Books Libraries Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 050-059: Killer serials

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

The Rundown:

  • 050 General serials & their Indexes
  • 051 Serials in American English
  • 052 Serials in English
  • 053 Serials in other Germanic languages
  • 054 Serials in French, Occitan & Catalan
  • 055 Serials in Italian, Romanian & related languages
  • 056 Serials in Spanish & Portuguese
  • 057 Serials in Slavic languages
  • 058 Serials in Scandinavian languages
  • 059 Serials in other languages

Journalism, the saying goes, is the first draft of history. It takes the first stab at what’s going on the in the world, with the assumption that future historians will take that draft and make corrections, additions, and judgements with the benefit of distance. With this in mind, bringing all those “first drafts” together into one publication (like the examples below do) creates a different and unique dynamic, where an overarching story emerges out of a series of first drafts–a whole that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It’s fun to walk through the whole history of something and see how certain events were experienced at the time compared to how they are interpreted today.

The Dew3:

Paper Dreams: Writers and Editors on the American Literary Magazine
Edited by Travis Kurowski
Dewey: 051 PAP
Random Sentence: “In those days, in Iowa City, twenty-five dollars bought a hell of a lot of beer.”

Time: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Influential Magazine
Edited by Norberto Angeletti
Dewey: 051.09 ANG
Random Sentence: “This was a fascinating, maddening, challenging, and ultimately expanding experience.”

The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines
By Peter Haining
Dewey: 051.09 HAI
Random Sentence: “It was pretty young girls that evildoers invariably had it in for.”

Books Libraries Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 040-049: The Abyss

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

The Rundown:

Darkness. Emptiness. Eternally nothing.

This is the first and only unassigned ten-spot in all of Dewey. It used to be the home of Biographies, but most libraries separate biographies into their own section, leaving this vacant lot to the weeds. Of course, on the shelves the 030s and 050s will flow together seamlessly, but in our minds and hearts we all know and carry on the memory of the ancient denizens of the 040s.


Books Libraries Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 020-029: Meta-Dewey

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

The Rundown:

  • 020 Library & information sciences
  • 021 Library relationships
  • 022 Administration of physical plant
  • 023 Personnel management
  • 024 No longer used—formerly Regulations for readers
  • 025 Library operations
  • 026 Libraries for specific subjects
  • 027 General libraries
  • 028 Reading & use of other information media
  • 029 No longer used—formerly Literary methods

We’re getting meta up in here. I suppose it’s fitting that the section on libraries should be towards the beginning. Imagine how much this section has changed from Melvil Dewey’s time until now. I wonder how blown his mind would be by the Internet and online catalogs. It’s something we modern users take for granted. I’m old enough to remember using card catalogs, but kids these days (\*shakes fist at sky*) don’t have a clue. Whether that’s good or not is debatable, I suppose, but so long as they’re using the library I’d call that a victory.

Speaking of victory, this section is the first thus far that has books I’ve already read, two of which are below. Yeah reading!

The Dew3:

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian
by Avi Steinberg
Dewey: 027.665 STE
Random Sentence: “For these reasons, the library has always been run by a strongman.”

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
by Alan Jacobs
Dewey: 028.8 JAC
Random Sentence: “Fortuity happens, but serendipity can be cultivated.”

My Ideal Bookshelf
edited by Thessaly La Force
Dewey: 028.9 MY
Random Sentence: “I picked all of these books because I think you should always judge a book by its cover–or its spine, in this case.” -Oliver Jeffers

Libraries Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 010-019: Books, man…

More Teach Me How To Dewey

The Rundown:

  • 010 Bibliography
  • 011 Bibliographies
  • 012 Bibliographies of individuals
  • 013 [Unassigned]
  • 014 Bibliographies of anonymous & pseudonymous works
  • 015 Bibliographies of works from specific places
  • 016 Bibliographies of works on specific subjects
  • 017 General subject catalogs
  • 018 Catalogs arranged by author, date, etc.
  • 019 Dictionary catalogs

Ohhhhh yeaaahhhh… Pure, unadulterated book crack. This is where things start to get good. Book lovers don’t have to go far to get their fix in Dewey. Bibliographies of all stripes serenade perusers of the stacks like the Sirens in The Odyssey, each its own rabbit hole of bookish delight. Be careful not to linger for too long here, though, as there’s so much more to see. (Although, if you’re already overwhelmed by the panoply of book choices before you, then perhaps a curated bibliography is a good place to start your reading adventures.)

