Two Days Without Dewey

Submitted byHollyBon Wed, 06/13/2007 - 05:51
Submitted byGregS*on Wed, 06/13/2007 - 14:25
Submitted byGACon Fri, 06/15/2007 - 00:41

The Perry Branch of the Maricopa County Library District generated tonnes of buzz recently because they're not using the traditional Dewey Decimal System, opting instead to go with a "neighbourhood" set up more in tune with a bookstore.

I spent two days working this new and innovative branch. If you got the interest in what's happening in a Deweyless branch, read on.

Full disclosure: I work for MCLD.Opening a new branch library is not a thing to be taken lightly. After all, you're unleashing something onto the community, a time bomb of knowledge paid for by the taxes of a populace. With luck, the populace welcomes you with open arms, otherwise you get to hear people whine about taxes. So when you do this thing, you better be right.
    But when you do something different, something no one ever attempted, you better make damn sure you know what you're doing. For instance, if you open a public library and forgo the use of the Dewey Decimal System, your instinct better be razor keen to the will of the patrons.
    As to the will of the library community at large, screw that. Librarians, as a whole, are slow to change certain things. We readily adopt new technologies, and then vigourously apply them to centuries old methods of doing things. Whoever said that the more things change the more they stay the same must have done time in a library. We utilize all of our shiny new tech to automate a antiquated system. The DDC is over 130 years old, biased, and confusing to patrons. For those who think it isn't, try getting a patron to care about it. Melvil designed the system for librarians, and the system makes some sense to librarians.
    To the patrons, it's anathema.
    Or at least this is what the Maricopa County Library District banks on by opening the Perry Branch Library, a combination of a public and school library wholly abandoning the use of Dewey organization. I spent sixteen hours at Perry, working side by side with the staff during their opening days. My expertise covers Polaris ILS, the Class cash management software, public library circulation, and library technologies. I manage the Circ Department at the Southeast Regional Library, also a part of the Marciopa County system. We are library people of the highest order, pushing through day after day at the District's biggest and busiest branch. Because of this, my staff and I trained many of the people now working the Perry Branch. They too are library folk, our siblings.
    The last two days marked their “soft opening†with a grand opening to be held later this month. Patron tensions ran high at Southeast Regional over the last few weeks. Many live out in that developing area of Gilbert, Arizona and the Perry Branch sits closer to a great number of our patrons. So it came as no shock to me that, a few minutes before opening the Deweyless library, a small group idled outside the great glass sliding doors, peering in and waiting.
    Things remained on the task list even as branch manager Jennifer Miele unlocked the doors and welcomed our first patrons. Some shelves weren't yet fully organized. While all the sections stood completed, they weren't all in alphabetical order. The 3M SmartCheck and five bin sorter were offline due to connectivity problems. We let patrons know of these small issues as they entered. Their response was incredibly casual. Word got out long ago that the District arranged this library in a decidedly non-traditional sense. It's a library for the Chandler School District in the Town of Gilbert operated by Maricopa County. They expected strangeness.
    Almost all the shelves in the library are shorter than the average library shelf. You can easily see from one end of the branch to the other. Laser printed signs designated areas of interest from Fiction to Mystery to Science to Art and beyond. The only thing detracting from a true bookstore atmosphere is the lack of a coffee shop. Patrons immediately began doing what MCLD Administrators assumed they would, they browsed. They looked everything over. We assisted them by locating items when they were unsure of a location, but the overall customer attitude was that this works.
    A gentleman asked me for a book on dog breeds. When I escorted him over to the section dealing in Pets, he felt embarrassed. Not so because he didn't think to look there, but because he'd missed the sign. We had exactly what he was after. Other patrons mentioned that, despite the as yet un-alphabetized sections, they had no problems finding anything. Books on Astronomy were in the Science section. Patrons located their books about drawing on the Art shelves.
    In short, they understood. They knew where things were by the subject signs taped to the shelves. (Better signs are on the way.) They happily made use of the self checkouts. By day two, the self check-in purred along and handled returns. We saw teens return the second day for the computers and the manga in the Teen Room. The main complaint: get the shelves alphabetized.
    They're working on it.
    Since the library also services the newly constructed Perry High School, they expect an explosion in circulation come the beginning of the school year. Believe it, bucko, they'll give Southeast Regional a run for the money. As it was, for a 28,000 square foot library, an opening day circulation of over 910 wasn't bad. Not bad at all especially when you consider that it was a soft opening without too much hoopla.
    Patron response is positive and the staff is upbeat and ready to rock. As it stands, this will work.