What did Dewey do?

During a recent Scholastic Reads podcast, “Librarians: Making Hearts Large Through Story”, I talked about the logic (as I understand it!) behind the Dewey Decimal System with host Suzanne McCabe and fellow librarian John Schumacher, a.k.a. “Mr. Schu”. Today, for the first time, I am putting it down on paper [screen] to share with all of you!

What did Dewey do?

THE BASICS: 

000s Computer science, information & general works

Much like a legal document, the Dewey Decimal System (DDS) starts out with defined terms that will be used in what is to follow, so the 000s contain encyclopedias, bibliographies, and books of facts, as well as materials from both computer and library science.

WHO AM I?

100s – Philosophy and psychology

Imagine that you have just come into existence or perhaps woken up with amnesia… this would be your first question when you become aware of yourself. The 100s contain books on topics such as philosophy, metaphysics, dreams, occultism, and ethics.

HOW DID I GET HERE?

200s – Religion

This is the next logical question that you might ask after becoming aware of yourself, and the 200s contain books on Christianity, classical religions (Greek and Roman), Judaism, Islam, and various practices throughout the world .

WHO IS THAT OVER THERE?

300s – Social sciences

You become aware of yourself, you wonder how you got here… and then you notice that there are other people! The 300s contain books on sociology, culture, political science, education, law, customs, and folklore… all of the things that make people both different and unique.

HOW DO I TALK TO THEM?

400s – Language

It is instinct to want to communicate, and in the 400s you can find dictionaries, books on grammar and etymology, sign language, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Greek, as well as languages that are native to the Americas, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and much more.

WHERE ARE WE?

500s – Science

You have figured out who you are, how you got here, who other people are, and you can talk to them. Next, you all take notice of your environment! The 500s encompass science, mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, earth science, prehistoric life, biology, plants, and animals.

LOOK WHAT WE CAN MAKE!

600s – Technology

This is the turning point in the Dewey Decimal System. The first five classes represent absorption and now you move into output. You know… practical things like fire and the wheel! The 600s contain materials on technology, patents, medicine, engineering, agriculture, cooking, sewing, manufacturing, and building construction.

LOOK WHAT WE CAN CREATE!

700s – Arts and recreation

This is my favorite (well… it’s a tie with the next) class in the DDS. You move from making practical things to making beautiful things, which are also practical because they enhance quality of life. In the 700s you can locate books about the fine arts, landscape architecture, architecture, sculpture, graphic arts, painting, printmaking, photography, music, and sports. You can find me in the 741.5s (graphic novels) or the 746.46s (quilting).

LOOK AT WHAT WE CAN CREATE: WITH WORDS!

800s – Literature

My other favorite section of the DDS, for obvious reasons! Now we are using language (400s!) and technology (600s!) to create art. The 800s start with books on theory, rhetoric, and criticism, and then they follow a pattern:

  • 1 at the end? Poetry!
  • 2 at the end? Drama!
  • 3 at the end? Fiction!
  • 4 at the end? Essays!
  • 5 at the end? Speeches!
  • 6 at the end? Letters!
  • 7 at the end? Humor and satire!
  • 8 at the end? Miscellaneous!
  • 9 at the end? Related literatures!

You might have heard John Schumacher, a.k.a. “Mr. Schu”, talk about calling 8-1-1 for a poetry emergency on the Scholastic Reads podcast, which is a fantastic way to teach and remember the call number for American poetry. But what if you are having a Spanish poetry emergency?! Well, following the pattern, English poetry is 821, German poetry is 831, French poetry is 841, Italian poetry is 851, Spanish poetry is 861, Latin poetry is 871, and Classical Greek poetry is 881.

Another key end number in the 800s is 813 – fiction. There is so much fiction in the library you say! It has its own section you say! It’s not in the 800s you insist! And you are correct. If you look at the spine label on a nonfiction library book, you will see a DDS call number on top, sometimes there is a year, and there are letters – usually the beginning letters of the author’s last name. There is SO MUCH FICTION that it is shelved separately from the rest of the DDS, and the 813 isn’t put on the spine because it isn’t needed. Most libraries have a clear signage that says “Fiction” and not “813” (although I have to confess that I would love that).

LET’S RECORD THE FACT THAT WE WERE HERE!

900s – History and Geography

Time to reflect on our existence…and leave something for our descendants to transcribe. The 900s contain titles on history, geography, travel, and biography.

WHAT’S NEXT?

1000s – Meta DDS

This is a tough question that my colleague Suzanne McCabe posed during the podcast, talking about the future of libraries. My answer was that libraries used to be warehouses of knowledge, with books on shelves, and now they are places where people create knowledge, with makerspaces. There is a lot of interesting work going on in college libraries with digital humanities, and we should see more of that in school and public libraries as the tools get more user-friendly. So, the future (the now?) is in analysis and big data. Or at least I see that as one of many possible futures… The Dewey number for fortune-telling is 133.3; maybe I (as a librarian) need to stop spending so much time in the 700s and get back to the essential question:

Who am I?

For a fun 'who am I' activity to do with your students or library patrons, check out one of my first OOM posts where I explain how to make this "My Dui Bio" bookmark - which answers that very question!