|Library Bids Farewell to the Venerable Dewey, Shifts Volumes of Volumes to Accommodate L.C.
August 03, 2009
Contact: Kelly Beggs '09
This summer Davidson College's E.H. Little Library began converting from the Dewey Decimal System to Library of Congress (LC) Classification. Jean Coates, assistant director of access and acquisitions, joked, "You'll notice our workers have gained some upper body strength!" A number of the librarians have spent the summer shifting about 110,000 volumes to free up stacks on the main floor for the new Library of Congress section.
|Library workers (l-r) Janet Maki and Brian Masunda '12 reshelve large folios moved from the main floor of the library to the basement area.
The departure from Dewey will put Davidson in step with a majority of academic libraries. Cataloging and Metadata Librarian Kim Sanderson said, "98 percent of academic libraries use LC."
Public libraries remain the primary users of the Dewey Decimal System.
Coates said that in coming years, 400,000 of the library's volumes will need to be reclassified. Planning for the daunting task has been underway since the beginning of the past academic year. Susanna Boylston, assistant director for information literacy and content selection, said, "For our cataloging and circulation staff, this is a huge project, one that will take many years to complete. It has taken some other libraries a decade or more to complete their reclassification projects."
The transition is worthwhile largely because of LC's universal call numbers, which make it possible for new books to arrive from the vendor shelf-ready, complete with barcodes and call numbers. According to Boylston, LC's shelf-ready option will greatly increase the library's efficiency. "It will get books into the hands of our users faster," she said.
Because of the system's prevalence in academic research, Davidson's faculty is already familiar with LC and enthusiastically supports the shift. When Library Director Jill Gremmels announced the LC shift at a faculty meeting, several from among the faculty burst into applause.
Scott Denham, Charles A. Dana Professor of German and Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, served on the Library Space Planning Task Force. He commented, "LC is standard, and it's transferrable. You get the universality and the predictability of being able to go from library to library to find the same book in the same place."
Denham said the Dewey Decimal System's greatest weakness is its treatment of fiction. He said, "One of the fundamental flaws of Dewey Decimal is that fiction is separate from literature. It operates under the original assumption that there are fun books and there are real books."
Boylston seconded Denham's opinion, saying, "LC is much better at bringing things together."
Herbert Putnam developed the Library of Congress Classification System in 1897, about two decades after Melvil Dewey created the Dewey Decimal System. Both systems categorize books by subject, but according to Cataloguing Librarian Kim Sanderson, "Dewey covers broad subject areas, and LC is more technical and has more detailed subclasses."
While Dewey has 10 numerical classes, the Library of Congress has 21 classes, each signified by a letter. Each class is then broken into subclasses with secondary letters, and a combination of numbers and letters follow to specify a call number. For example, the Language and Literature class is P, Slavic Language and Literature is PG, and Tolstoy's War and Peace is PG3366.V6.
For students accustomed to War and Peace's Dewey call number of 891.7T65w-Tp, learning LC will be an adjustment, but Boylston believes that students will quickly assimilate.
To help those new to LC, Dewey-LC conversion charts and outlines are already available online at the library's Web site, and the staff will post information throughout the library. Learning to navigate by Library of Congress at the undergraduate level will be especially helpful to those students who are graduate-school bound, since almost all major research libraries use LC.
By adopting this efficient and widely used system, Davidson offers its rising and established scholars an improved research experience on campus as well as a seamless transition to academic libraries around the country. As for Dewey's future at Davidson, the system will not be forgotten, as several biographies of Melvil Dewey will remain among the library's holdings. Those too, however, will one day be re-classed and re-shelved, all according to Library of Congress classification.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.