind the Maricopa County Library District's Deweyless Plan," the library and its collection were relatively small, containing just 24,000 items on opening day. He states that Director Harry Courtright felt that Dewey is not compatible with typical browsing behaviors, and that most library users claim that they come to the public library in order to browse. He also points out that the library outsourced the actual categorization and cataloging to Brodart, who also was responsible for supplying the original collection for the new library. Staff members were hired based not only on their abilities, but also because of their belief in the Dewey-free system (Oder, LJ, 2007). After the success of the Maricopa County Library District, the Frankfort Public Library District (FPLD) in Illinois decided to migrate their already existing 29,000-item collection to a Dewey-free system, which the two leads on the project describe in Library Journal (Rice & Kolendo, 2010). In addition to writing about the decision afterwards, the two librarians also wrote about their ongoing decisions, methods, ideas and more on a blog dedicated to the project (Rice et al.). Since their migration was completed in September 2009, the blog provides a guide to their process from start to finish. They include images of their labels and signs, a few sample taxonomies, and a few maps of how the collection is arranged physically. Additionally, the site provides reports from every meeting, and specific issues that the librarians came across during the transition. There are also recordings of presentations they gave at a number of conferences, and some spirited conversations amongst librarians and library students about the process and idea. Unfortunately, since one of the project leads is now at graduate school, much of the site has been untouched since the completion of the project, and a number of really interesting questions posted by readers have been left unanswered.


Phelps, 12/6/2010 Dewey-free: a wise choice or a really bad idea Much of the literature regarding the choice to be Dewey-free consists of opinion pieces, both for and against the move away from Dewey. They tend to be brief and passionate, and cover the spectrum between both extremes. Most are from librarians and appear in libraryrelated journals, while the more objective summaries of the controversy appear in other forums and seem to be typically written by someone who is not a librarian. Lynch and Mulero (2007) fall into the more objective category and discuss both sides of the controversy, with the opening of the Perry Branch providing the backdrop to the article. While pointing out that most of the users seem content with the arrangement, they quote online reactions as saying that getting rid of Dewey was "heresy" and "idiotic" (Lynch & Mulero, 2007). According to the article, 95% of public libraries as of July 2007 were using Dewey, while the editor in chief of the Dewey Decimal System is claimed to say that she cannot recall any earlier instance of a public library going completely Dewey- and LCC-free (Lynch & Mulero, 2007). While neither author takes a particular stance on the issue, the article provides a glimpse into the multiple facets of the argument. Suzanne Stauffer may not think that librarians switching from Dewey are idiots, but she does claim that those who think that Dewey does not promote browsing have "a fundamental misunderstanding of the structure, function, and purpose of the Dewey Decimal System (Stauffer, 2008, p. 49)." She claims that classifying non-fiction by subject the way that DDC already has is more suitable for browsing than shelving things "by alphabetical accident (Stauffer, 2008, p. 49)." Further, she argues that alphabetical arrangement does not "facilitate browsing so much as demand it because there is no other way to find a specific title (Stauffer, 2008, p. 49)." Stauffer then points out that children will have trouble with any system, and that learning DDC early on will help when they reach higher education, as they will be better able to adjust to the academic library classification systems. The solution, she claims, is to use better signage and to better train patrons, not to stop using Dewey entirely (Stauffer, 2008). Casey and Stephens (2009) take the opposite angle, and argue that just adding signs to a collection organized with Dewey is not enough. "Today's busy, working adults want to find what they want, quickly, and be able to have a latte or iced tea while they browse. And Dewey,


Phelps, 12/6/2010 no matter how good for librarians needing to locate a book fast, is simply not suited to a popular collection intended more for browsing than research (Casey & Stephens, 2009, p. 19)." There is a caveat, though: they claim that the size of the collection is very important, and that smaller collections are perhaps better suited to following bookstore organization models. After disputing a number of other complaints about going Dewey-free, they conclude with a question: "Isn't focusing on innovation, creative thinking, the delivery of intuitive user-focused service, and streamlining workflows a bit more important and timely than worrying if the catalog is perfectly correct (Casey & Stephens, 2009, p. 19)?" Searching and Browsing Techniques Most research relevant to the Dewey/BISAC debate is not directly related, but instead is literature about searching and browsing techniques, and how people categorize information and materials. A lot of the research on how people search and browse come from sociology journals and are considerably older than expected. Articles specifically about the Dewey debate seem to be less research-driven and more opinion-based, as seen above. Linda Cooper (2004) conducted a study to find out how children in kindergarten to 4th grade classify materials and arrange items for better retrieval. She starts by taking a critical look at the sociology and library science literature about typification and categorization theories. Based on that literature, Cooper defines the three general types of categorization as personal, cultural, and organizational. Most notably, she defines library systems such as Dewey and LCC as organizational, so that "in order for a user to find information using the library's method of organization, the user must deconstruct his or her personal understanding of the information problem and reconstruct it in terms of the library's typifications (Cooper, 2004, p. 300)." Cooper noticed some very interesting things when she had young students talk about where things should be in the school media center. There were surprising similarities in what all of the grade levels found to be important, such as animals and sports. However, kindergarten age children relied heavily on their own limited experience, so had very specific categories (i.e., Spice Girls, Lye the Crocodile), and did not sub-categorize in predictable ways. Additionally, "kindergarten participants tended to typify library information based on some discernible visual evidence, most usually a picture on a book cover (Cooper, 2004, p. 326)." By grade 4, students


