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Monday, April 30, 2012

Searching vs. Browsing?

In response to a post about Metis on the ALSC blog, some commenters argued that we were mistaken in being concerned about our students understanding the way that Dewey worked, and that all that mattered essentially was that one could search for items in the online catalog, obtain the call numbers and then locate the items on the shelves. That got me thinking. Most of our work in this area has been in relation to elementary age children, but these statements seemed to go beyond that to the heart of the subject classification process itself.
As my colleague Tali pointed out, if all you need from shelf order is a code that you can locate on the shelf, what is the point of an elaborate classification system? One might as well put books in accession number order. It would certainly save a whole lot of trouble.

There must be a reason why subject order was chosen by Dewey to organize the physical collection. Amazingly enough, I found the first edition of Dewey (1876) on Project Gutenberg. I thought he might explain why he chose subject order, but in his introduction he seems concerned mainly with the internal order of his system and the use of decimals. It seems as though the prevailing system at the time was one in which there was a fixed location on the shelves for each item, which would not change as the collection grew. One of Dewey's innovations was relative location, in which items were placed in relation to each other and might move to different shelves as the collection grew. He discusses these issues, but more or less assumes the validity of subject order.

So what is the point of a shelving system arranged by subject? A.C. Foskett, whose textbook (The Subject Approach to Information) I used in library school, has this to say:
"There will be many occasions when readers will approach the collection without any particular need in mind but wishing instead to be able to select items at random. To help in this situation, our system should permit browsing; a reader should be able to follow a casual train of thought as well as a planned search. (London: Library Association, 1996; 5th ed., pg. 26)
Later in the same book he asks, "Why is classified shelf arrangement helpful?" and answers:  "There are two important reasons. The first is to satisfy the browsing function; readers like to wander round the shelves and find books which attract them." (pg. 213)

Similarly, Robert M. Losee of the UNC Chapel Hill Library School writes that "the classification system essentially supplies a browsing path from one documents to another."  (How to study classification systems and their appropriateness for individual institutions. In Classification: Options and Opportunities, ed. Alan R. Thomas. Binghamton, NY: Haworth, 1995, pg. 45)

So if we acknowledge that the reason for a subject-based shelving system is to permit browsing, we then surely have to ask the next question:
What kind of subject-based classification system is going to encourage the users of my library to browse productively so that they are led to books which are of interest to them? We think that this is a question worth asking and trying to answer, rather than submitting to the monopolistic dominance of Dewey as a supposed one-size-fits-all system.
The question puts users at the center of the issue, and keeps them there. Ultimately, that is the essential thing.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"I Vant to Read about Vampires"

     Sans the accent, this is a question we get all the time these days. The interest in vampire books is still riding high, even though the heyday of Twilight, at least among would-be younger readers, seems to be over. 
     I recently bought five books in a series called Vampires (Rosen, 2012) and was cataloging them this morning. The books had arrived with Dewey numbers on their spines, which needed to be changed to call numbers in our new system, Metis.
     This simple process turned into a wonderful illustration of how our system parts ways with Dewey, and why we wanted to leave Dewey behind us.
     Each book in the series had a different call number, by discipline or subject area: Vampires in Mythology was in 398, Vampires in Literature in 809, Vampires in Film and Television in 791.43, Transylvania: Birthplace of Vampires in 949.8, and Dracula: The Life of Vlad the Impaler in B VLAD.
    I categorized them all in U SCARY MONSTERS.
When my newest vampire fan comes in tomorrow morning, I'll tell him to look in the "Scary" section under "Monsters." I'm confident he'll find them all with ease, and that the film buffs, literary experts and history fans won't miss any of them.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

METIS Main Categories

Weve had some requests for more details about Metis, so we are posting the main categories here. Were working on making the full schedules available in the near future.

When we devised the main categories we tried to be, first and foremost, very pragmatic. We were not interested in a system that reflected the state of human knowledge, or that showed an accurate relationship, in academic terms, between one branch of knowledge and another. Instead, we tried to devise a system with our users and their needs and interests at the center, and our curriculum, collection, and library geography a very close second. Our categories are concrete for the most part, reflecting things, genres or fields of interest, not disciplines.

You can see the influence of library geography/layout and the various ages of our users in the choices we made with our fiction categories (X, Y, Z).

We settled on an alphabetic designation for each category in order to achieve an order that made sense. Alphabetical order by name of category would result in Adventure followed by Animals, etc., which would have been unhelpful. We are a school library without any extra space, so we couldn't create display islands which contained related categories. Our system had to work with a strictly linear shelf display. The alphabet code seemed the best choice: it synchronized well with the alphabetical order of the sub-categories; it reflected skills the students were already learning; and it provided us with a base of 26 categories.

Our library has two rooms, PreK-2nd grade, and 3rd-5th grade. The categories in the two rooms are almost identical, but not quite. Category A is Facts in the Upper grade room (for almanacs, world records, etc.), but Concepts in the lower grade room (for alphabet, number, shapes books). The nature of the lower grade books dictated that categories G MakingStuff and H Arts in the upper grades room became GH Arts and Crafts in the lower grades room.



A. Facts (Upper grades); Concepts (Lower grades)

B. Machines

C. Science

D. Nature

E. Animals

F. Pets

G. MakingStuff

H. Arts [For Lower grades, GH is a single category, Arts and Crafts]

I. Sports

J. Ourselves

K. Community

L. USA (Then and Now)

M. Countries (Then and Now)

N. Languages

O. Traditions

P. Tales [including all mythology, religious stories, folk tales]

Q. Verse

R. Humor

S. Mystery

T. Adventure

U. Scary

V. Graphic

W. Memoirs

X. Fiction (Upper grades); Picture Stories (Lower grades)

Y. Beginning Fiction

Z. Middle Fiction

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Metis goes live!

You might have heard of us from our recent post on the ALSC blog.

We're so excited that so many people are interested in what we're doing and coming to take a closer look! We really weren't expecting this much traffic but it definitely points to the fact that many of us are interested in exploring other options to Dewey. We searched high and low for a system that we felt was created for children; modified BISAC didn't do it for us. In the end, we made our own.

We are in the process of putting together a FAQ, a more robust website and workbook to help you understand better what we're doing and how you could implement it in your own library. Please check back, add us to your RSS feed, or email us iwantmetis at gmail.com so we can let you know when we have new materials to share.