I recently attended a workshop entitled "NO Dewey – Rangeview Library’s Brave New World" at SCLS, presented by Rachel Fewell and Jessica Ransom. It was very interesting.
The basic premise was that, in order to effectively serve 21st century patrons, the library needed to discard DDC and adopt a more subject oriented method of classifiying books.
The Rangeview Library District recataloged the collections in each of their branches, one at a time. The Dewey numbers were replaced by word based classifications. This entailed changing each record at the item level, changing each label, and reorganizating the library into the new divisions. It is based on BISAC classification, which is used by bookstores.
I don't believe that this is "a way to make it easy for people who don't know anything about libraries and who don't care about finding any particular book." Looking at the grids, I can see a very structured classification system. A patron would be able to find a specific book using the new word based call number just as easily as using a Dewey number. It is just different (just like LC and Sears are different). It doesn't drill down as far as Dewey does, but in some libraries, especially smaller ones, Dewey's level of precision is not always required.
They removed the linear shelving and replaced it with more aesthetically pleasing shelving that allowed each subject to be displayed in a way that the patron could more easily see the collection. They improved the signage. They made an effort to display books in a manner that the patron could more easily see each individual book, instead of rows and rows of books. And they extensively weeded the collection.
I believe that unless a collection is relatively small, recataloging an entire collection would be cost prohibitive. And, while it is very intriguing what they accomplished, I am not convinced reclassifying is necessary to accomplish the same goals that the Rangeview Library District was working toward.
But what can we glean from the Rangeview Library District's initiatives?
Working with the classification system we already have, we could improve how we display our collection, including shelving and furnishings.
Dewey is divided thus:
100 Philosophy & psychology
300 Social sciences
500 Natural sciences & mathematics
600 Technology (Applied sciences)
700 The arts
800 Literature & rhetoric
900 Geography & history
The terminology could certainly be adjusted - "generalities" is not helpful, but "Computers" (DDC 004-006) certainly is a helpful designation. Within the computer section, there are subsections on topics such as programming and using Windows. Displaying the Dewey century number (000 Generalities) by itself is not helpful to the patron who is interested in learning to use Excel. Of course he could ask the librarian, but isn't it friendlier to allow those who choose to find it themselves a bit easier (or "save the time of the reader")?
Our patrons would find browsing subjects easier, while working within the system into which our libraries (and our taxpayers) have already invested significant time and money.
In conclusion, while I do agree that many of our libraries are in need of an aesthetic face lift, there is nothing wrong with DDC, and the new word based classification system in and of itself is not necessary, nor does it improve on Dewey. But I do believe that this discussion can only improve how we approach serving the patron better.