Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Sunday, October 7, 2012
Join us to discuss reasons for staying with or leaving Dewey, questions about Metis, concerns about student learning, ideas about better signage...or just say "hi."
Friday, October 5, 2012
We went over to the computer catalog to look up the book and found that its call number is "J GRAPHIC 617.46 T" in some branches or "GRAPHIC 617.465 T" in others. Alright, close enough, I thought, and we headed back over to the Graphic section to find the non-fiction.
Having no choice at this point we walk over to the librarian's desk to ask for help. "Oh, yeah," she says, "that's actually in the non-fiction section."
WHAT?!? Who thought that putting a graphic memoir in Dentistry was a good idea? But more than that, who is actually going to be able to find that book? Not only because the cataloging is not intuitive but because the call number makes no sense in relation to where the book is actually shelved.
Over on LM_Net there has been a rousing discussion about the pros and cons of trying alternate classification systems. One of the arguments against alternatives, is that children can walk into any library and find a book in the same place. Well, that might be but it seems at NYPL it depends on the branch you're in. Let alone if you happen to be in Queens where it would be under "617.64 T" or in Brooklyn where you'd find it in "J FIC TELGEMEIER." Some might argue that this is an exception, but it's not. Maybe we've gotten so used to "tweaking" Dewey that we don't even realize how different it is from place to place.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Monday, April 30, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
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
We’ve had some requests for more details about Metis, so we are posting the main categories here. We’re 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.
METIS CATEGORIZATION SYSTEM
A. Facts (Upper grades); Concepts (Lower grades)
H. Arts [For Lower grades, GH is a single category, Arts and Crafts]
L. USA (Then and Now)
M. Countries (Then and Now)
P. Tales [including all mythology, religious stories, folk tales]
X. Fiction (Upper grades); Picture Stories (Lower grades)
Y. Beginning Fiction
Z. Middle Fiction
Monday, January 23, 2012
- It had to be child-friendly. By that we meant that it had to begin with the thought categories and language used by children of various ages.
- It had to encourage browsing. That meant that the order and the sections and sub-sections had to be clear not only to the librarians, but also to the students who were using the library.
- It had to be flexible. By this we meant that it had to be capable of being used or adapted for use by a range of ages (4 through 11); it had to be capable of growing as time went on, as the world changed and as our collection grew. In addition, we knew that the idea that we were going to devise a universal scheme with everything already included in it, as Dewey had done, was not at all what we had in mind. We would tailor our scheme for our collection and for our users, and do our best to leave options open for change in the future.
- We needed a strong central visual component, especially for the younger students, but also to help orient older students, so that it was clear with or without reading skills which section students were browsing in.
- Our use of code had to be minimal, if we used it at all, i.e. we had to use whole language in our call numbers and on our spine labels.
- Our order had to be simple and clear.
- We would use primarily alphabetical order. While younger students struggle with this, it is a skill which is taught beginning with the alphabet in the earliest grades, so that the rudiments would be present even for the youngest students. It is a skill that is still used in classrooms, with print dictionary and encyclopedia use. Where alphabetical order was not possible or would be confusing, we would use a straight number order.
- Because alphabetical order of the main classes would result in an unhelpful overall order, we decided on a single piece of code: each main class or category would be given a letter of the alphabet. That letter would be the ordering device for the main categories. This would allow us to put related main categories together, regardless of their position in the alphabet.
- Within main categories we would use primarily alphabetical order for the sub-categories. This would give students a clear order when browsing, and allow for maximum flexibility and adaptability in terms of future changes and expansion. In a few cases this order was unhelpful, and in these cases we opted for a straight numerical order.
- Each category would have a visual symbol or image associated with it, which would appear on the spine label, as well as on posters and signage.
- We decided, and this turned out to be a crucial decision, that we would give up the idea of a system which classified books in as specific a way as possible. Instead, we opted for something we have called "categorization," based on some of the ideas in a system in the East Sussex Public Libraries in the UK in the 1980s: we would put books in helpful categories, and dispense with author cutters except where helpful (fiction and poetry). Overall, this meant that many times there would be more books with the same call number than with Dewey. Our job would be to keep those categories manageable and of a helpful size.
- Particularly in the lower grades library (PreK-2) we decided on another crucial principle: we would mix fiction and nonfiction in categories, identify whether they were fiction or nonfiction on the spine, but interfile them on the shelves. That would mean that a kindergartner looking for a book about dogs would find both fiction and nonfiction in the "Dogs" section, but would be able to see which books were fiction from the spine label.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
When we four librarians gathered in the library office just over a year ago to watch the Darien Public Library's Powerpoint about their new system for their preschool section, it didn't take long for us to make the leap to deciding that we wanted to do something similar, but for PreK-5th grade. For anyone watching, their reaction might have been surprise at our willingness, scratch that: enthusiasm, in dispensing with the Dewey Decimal Classification System with such rapidity. The truth is that we, like many librarians, had been dissatisfied with Dewey for many years.
