The DDC is Killing our Libraries


The DDC is Killing our Libraries. Christopher Harris: "Instead of a 200 year old system that doesn’t make sense, we need a new system that just works. Steve Jobs, love him or hate him, makes things that work. You don’t have to learn how to use an iPad, children just pick it up and start using it because it is an almost instinctual interface. They have hidden the things that you shouldn’t have to think about and removed the minutia that require instruction. Libraries must do the same. We must make our collections accessible, with a user experience that just works. And to do that, we must rid ourselves of the Dewey Decimal System. "


the problem with something like an iPad is that you adapt your life to it. I dare anyone to write down all the things they want the iPad to do BEFORE they get one and then grade how well it did each thing.

if you are an idiot, you will write: watch videos. if you are a genius, you will write: organize my video collection into subgenres and share them with my friends.

if you are an idiot, you will write: find local music. if you are a genius, you will write: compose music for video I shot at the reunion.

trust me: you are all just cropping your lives to fit into what Steve Jobs gives you. You are not free. Or you are free, but living in a box.

I don't have an iPad but I do have an iPod Touch and I have had to go look on the Internet for several things to figure out how to do something on the iPod Touch. You say "They have hidden the things that you shouldn’t have to think about"

That is true for some things on the iPod Touch. Want to delete an email on you iPod Touch. You have to know that a right handed swipe across the email will prompt you to delete the email. Once you know this trick there is nothing to it but there is nothing about this feature that is intuitive. There are many parts of the iPod Touch that are intuitive but many are not so to look at Apple devices for the basis of perfection is off base.

I agree that Apple's touch devices are easy-to-use. (Unless, of course, you have 10 pages of apps to through which to page...)

I think the cataloging and metadata for content in iTunes could use a ton of polishing. It isn't user-friendly. It doesn't "just work". The iTunes Store interface needs some work to become truly user-friendly. Have you seen the Advanced Search? Ugh!

I love Apple for its clean and minimalist designs. Yet, many options and commands are hidden in its most popular applications, to help maintain, I'm guessing, that clean look. But this doesn't mean Apple knows how to organize information well or even how to provide access to it.


"The system was conceived by Melvil Dewey in 1873 and first published in 1876."

"Instead of a 200 year old system [sic] that doesn’t make sense, we need a new system that just works."

It does make sense, and it does work, you're just a lazy idiot unwilling to take responsibility for your own learning.

I hope librarians will resist the urge to dumb down library systems in the name of "greater accessibility".

You took the words right out of my mouth! The fact that the DDC is still working means the "system" is right. It continues to grow, and anything you want to add as a subject will fit into the "system". I would really challenge someone to come up with something else that would work as well. What do you want...color coding, maybe. To set up like a book store, which seems to be what most people want to go to, would mean that you would never know exactly what you had without looking at every shelf. Let's just keep the DDC! 8o)

Why is it necessary to teach DDC to an elementary school student? Only if (1) you don't have an online catalog or (2) you have an online catalog but it isn't very good (good = easy to use, intuitively obvious). As long as we have physical books, they all have to have a physical location. We can't just throw them into a pile on the floor, can we?

>We can't just throw them into a pile on the floor, can we?

If you use RFID in your library you can. Currently an economically impractical option for school libraries at this point.

Your are greatly dumbing down how RFID works. It does not allow students to hunt through a pile of books to find the book they want at the price level any library can afford.

I said that this technology was economically impractical at this point for schools. Do you understand what the words economically impractical mean?

This is not just about school libraries. NO library can afford to throw books in a pile, provide RFID readers to patrons, and still plan on providing the service expected of users. It is not just economically impractical, it is totally impractical in every way imaginable.

You kill all opportunity for browsing if you remove call number classification system, which is they way most people research.

>>>You kill all opportunity for browsing if you remove call number classification system

What? Ever been to a used bookstore? Many have no classification at all. Just piles and piles of books that you can look at. People love to browse at used bookstores.

>>>which is they way most people research

It is really? Most people use the call number classification to do research? Wow, what crazy library ecosystem are you in?

>>NO library can afford to throw books in a pile, provide RFID readers to patrons, and still plan on providing the service expected of users.

The way technology cost drop it may be feasible to do this in a couple years.

Also your statement is clearly wrong because The Munich City Library has RFID. 98 per cent of transactions were handled through RFID terminals at the library.

Sure, loads of libraries have RFID. That doesn't mean they "throw books in a pile, provide RFID readers to patrons, and still plan on providing the service expected of users."

RFID checkout and checkin is great stuff. RFID in lieu of browsing, or as a way to locate books within the library? Not so much.

Research in online now. You can throw the books in a pile because no one uses them anyway. For research it is Google, the free internet, and pay databases. You can keep your books. Put'em in a pile or a dumpster. Doesn't really matter.

