Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tanti auguri a te

December 10, 1851 is one of the most auspicious days in library history. It is the birthday of Melvil Dewey (1851-1931). As well as being the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System for library classification, his contribution to the development of the library profession was considerable. Dewey helped to found the American Library Association, the Columbia School for Library Economy, the first institution of its kind.

When I was at uni, one of the classes I took was called Information Organisation. Mainly using the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) and Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) we learnt the basic skills of cataloguing, and also evaluated various classification systems, such as MESH, which is often used in medical libraries, and Moyes, used in the legal sector. Learning these systems was headache inducing, but in retrospect I'm glad I put the time in to gain competency in their use, because this later became a great help to me when I entered the library profession at the end of 2002.

In evaluating DDC and LCSH, I distinctly remember my lecturer's remarks. Despite numerous revisions since their conception, both of these schema are still the product of a 19th century American worldview. As such, one can see a distinct Judeo-Christian bias in them, amongst other things. Granted this doesn't reflect our more cosmopolitan modern society, but this bias isn't necessarily a bad thing when you work in a theological library, and a good portion of your working day is often spent cataloguing theological resources.


James Garth said...

The Dewey Decimal System being, of course, the system referred to in such an uncompromising and unforgettable fashion by "Conan The Librarian" in Weird Al Yankovic's under-rated "The Vidiot from UHF."


Ross McPhee said...

That guy's a better actor than Schwarzenegger. Have you seen Conan the Barbarian? If not, then I don't recommend it. It's always a worrying sign when the lead actor doesn't have any dialogue until half an hour, if not longer, into the movie.

Jason Button said...

Ross, thanks for the post. I, too, enjoy library tidbits, theology and history. I've been learning the basic structure of the DDC as it pertains to my own library and have a lot of fun with it. I've thought about picking up a class or two on library science, but have not yet found an opportunity.

I appreciate you visiting TheoSource earlier today. I decided to use the DDC to organize the book recommendation lists posted on the site. There seem to be so many exceptions and options when applying the system that I found my self doing a lot of customization. Your last statement is very true. The Judeo-Christian flavor of the system is very useful for theological libraries (especially smaller ones).

I was looking for a way to email you, but this is the best I could find. We seem to have similar interests (books, theology and library organization). I hope that you'll keep in contact.