What was it that we disliked so much? Even if we disliked it, surely a system which has been tried and tested, is almost universally used in school libraries, and is seen as an essential part of running a library in a professional way, would be preferable to anything that we could come up with. Not so, we were quick to argue.
The purpose of the Dewey system is to pinpoint as closely as possible the subject or topic covered by the book. The number generated, combined with the “cutter,” (usually the first three letters of the author’s last name), provides an almost unique call number, which enables the person searching for a particular book to identify the book quickly, assuming that you first searched the catalog and found the call number, then were able to located that call number’s place in the sequence of books on the shelves and third, that the book was in the correct place in the sequence. These are pretty big assumptions, especially when the majority of your users are in the second grade or below.
PROBLEM 1: Division by Discipline. Dewey divides the universe of knowledge into ten main classes. This division is predominantly by discipline. You can see the division by discipline clearly in the 300s, the Social Sciences main class. For example, 306 is the number for Culture and Institutions. Under this one finds all kinds of institutions, including religious institutions, political institutions, family, sexual relationships, etc. When last did an 8-year-old show an interest in “institutions” as a topic? Maybe it doesn’t matter too much if you’re only interested in providing access through specific catalog searches, and all of your users are going to be looking for books with a call number in hand. The truth is that most of our users are browsing: looking along the shelves for interesting or useful books. That means that we want to put related books together as much as possible. This simply isn’t served by putting books about political institutions next to books about family structures on the one hand, but separating books about kids’ feelings about their families in one main class from the books about family structures in another.
Dewey simply doesn’t group books on related topics from a child’s point of view. For example, non-domestic animals and pets are separated on the shelves by the topics of: inventors; the human body and medicine; engineering; various kinds of transportation, including space travel; robots; and gardening and farming. As another example, sewing and knitting are in different main classes. I could go on and on.
PROBLEM 2: Bias. The Dewey system was invented by an American steeped in the Western intellectual and cultural assumptions of the 19th century. Despite many changes and updates, the basic structure remains. For example, Christianity takes up no less than 70% of the 200s Religion main class, leaving Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism all with numbers on the far side of the decimal point.
PROBLEM 3: Numerical Code. For children, this may be the biggest barrier to access caused by Dewey.
First, the code is opaque and far too complex to teach in detail to students. We teach that the 700s are Arts and Recreation, including sports, and then we expect students to find baseball books at 796.357, or football books at 796.334.
Second, while some numbers are fairly short (3 or 4 digits), most are longer. A book on lions has a number that is 7 digits long (599.7442); a book of folk tales from Vietnam, if one has a substantial collection and subdivides by country, has a 9 digit number, almost a phone number and area code (398.209597).
Third, there’s the decimal aspect, which is there, it seems, simply because Melvil Dewey loved decimals. Students learn about decimals in math only in third or fourth grade, i.e. more than half of our students have not learned about decimals.
Fourth, to add insult to injury, in order to find a book on the shelf students must be able to put decimal numbers of up to 6 numbers to the right of the decimal point IN ORDER. Or, rather, be able to insert a decimal number on a slip of paper in their hand into the order on the shelves. Libraries are the only place in the universe that I’m aware of that require this particular skill. Enough said.
All in all, we had become convinced over the years that Dewey, rather than enabling our students to find what they needed, created barriers for them. It sometimes seemed that our students found what they wanted despite Dewey rather than because of it. We wanted to believe that it was possible to do better.
When we saw the inspiring example of the librarians in Darien creating a system with preschool children and their needs at its center, we began to believe for the first time that we could do something similar for our students.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
It's been a fascinating process watching students negotiating Metis, our new categorization system, and tracking how they have been using our collection. While some of the new categories, such as Animals, represent more or less the same books as the corresponding Dewey sections (differently organized and named), there are some categories which I think of as synthetic, in that they pull together books which were scattered in Dewey. One such category is "G MakingStuff."
In the MakingStuff category we put all the books about crafts, activities, games, drawing: in fact, anything that kids might want to do for fun, including putting on plays, magic tricks, cooking, origami and collecting stamps. This includes books on models scattered through the 620s, cooking and sewing books from the 640s, and books from many different sections of the 700s.
The category, like nearly all of our categories, is arranged by subdivisions with the name of the craft or activity organized alphabetically. The use of whole words in the call number and on the spine label, along with the picture label on each book, makes it possible for students to easily identify where the category begins and ends, and to jump from one subtopic to another.
Watching students use this section has been interesting and exciting. There is quite often a group of students clustered around the area, and students help other students to find books on a craft or activity. I watched a third grader one morning begin by looking at a book on paper crafts, and then move on to a book about how to sew, which was the book he eventually checked out. This natural and simple segue from paper craft to sewing could never have happened with Dewey: it would have entailed a jump from 735 to 646. Our cooking books have never been better used; the same goes for the drawing books and many other crafts.
Our circulation statistics bear this out. The books in this section have seen an amazing 87% increase in circulation for the first three months of the school year. This is a category that 4th grade students specifically asked for last year when we discussed with them the ways that they thought about categorizing information and books, and it has been one of the most successful areas of our new system.