Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The dewey decimal number for this post is 025.4

Or it could be 027.8

The question is, do I want to be cataloged with this:

or, with this:

When really, the question is, do I really want to be cataloged (catalogued?) at all.

I understand, respect, and even love the DDC (Dewey Decimal classification system), but I've spent every extra moment recently trying to catalog all the books that we had on hand, plus several more that we've gotten. It makes me wonder, does anyone even know or care what those darn numbers mean? If I put this book in 920 for biographies or 973.932 for "Administration of Barack Obama, 2009-" is anyone even going to notice?

Probably not. If they need something, they ask me (very, very soon, we are going to a dedicated OPAC for the students) and I tell them. They don't care if the book by Rabindrath Tangore is in fiction or non-fiction, or if it's in poetry or history, they just want the book.

That being said, cataloging is absolutely essential, and taking an extra 30 seconds to make sure that I'm cataloging this new science encyclopedia next to all the other science encyclopedias will save me time in the long run. Instead of finding a specific book, I can just send the student to the right numbers and they can find a whole bunch of similar books.

I have seen a lot of blog posts in School Libraryland (like Disneyland, but with books) about changing libraries to a "bookstore" model, where all books are defined by their subject and shelved together. So, all the history books are shelved together, alphabetical by title. How do you find a book about England in a library like this? I imagine the conversation goes like this:

Confused Student: I need a book about England for my country report.
Librarian: Well, let's look this up on the computer here, here, I'll print off this list of 43 books for you, and then they're shelved in different sections, like History, Travel, Guys Books*, etc.
Confused Student: Why aren't all the books about England just shelved together, this is ridiculous, you're ridiculous, I'm never entering this library again, unless I'm forced to because this is where lunchtime detention is.
Librarian: Sorry you feel that way. Have a nice day!

Okay, maybe not exactly like that. Did I show you all my cards? Sure, the DDC isn't the best cataloging method, nor is it always updated, and it definitely isn't culturally sensitive, but it does a really good job of putting all the books about one subject near one another, so that if I have to a report on some type of environmental  disaster, it won't take me that long to find all the books on that topic. 

Also, if we start grouping books into topics, aren't we just creating another cataloging schema, except it's much more inefficient than the one we already use, it's different for every library you go to (so students would have to learn a new method every time they moved, whereas it's approximately the same with the DDC), and it caters to the lowest common denominator. I think that's what annoys me the most, it seems like most people's complaints against the DDC have to do with the fact that students are confused and don't know what the numbers mean.

Up to this point, I've been talking about non-fiction books, fiction is a whole other matter, which I may or may not address in the future.

Right, cataloging is sexy material for blogs. I may enjoy it more than is reasonable for someone who is very busy trying to set up a library.

*If you think this is a silly name for a section, I read an email from a listserv I follow (way back in the springtime) about how this librarian created a section for "guys" and "girls". Why not throw all our knowledge about gender normative labeling out the window?

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