The Dew3:

Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason
by Nancy Pearl
Dewey: 011.73 PEA
Random Sentence: “Ah, the lure of the open road, or the open water, or simply the great unknown.”

A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books
by Alex Beam
Dewey: 011.73 BEA
Random Sentence: “Make no mistake: This was no charitable act of cultural enrichment.”

Bizarre Books: A Compendium of Classic Oddities
by Russell Ash
Dewey: 016.082 ASH
Random Featured Book: Romance of the Gas Industry by Oscar Norman

Libraries Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 001-009: You’re wrong about aliens and books

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

We’re really doing it, buddies! Teach Me How To Dewey (aka the Dewey Domination System, aka Operation Climb Mountain Dewey) is in effect, library card at the ready to check out some sweet books, and maybe a movie or two if we’re feeling lucky. Generally, each post that explores a new Dewey ten-spot will have an overview of the section along with some commentary from the Dewer (that’s the Dewey doer) and 3 featured books (Dew3? Book Drops of Dewey?). These books won’t necessarily be the best of their bunch, but rather representative or quirky titles the average patron otherwise wouldn’t have discovered. Shall we begin?

The Rundown:

  • 000 Generalities
  • 000 Computer science, knowledge & general works
  • 001 Knowledge
  • 002 The book (i.e. Meta writings about books)
  • 003 Systems
  • 004 Data processing & computer science
  • 005 Computer programming, programs & data
  • 006 Special computer methods
  • 007 [Unassigned]
  • 008 [Unassigned]
  • 009 [Unassigned]

There I was, all excited to begin the great Dewey quest when, after an intriguing start in the “generalities” section, I got deluged by shelf after shelf of booktorials on “information systems” and Microsoft Word 2003 and other software guides that were already obsolete like three months after publication. If someone was starting at zero with Dewey and work their way up (like, say, a first-time library patron browsing for books or a librarian blogging about super cool things like classification systems), they probably wouldn’t be hooked yet. The section on “the book” is probably popular among librarians and bibliophiles, but even that didn’t have enough in my library’s stacks for me to linger.

And yet, in the very first leg of the journey we have already encountered the mythical Unassigned areas. I like to think of them as the Elephant’s Graveyard of Dewey. (The Librarian King GIF in 3… 2…) So mysterious yet full of power and portent. What book bones lay there? Will any new subsection dare enter that haunted terrain?

Oh, I just can’t wait for 010.

The Dew3:

Wrong: Why Experts* Keep Failing Us–and How to Know When Not to Trust Them
by David Freedman
Dewey: 001 FRE
Random Sentence: “Okay, so lousy research can slip past peer review into journals.”

Aliens Among Us
by Ruth Montgomery
Dewey: 001.94 MON
Random Sentence: “Their fleet is smaller than the Ashtar group, but equally dedicated to helping earthlings.”

The Smithsonian Book of Books
by Michael Olmert
Dewey: 002 OLM
Random Sentence: “Such men often became moralistic, platitudinous bores.”

Libraries Teach Me How to Dewey

This Is How We Dewey: A Primer

A Teach Me How To Dewey production


Ready for the Snapchat summary of Dewey? Here it goes:

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) organizes library material in a numerical hierarchy by field of study. Each one has its own 100-level placement, called a class:

  • 000 – General works, Computer science and Information
  • 100 – Philosophy and psychology
  • 200 – Religion
  • 300 – Social sciences
  • 400 – Language
  • 500 – Science
  • 600 – Technology
  • 700 – Arts & recreation
  • 800 – Literature
  • 900 – History & geography

Each class has its own 10 subdivisions, which have their own subsections, which become more specific the deeper they go. So a book with a Dewey number of 300 will be more general than one with 301.355. Books are organized on the shelf in numerical order, with books with the same Dewey number organized alphabetically by author. (It’s a lot easier to understand when you see it on the shelves, so go visit your local library!)

A book’s Dewey number has two components: its class number (i.e. a number that designates its place on the shelves) and three letters, which usually are the first three of the author’s last name.

So in my library, David McCullough’s Truman has a Dewey number of 973.918 MCC, which got that because it’s in:

900 History & geography
– 970 General history of North America
– – 973 General history of North America; United States

The numbers after the decimal point identify the material more and more specifically by geography, subject, language, etc. And because David McCullough was the author, MCC is tagged onto the end.

