Thursday, 24 May 2012

Dewey Mashup


Cataloguing mash up in a sixth form college library

Currently in our library we have an "evolved" system. Basically we use Dewey but try to adapt to increase usability and access to resources. So I suppose we could be described as having a mash up - relying on signage to help students browse creatively but having the Dewey numbers to help locate specific texts. Inevitably there are conflicts but hopefully the system is working and we are always open to suggestions from staff and students.

Non Dewey

Reference Section

We have a reference section containing encyclopaedias, large format reference books and Big Dictionaries – these are classified according to Dewey but located in a separate section (partly for practical reasons due to the physical size of some of these books)


Fiction is classified alphabetically by author. Over the last two years we have been experimenting with genre and sub-genre groupings on rotating book displays to encourage browser uptake. I would say this has been successful in encouraging the leisure readership although inevitably any attempt to classify books in genre is fraught with problems.  I tend to work on the idea of what is the first thing you think about when you see this book. Is it a crime thriller or a historical novel? The problem is that many books could easily fit under several headings.
 We have tried to be led by our clientele and as a result we have teased out Dark Romance (Twilight and similar stories), Science Fiction, Fantasy, Crime, Youth Fiction (Young Adult ), Chick Lit, Graphic Novels and Horror.  We already had separate sections for quick reads and short stories. This is a work in progress and I am sure we get it wrong frequently but hopefully it will encourage browsers to find the kind of book they enjoy easily. The rest stay in the main collection if they do not fit comfortably into a genre.

Coloured Stickers

Careers and Higher Education Shelves – Green Stickers
Located in its own area this is particularly necessary as Dewey often tends to put careers books into individual subject areas which not easy for careers browsers.
Staff Development Shelves – Lilac Stickers
Here we place books bought for staff use which if we were ruled by Dewey would be scattered all-over the library. These include books and materials on teacher training, class management, class planning, special needs and the use of VLE for lesson planning.
 Self-Development and Study Skills Shelf – Orange Stickers
This shelf carries everything from memory training, stress management, study skills advice; self-help guides and is invaluable in the exam season but often hidden away in psychology or other places.

Alphabetical Shelves

 Biography and autobiography are shelved together alphabetically with a distinctive spine sticker. We also have a rotating book display for recent or topical biographies
Books about individual artists are shelved alphabetically under the single number 759. The books have a yellow alphabetical sticker on the spine
Photographers are likewise shelved alphabetically under 779 with alphabetical white stickers on the spin.
Poetry at 821, again alphabetically arranged as are playwrights at 822 with the exception of Shakespeare who has a whole area to himself
Graphic Artists are currently arranged alphabetically with a silver spine sticker 741
Fashion Designers are currently being arranged alphabetically at 746.92 with a pale pink sticker

Now to Dewey

Some subjects group well in Dewey, some do not. When you are trying to make the library stock as accessible as possible to students it is sometimes preferable to group subject areas in such a way that they can browse. Most people prefer to browse, unless they have been given a specific title to find or are well into academic research. As such it has been necessary to compromise adherence to the strict tenets of Dewey to a certain extent. Obviously some of our students will eventually go on to higher education where grounding in Dewey will be advantageous but we have to balance that with the demands of our intake.  Most of the teenagers who come to our college are not habitual library users and are often put off by the library image of exclusivity and rigid behaviour. This is something we are trying to counter be creating an atmosphere which is open, friendly and accessible and for it to be obvious where different books can be found. For this reason we have tried to create clear signs and maps and are working on developing a lively and entertaining library induction for all students and staff. It is something we are trying to develop and expand to try to overcome the barriers to using the library. We also try to encourage use of the VLE which also gives the students direct access to the library catalogue and a considerable number of eBooks and other online resources.


Trying to combine Dewey with a browsing system is a challenge to ensure that resources are easy to find. A confusion of systems can make for miss shelving and students searching for books by number when they are stickered.

Solution- Clear labelling

Some Dewey categories are not used, mainly because we hardly ever have any books falling within the categories and it is easier to group them with books with a user group which includes them. An example of this is manufacturing. Usually books in this category have been ordered by the design department and for that reason fit better in 745 or there about, rather than 620.
We try to accommodate members of teaching staff and help them to encourage library use among their students but occasionally there is conflict. Occasionally they consider part of the library to be their exclusive domain and want to dictate their own system. Such situations require careful negotiation or total chaos can ensue.  One example of this was the public services section which was scattered around 363, whereas most of the students involved were also the main users of books on outdoor pursuits. As a result all books connected with public services are now automatically shelved at 796.
Some categories have been changed or simplified to reflect the size and focus of our collections. The head of psychology had very specific headings which she wanted represented in the shelving of psychology books. This did not always tie up with the Dewey designations for those books but made more sense to her students and the modules she was teaching so we compromised.
As a result of this we have developed a Library Cataloguing Guide to clarify the system we use in our Library and help guide other staff if they are involved in classification of stock. It is under constant review as we spot historical inconsistencies or see ways in which it can be improved. I have included a copy of its current form. (3)
I have also included links to two articles I found useful and interesting when researching this. The Glade system developed at Darien Public Library as described by Barbara Fister in the Library Journal (1) and the news story in the Chicago Tribune (2). Both describe situations which seem to show Dewey as out-moded, especially in a public library scenario. I work in the world of education at a sixth form college where we have the dual pressures of wanting to make the library accessible and easy to use whilst also introducing students to the more rigorous demands of  higher education research. For these a familiarity with Dewey Decimal System is a necessary discipline. It is a bit of a balancing act and requires constant monitoring of the needs and requirements of both staff and students.

1. The Dewey Dilema. Fister, Barbera. 12/01/2009, s.l. : Library Journal.
2. Who's killing the Dewey decimal system? McCoppin, Robert:. s.l. : Chicago Tribune 18/02/2011, 2011. 2.
3. Library Cataloguing Guide. Riley, Pamela. 2012.


If you have any suggestions for a lively and entertaining library induction which would be suitable for 16+ students I would be very grateful. Also if you have any other comments on cataloguing I would also welcome them (just please don’t send the Dewey police!)


  1. Hi, an interesting post which reassures me perhaps our purple/orange/green stickers aren't completely mad!
    I think the point of any classification system is to use it to your advantage: Most of our stock is DDC but we have separate sections for e.g. research/study skills - things that students often ask for which aren't related to one subject area.
    I want to make it easier for students, but not *too* easy -like you say, those off to uni will need to learn library skills. The catalogue is also very important since it should direct users to the right place regardless of the odd classification they might have been given and highlights e-books which won't be found looking at the shelves.

    Sorry, got no great tips on fun inductions - wish I knew the magic ingredient!