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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Doing Away with Dewey - A Library Student's Perspective

I count my lucky stars that I have been able to fulfill my library school fieldwork hours at the Ethical Culture School's Library this Fall. It's been fascinating to witness the library's shift to their new organizational system, "METIS," aptly named after the Greek goddess of wisdom and deep thought. From my first time visiting the library, I sensed an excited energy amongst the students as they eagerly browsed the newly arranged shelves and found the books they sought. I listened as they deliberated amongst themselves where a certain book might be found, would it be in humor or sports? Is it about pets or about potions? And which of the genres does that connect to? Then, their eyes dart to the alphabetized icons displayed on the large wall, guiding them to the proper section. We have all relished that small victory in finding the right book, and it's been a joy seeing the children succeed in their intuitive searching. As a library student, I am required to learn about the various classification and organization systems utilized by libraries and at the moment I am in the midst of Dewey, that infamous decimal system that has been baffling students (and teachers) since 1876 when it was created. Observing METIS in action while learning about Dewey in school has created quite the interesting juxtaposition! Dewey's classification system works on decimals arranged in ascending order, which is inherently problematic for young children who don't yet possess the necessary decimal point know-how to navigate it. METIS is an alphabetized system, which is far more universal and practical for the children to work with. The iconic nature of METIS, with its colorful symbol for each genre/section, gives students the visual cues to make the connections they need when searching. These visuals follow through to the spine of the book, along with an extra symbol indicating the "nature" of the book: a blue star for information or a red star for imagination. It's almost like a fun game for the children to scavenge for the book they seek, but unlike Dewey's confusing numbers, they are guided by many friendly helpers along the way. In this sense, they are less dependent on the librarian and more excited to find books and read. The other wonderful advantage of a system like METIS is that it lends to "accidental" searching, allowing a student who might not be completely sure of what he or she is seeking to find a good match. For example, a student might be in the mood for a fairy tale so they would peruse the Tales section. There they could find original fairy tales alongside modern fractured fairy tales, such as Goldie and the Three Bears by Diane Stanley (which Tali read to her Kindergarteners today). With Dewey, they might never have come across this unique genre simply because they wouldn't know to search for it in the first place! Think of all the serendipitous searches to come. Ultimately, the goal of any organizational system is to benefit the user, and in our case, the students. It's about increasing the number of those small victories and giving them the tools to access the information they seek. Dewey may have its seniority and all, but I feel strongly that its place is far from the school library. After all, the school library is a place for children to freely explore and transcend the bounds of space and time through reading, and all those decimals were just weighing things down.


Daphna S. Amar

CUNY Queens College

Graduate School of Library & Information Studies

Vice President of QC LISSA

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