Your comments reflect how little time you actually spend watching patrons research and how little time you spend in libraries. I spend all day helping patrons research, watching them as they do their own research, reshelving the books they use, pointing them to the best source format for their needs. Don't tell me they don't use books. Sure, they use the web and databases our library provides, but information comes in many, many formats. For students who are writing papers that require multiple source formats, they must use books, along with magazine articles (many of which can be found in online databases), and the internet. For a vast amount of genealogical information, they must use books because much of that information is not online or in databases, or they want as close to the original source as possible. I could go on, but no matter what I say, you'll claim we could just throw them in a pile.

Have you read the recent study by Aserton and Cudlow? 98% of all research at academic and public institutions is done online. (Page 755) Large portions of the research was done on pay databases but it was online.

Brian Aserton and Tony Cudlow, The Shift in Research Methods: An analysis of resources, Journal of Library Analysis. Volume 47 Issue 4 Page 751 (October 2009).

Studies only say so much. Real patrons researching day in and day out is what I see. And I see patrons using books for research every single day. I see patrons incorporating all formats in their research.

A librarian of all people should not be reallying on anecdotal evidence. Why do we have libraries? One reason is to get to information and now you just want to ignore information because it does not support your point.

Studies and polls are not the be-all-end-all. That was the only point I was trying to make. You seem to ignore the anecdotal evidence because it doesn't fit your point that DDC is worthless and that we should dump the books in a pile or throw them away because no one uses them anyway. We could go round and round on this and end up in the same place.

What is really sad is that you do not have the information literacy skills to see that no such study exist.

This cite is totally fictitious: Brian Aserton and Tony Cudlow, The Shift in Research Methods: An analysis of resources, Journal of Library Analysis. Volume 47 Issue 4 Page 751 (October 2009).

You got me. I didn't bother looking up the citation. That does not mean I do know have the skills to do so; I just didn't deem it worthy of my time.

It does not show anything about the information literacy skills of the other person.

It shows your posts are useless and cannot be trusted.

While the DDC may not be the world's easiest system to understand, it is better than finding a book on the shelf by its color or size, isn't it? Aren't those two of the many ways of shelving and/or finding books that preceded DDC? My guess is that Dewey's system was such a vast improvement over what came before that librarians AND regular people too were euphoric at the wonder of it and put up with its peculiarities, if they even noticed them in the scaled down world in which they lived at the time. In all that I've read re: cataloging, no where do I remember seeing anything that suggested that DDC was the immutable end-all, be-all to the problem. Given Dewey's penchant for condensing words to the fewest letters possible, for example, as one of his most notorious peculiatiries, I daresay he would already have amended the existing DDC, if had not already come out with a new system altogether.

As to Apple, remember that if it can't entertain us from the instant we step away from the starting block, it probably isn't an Apple product. Oh, yes, and by the way, you can do work on an Apple product as well, but don't let that get in the way of you having fun first and foremost ... tra-la, tra-la.

I am a teacher-librarian (sorry, AASL, I will never abandon my hard-earned right to call myself as teacher as you would like me to do), and it is not impossible to teach DDC to kids, as long as you like and understand it first. For most LT's who have trouble getting it across, in my experience at least, the problem lies in the fact that they are not DDC-friendly librarians or that they are not DDC-friendly teachers; one place or the other, there is dislike and resistance to the system itself.

For their part, kids are fine with it if you base the instruction on the model of a known classification system -- baseball cards, kinds of candy at a candy store or food at the grocery store. Heck, science teachers teach classification systems -- class, phylum, etc. -- and nobody complains. But translate the descriptor words into digits and watch out! With science teachers, it's 1,000x worse; they use latin words where we use numbers, but do you hear anybody screaming?

And for those of you who are objecting to the DDC, you know, of course, that it is essentially a database, one that ran sans a computer for years! And do you have any idea how many databases you use every day that work on many of the same principles as the DDC? Made travel arrangements today and bought tickets, did you? You essentially used the DDC; Continent: North America (becomes a 9); country: U.S. (becomes a 7); state: New York (becomes a 9 in the search string), and so forth in Southwest Air's locations database, just like book on New York state history becomes 979 in the DDC. Now was that so hard, really?

The DDS isn't killing anything. You need some kind of technical-looking classification system to keep things straight. But computers have created a user-friendly front end that keeps the techie system out of sight.

Computer catalogs do this too. You can search by call number, but it's not a particularly useful tool; most people search by keyword and by subject to get books they need, and that works fine. Think of a hard drive--there's a whole lot of information whose access is mediated by layers of interfaces so that the user can easily get what they need.

If you compare a library to a hard drive, it's clear that subject classification is a good way to organize books--it increases the chances that a user will draw data from one sector of the storage unit and thus minimize access time. The problem is that you can't insulate a library user from the technical system that organizes the data. And if you used a less technical system (like, say, alphabetical by subject), you'd create confusion because the same book would be in different areas of different libraries. Libraries, by nature, are stuck in the Web of 1993, when you had to actually understand URLs in order to access Web pages. I don't see a solution, but I'm not an information specialist.

If your library is using DDC it is dead already. DDC is not killing your library it is just sitting around on a corpse.

Customers/ Patrons who are living "cropped" lives
...and Librarians serving them who are constrained by bureaucracy:

“But I’m a public servant. I can’t use my judgment.”
–Superintendant Chalmers (Simpsons quote)