Phelps, 12/6/2010 had shifted towards methods and terms more associated with the library thought community, using genres like fiction and non-fiction, and subgenres such as adventure, fantasy, and science fiction. "Understanding of general library information progressed from a people versus animal understanding, to a fiction versus nonfiction understanding, to an understanding based on many discreet categories contained within a broad continuum (Cooper, 2004, p. 330)." While less experimental and more experiential in nature, Brisco (2004) decided to test how effective the bookstore arrangement is for browsing and known-item searching. She brings up good points about the bookstore method of categorizing. There are books that are located based on their status (new, clearance, or even items related to news and new releases), and the arrangement of the sections does not always make sense as a part of the store layout as a whole. Actual classifications and arrangements can vary widely between stores. Accordingly, she concludes that just copying the bookstore model is not appropriate of effective for a library. If there were as much variety in classification between branches in a library system as there are in bookstores, interlibrary loan or searching for items at different branches would be quite difficult. She argues that the bookstores layout is purposefully vague and confusing to make you talk to their employees, providing them with more opportunities to try to sell you on promotions. In the end, Brisco concludes that there will always be people who have trouble finding materials, and the best way to alleviate that is through increased signage and more training and communication. As she says, "Creating an atmosphere of relaxation and studious comfort can be developed in most libraries without rewriting a cataloging system (Brisco, 2004)." Conclusion While the library community is still in turmoil over what cataloguing and shelving method to use, it is clear that many libraries have been very successful at leaving Dewey behind. The Maricopa County Library District was so impressed with how well the Perry Branch worked without Dewey that they now have 8 Dewey-less branches (Deweyless). The Rangeview, Colorado library system has also joined the growing list of libraries no longer using Dewey (Sarno, 2010). Their Anythink libraries just won the 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service for their innovative changes in the library, including the arrangement and classification of the collection ( Nor is this a purely American


Phelps, 12/6/2010 phenomenon; there is also a library in Almere, Netherlands that has been recently featured in numerous design magazines for not only structuring their collection around bookstore categories, but even structuring the exterior and interior of the library in the same fashion (Medina, 2010). Only recently has this debate really shown up in the digital library world, as much of librarian attention there has been focused on the question of the Google search method versus traditional searching. But many of the same concerns about browsing and searching with Dewey or BISAC are true for online libraries or the OPAC. However, the issue of browsability is more dependent on the interface than the cataloging system for online use. Even if the items are logically next to each other in the catalogue, if it is not easy to see what else is similar or near the item, users will not be able to browse effectively. Perhaps it is because of this that the discussion was not as high-priority or high-visibility from the digital library perspective. Most public libraries, in my experience, only use Dewey to shelve non-fiction. Whether or not they use Dewey to catalog fiction, and just shelve it differently, I cannot say. I do not think I have seen a public library that did not split fiction into basic categories, and then alphabetize by author.1 It seems to work for the most part, as Dewey lends itself better to nonfiction than fiction, and the debate seems to really be centered on the non-fiction sections, which leads me to believe that fiction typically is not Dewey-based. I think that Dewey is not completely intuitive for non-fiction, but that browsing is still attainable. However, I do feel that it might make sense to have separate sections for non-fiction based on places, animals, etc. to overcome the distance Dewey puts between animals and animal care, or locations and languages. It makes more sense to browse non-fiction by topic more granularly than it does in fiction, where breaking up items by SciFi/Fantasy, Romance, and Mystery is usually enough. Dewey is not really suited to fiction anyway, as fiction has a much smaller place in the DDC system, and includes studies of books and authors with the original fiction piece. I think that adopting other bookstore-like attributes can be a good thing, such as increasing signs (even down to the label if need be), incorporating more comfortable reading areas, and having a café area. However, I think that dropping DDC entirely is probably not the


The most familiar of those libraries being the Brighton Public Library and Hamburg Public Library in Michigan, the Northfield Public Library in Minnesota, and Manlius Public Library in New York, though I have in fact been to quite a few more that I cannot recall as vividly.


Phelps, 12/6/2010 best decision, but ultimately should be decided on a case-by-case basis, with the community in mind and actively participating in the process. I also think that DDC is not a perfect system, but that none of the other systems are perfect either. Everyone thinks differently, so there is no way to have a perfect system where every item is categorized and shelved in a way that makes sense for every person every time they search. The closest thing to that would be user-generated tagging, which has a different set of problems. Is there a happy medium? Perhaps, but librarians would have to reach outside of the Library Science community to hear from more voices, let alone listen to each other respectfully, to actually attain something close.


Phelps, 12/6/2010


(unknown). Anythink libraries receives nation's highest award for community service. Retrieved from (unknown). Deweyless. Maricopa County Library District, Arizona. Retrieved November 30, 2010 from Brisco, S. (January 2004). Dewey or Dalton? An investigation of the lure of the bookstore. Library Media Connection 22(4), 36-37. Casey, M., & Stephens, M. (July 2009). It's fine to drop Dewey. Library Journal 134(12), 19. Cooper, L. Z. (July 2004). The socialization of information behavior: a case study of cognitive categories for library information. The Library Quarterly 74(3), 299-336. Retrieved from Lynch, S. & Mulero, E. (July 14, 2007). Dewey? At this library with a very different outlook, they don't. The New York Times. Retrieved from Medina, A. E. (August 2010). A shoppable library: a retail approach puts the customer at the forefront at this Dutch public library. DDI. Retrieved 12 October, 2010 from Oder, N. (May 31, 2007). Behind the Maricopa County Library District's Dewey-less plan. Library Journal. Retrieved from Rice, M., & Kolendo, J. (2010). Dewey free. Library Journal 135(5), 52. Rice, M., Kolendo, J., et al. Dewey free. Weblog. Sarno, D. (November 12, 2010). Libraries rethink themselves as they struggle to remain relevant in the digital age. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from,0,7713744,full.story. Stauffer, S. M. (Summer/Fall 2008). Dewey -- or don't we -- classify? Children and Libraries 6(2), 49-51.



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