Dewey...or Don't We?

I have been pretty excited to see libraries talking about and looking into adapting BISAC to use with non-fiction classification.  My buddy Ken Hall over at Fond du Lac Public Library is putting this into play at his library (and has a nice explanation here).  What calls to me about this system is that it still maintains subject organization but also invites the art of browsing to sing out as well.

Many, many years ago, at my former job, my visionary director Jack Fry and I concocted a heretical new  Dewey/Cuttering system that vastly simplified our kids NF collection and was easy to use. Although not quite as simple as the bookstore's BISAC, it incorporated the concept that kids are not necessarily looking for a specific book by a specific author in a subject section but rather books in general about the subject they are interested in.

I had watched for years as kids, parents and A+ student shelvers struggled to find and get the books they were looking for.  And as a borderline dyslexic, I had my own nightmares with transposed numbers in the great forest of Dewey's decimals.

So we tried to use no decimals at all or at very most, when push came to shove, one number beyond the decimal.  Rather than using the cutter to designate the author's last name, in sections where the decimals had been decimated (bwa-ha-ha-ha), we used a generic letter to separate types of books in a subject.  That reads like Greek to me so let me give a couple of examples.

Baseball's Dewey Decimal (DD) number is 796.357; football is 796.332; basketball is 796.323. So we designated sports books as 796.3 and put all baseball books as 796.3 B (B=baseball); football books as 796.3 F (F=football); all basketball books as 796.3 C (C= "court" sports); soccer as 796.3 S, etc. We chose not to include an author's name in the spine label, just subject of the book. These collections were totally browse-worthy.

Same in mammal books in the notorious 599.7, 599.6, 599.3 sections. Bears would be 599.7 B, big cats 599.7 F (feline), and onward.  We kept the same basic Dewey number but just gathered all books on bears into one designated number/letter and let the kids browse. We chose this formula in any section of the collection that had great long Dewey strings (crafts and animals spring to mind...we were never ever brave enough to tackle 398's. I'm afraid..they defeated me). We didn't assign the collection letter willy-nilly - we chose letters that matched the DD designation.  We just truncated it and translated it to be user-friendly.

Kids loved it, parents loved it, shelvers worshipped at our feet.  I always hoped this would catch on somewhere but catalogers were universally horrified and condemnatory and they control how we present stuff to our public (unless you were lucky like me to have a visionary director who said go for it and control of the cataloging...yes, I was cataloger AND children's librarian!). I always thought it was a shame.  It made me think about whether we listen hard enough in libraries to the folks who work with kids and know gobs more than people think we do (but that's another whole 800 posts worth!)

As to whether kids can handle more complex DD numbering in later years if not exposed or taught DD early? I have a hunch they can. Someone did a study years ago saying that the average reading level of a catalog was 6th grade and I figure decimals as an everyday skill is out there in upper elementary grades as it is..a time when kids are aging out into the wild blue yonder of the adult collection for their research. It's a bit like not teaching geometry until our minds can handle that level of mathematical visualization. It's not for most 4th graders.

It has always struck me as trez bizarre that while we want to organize the info for ease of use, we continue to make it very difficult for the average Joe and Jill to find the darn stuff. I am thrillingly happy that brave souls in libraries are finally seeing BISAC as the way to a future that honors organization but does it in a language that the general public is familiar with (although I must admit I do love making the analogy with kids on class visits that Dewey is just MY world language rather than Spanish or Japanese or German!).

I am all for making libraries easy to use so that we can follow one of my most favorite of Ranganathan's Rules: "Save the time of the reader"!

Image: '09-may-20'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/91255327@N00/3565110921


Librarian Rock Stars...Why Not?

David Lee King started the discussion; Andy Woodworth continued it at Agnostic, Maybe; and Nancy Dowd at The 'M' Word - Marketing Libraries adds a marketing perspective.  They are all talking about highlighting the real people behind the books and buildings - library staffers who make our magic happen.  Getting staff into the limelight and recognizing their substantial contributions to innovation, great service and great ideas is a wonderful way to connect to our communities.

In a reply to Andy's thoughtful post that was re-posted at LIS News I stated:
"I think librarians have suffered long enough in being the "behind-the-scenes" folks. Let us put faces and rock star status on all the champions of literacy, information and free access for all. I've seen it enough times in children's work - sometimes being that Pied Piper of books and info leverages more doors opening to do good library work than pretending it's just buildings and collections that make the library great. Visionary, enthusiastic, creative, idea-filled committed library workers are THE rock stars and DO make libraries great for the community. I have a secret thrill each and every time I see a librarian celebrated and/or noted as newsworthy. Librarians rock!"

I've been thinking alot about this issue since I got the call two months ago with the surprise news that I would be receiving the WI Librarian of the Year award.  I've always considered myself a working grunt. I do the very best I can for my patrons. They are the most important people in my library work formula. But because I love them up with great service and programs, by the gods and goddesses, they love me right back and it translates into massive support for new ideas, fundraising and volunteerism. I, like many of my children's and teen librarian colleagues, get to be a "rock star" with the kids and parents because they see the face behind the building and collections. We rock our little world and it makes coming to work every day a little more special.

The award came with a different "rock star" status that has surprised me and made me think alot about our place in the larger library community. I was interviewed along with a collegue from the award winning Library of the Year on state-wide public radio - and we weren't being asked, "Why did we receive this award", but substantive questions about the state of all types of libraries and libraries' future viability. And the call-ins to that show!  Oh my gosh, people loved their libraries...and very specifically, LOVED THEIR LIBRARIANS!! And I didn't hesitate to say in that forum that folks in each community bond with their library staffers and take great pride in the work they do.

So let's not hide our lights under bushel baskets.  Do celebrate each other in libraries - our expertise, talents, innovations and dedication. We are all -each day, in all of our libraries - Librarians of the Year. So let's rock on!

Image: 'Alma Nativa'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/11229881@N05/2659070334