That’s basically it. How an item gets cataloged fully – with subject headings, physical description, and all that extra info most non-library folks don’t care about – is both an art and a science, and one best left to professional catalogers because they actually enjoy doing it. But going forward, we’ll be just fine with the basic knowledge of what a Dewey number is and why it’s important for libraries.

Two-minute tutorial done. Let’s Dewey this!

Teach Me How to Dewey

Dewey is dead; long live Dewey

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) is kinda weird. For today’s app-ified patrons, it’s not very intuitive and seems tattered, like one of the old books it classifies. But despite what the sayers of nay say, it’s not time to dump Dewey. Instead, we should try to get to know it a little better.

Librarians encounter Dewey every day while finding books for patrons, weeding the stacks of old books, and selecting new material for the shelves. Yet it can be a bit hard to understand at times, even for librarians. How can such a fusty system be made fresh again?

Teach Me How To Dewey exists for four reasons:

  1. To better familiarize library users with the library’s foundational organizational system (i.e. the thing that makes it all work);
  2. To shine a light into the stacks, so to speak, and show the people who don’t use libraries very often what’s available freely to them;
  3. To show why books and libraries are friggin’ awesome;
  4. To disseminate as many Dewey-related puns as possible.

I’ll tour through the DDC ten decimal points at a time, highlighting a few representative/intriguing/weird books from each section.

Libraries are full of amazing things. Here’s hoping Dewey will help us find them.

Books Libraries Media Technology

iLibrary: Resistance Is Futile


If a library doesn’t have books, does it cease to be a library? The coming of BiblioTech, a new Apple Store computer lab bookless library in San Antonio, the first in the nation, begs the question. It has also brought with it rhetorical musings on whether the future of libraries is already here, and whether the end of those pesky paper books is finally nigh.

Disclaimer: I love technology (sometimes too much) and I’m a library school graduate hoping to work in a library/archive, so I’m far from being a fist-shaking, card-catalog-carrying luddite librarian. But I have grown healthily skeptical of new technologies that come with fantastical declarations of What It All Means. If we’ve learned anything from the very company that BiblioTech models itself after, it’s that the newest available product is the greatest creation in the history of the world — until the slightly-altered updated version comes in a few months. “New device desirable, old device undesirable.”

So when Mary Graham, vice president of South Carolina’s Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, looks at BiblioTech and says, “I told our people that you need to take a look at this. This is the future. … If you’re going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing,” I can’t help but wonder whether the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and influential civic bodies like it around the country will be building the next truly revolutionary and innovative development in the library & information world, or the next Segway.

What makes me so hesitant to hop on every wave supposedly headed to the bright, beautiful future — waves like the all-digital library or Google Glass or flying cars (there’s still time for that one, DeLorean) — is the air of inevitability usually attached to them. This is the future, so there’s no sense in resisting it. Given historical precedent I understand the reasoning for that argument, but that doesn’t make it any more justified. Michael Sacasas dubbed this inevitability-argument the Borg Complex, a way of thinking “exhibited by writers and pundits who explicitly assert or implicitly assume that resistance to technology is futile.” Some symptoms of the Borg Complex, according to Sacasas:

  • Makes grandiose, but unsupported claims for technology
  • Pays lip service to, but ultimately dismisses genuine concerns
  • Equates resistance or caution to reactionary nostalgia
  • Announces the bleak future for those who refuse to assimilate

Nicholas Carr, one of my favorite tech writers, quotes Google chairman Eric Schmidt talking about the company’s Glass product: “Our goal is to make the world better. We’ll take the criticism along the way, but criticisms are inevitably from people who are afraid of change or who have not figured out that there will be an adaptation of society to it.” Don’t even try to resist Glass or any new technology, Earthling, for resistance is foolish.

Perhaps BiblioTech (and Google Glass for that matter) is the future. Perhaps physical books are indeed becoming glorified kindling. I highly doubt that, even setting aside my own predilection for them. But I don’t know the future. Our world is becoming more digitized, and libraries in the aggregate are reflecting that reality. Whether we become the wholly digital society BiblioTech is modeling (expecting?) remains to be seen. I’d love to check out the place in person one day, if only to back up my snap judgments with first-hand knowledge. Until then, I’ll be satisfied with libraries that are truly bibliotechy, achieving a healthy balance of physical and digital resources that honor the past, present, and future.

(Image via BiblioTech)