Any avid library user is familiar with Melvil Dewey’s legacy – the Dewey Decimal Classification system (DDC) he created in 1876. If you’ve searched for non-fiction at the ORL, chances are you have used mini pencils to write down a string of seemingly irrelevant numbers onto a little piece of paper in order to find exactly what you were looking for.
What you may not be aware of is that the system has undergone 23 major revisions over the past century and a half, with the latest version just released this month. The ORL Cataloguing Department will begin using this updated version to catalogue newly received library materials starting in July. Re-coding all affected materials currently on the shelves is not financially feasible, so you will still find the 1987 “A Weaver’s Garden” under 746.1.
In honour of the new DDC, our Technical Services Coordinator has compiled a Q & A about Dewey and the system. Here is all (and maybe more) than you ever wanted to know about the DDC:
What is the Dewey Decimal Classification system (DDC)?
It is a system for organizing knowledge. Dewey numbers are expressed in Arabic numerals, and are organized under ten main fields of study (also known as ‘disciplines’).
How is the Dewey Decimal Classification system organized?
There are ten main areas:
000 Computer science, information and general knowledge
100 Philosophy and psychology
300 Social and political sciences, and economics
400 Language and languages
500 Science and mathematics
600 Technology and applied sciences
700 Arts, sports and recreation
900 Geography, history and travel
Why can a topic appear in more than one Dewey area?
The cataloguing of an item depends on which area of knowledge is considered most important. For example, one book on “clothing” could emphasize clothing customs (391); another book could be about learning to sew clothing at home (646.2), while a third book might focus on fashion design (746.92). Each book is catalogued according to the class of knowledge that best describes the book.
Why do Dewey numbers change?
Dewey numbers change in order to keep pace with advances in knowledge, and to include new fields of study. Major changes are made every few years when a new edition of the Dewey Decimal System is released. Smaller changes are integrated into regular updates made to the online version of Dewey. For example, the new edition of Dewey has new numbers for “smart phones”, “West Nile fever” and “bullying”, all areas of knowledge where new developments have emerged in recent years.
Why can’t the ORL keep using old numbers so we don’t have books on the same topic in two different places on our shelves?
The Dewey Decimal Classification system (DDC) is used in over 138 countries to create cataloguing records for all types of materials in all subject areas. Our library uses the most up-to-date cataloguing information possible in order to keep our library collection current. We also add cataloguing records from other sources which also use the latest information. We do not, unfortunately, have the staff resources to call in older books every time a Dewey number is changed. If we did this, we would not have enough staff time to catalogue all the new materials that arrive at HQ each day.
TOPICS WITH NEW OR EXPANDED DEWEY NUMBERS
· Hand-held computing devices, cloud computing, and multimedia software
· Self-help groups, homeless persons, elder abuse, and bullying
· Qi gong, taekwondo, ringette, and water polo
· Mathematics, portable buildings, and solar energy in architecture
TOPICS WITH EXTENSIVE UPDATES OR CHANGES
· Developmental psychology, Orthodox churches, Islam
· Criminal offenses, political ideologies and parties, European Union
· Education, secret societies, medicine
· Landscape architecture, graphic arts, and cinematography