Sunday, June 03, 2007

Excuse me while I have a professional moment.

New Arizona Library drops Dewey decimal cataloguing scheme.

Yep, it's another library that has got confused and thinks it's a bookshop. Everything will be arranged within sections, then subsections. I wish them well, but it won't solve the perceived problem, that library users can't find books. The problem in full is actually this: 'Library users can't find books, and are too scared to ask staff for help'. This reordering of books isn't foolproof, it won't help the scared people, it's not dumping THE cataloguing system it's dumping A cataloguing system. Of course, as library guy I'm biased, but by using a cataloguing system it at least meant that of the higher proportion of library users who are either not stupid or not afraid to ask library staff for help, there was at least one member of that staff/public team who should know where the book is without needing to have experience working in that library. (I've moved from one workplace that just ordered it's non-fiction by Dewey to one that organises it's books by subject areas and then Dewey within those subject areas. This takes staff longer to acclimatise to because you now have to know your way around the stock by heart, it doesn't help the public that much because presumably the numbers frighten them all away. In my old workplace I could go and start work at any library and, as long as I knew where the non-fiction started I could start looking for books straight away, now each time I'm somewhere new I have to spend some time working out where all the different sections are. Plus I have to look at the catalogue each single time to see which subject section a book is filed in.) If you've been told to get a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and you don't know what it's about and you don't want to ask a member of staff, is this subject ordering really going to help much?

Oh, and I've tried visiting bookshops. Obviously I'm biased, but it takes bookshop staff longer to find the place on the shelf where the book should be than it takes library staff to do the same because with Dewey we can tell exactly where it should be. And people are actually still asking for help finding books in bookshops, which rather suggests it's not an ideal solution to those people trying to solve the difficulties of finding what one wants from one's local library.

This seems to be pandering to those people who think they should be able to sail through life without any intellectual engagement at any stage whatsoever. And those people can't be pleased.



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