What is it?

by Gerard

So…what do I mean by “Lifelong Dewey”? Well, I’m a librarian by education, but an analyst by occupation, which mean that I have a compulsive urge to put books (and everything else) in order and an irrepressible need to ensure that all people have access to whatever information they desire, regardless of the circumstances. We librarians have a code of ethics, you know.

But, what about the Dewey part? Being a librarian comes hand in hand with being an avid reader. I’ve yet to meet a professional (or para-professional) librarian who didn’t already have a love of books and all things readable. Part of the training means understanding the two basic types of library classification schemes. First, there’s the Library of Congress Classification. If you’ve come from a large university, you’ve seen it. It looks something like this: PS3537.T4753 Z76535 1994. The PS is for American literature and the rest further breaks it down by subject and sub-subject and author. This one is for an annotated secondary bibliography of works concerning the American poet Wallace Stevens (my favorite poet).

Then, comes the Dewey Decimal Classification. This one is more for public libraries and smaller institutional libraries (with broad collections). My undergraduate work was at Hiram College (pop. 1,200) and they used DDC. By contrast, my post-graduate work was at Kent State–they used LCC. So, I’ve seen them both in action. I’m much more partial to Dewey. So much so that I own a complete unabridged set of the 22nd edition DDC. It’s more harmonious and internally understandable. If you know that the suffix for history is -09, then 109 is history of philosophy, and 709 is history of art, and 509 is history of science. It works the other way, too. Anything starting with 5 is science-related. 551 is natural science, 599 is mammal science, 521 is celestial mechanics. It even compounds properly–540 is general chemistry and 540.9 is history of general chemists and chemistry.

It has its foibles, though. It’s very white-centric and Christian-centric. A lot of the African and Polynesian subject areas get crammed into little sections of the code. You just have to accept that it’s a bit ethnocentric and move on.

The meaning of this blog is to read and write about a book in every section of the DDC. The Dewey numbers go from 000 to 999. Each hundred is called a class, each ten is called a division, and each single digit is called a section. Sections, consequently, are divided into subsections and sub-subsections (almost ad infinitum). The numbers can, in extreme cases, go on for a while given certain constructions and suffixes allowable by the scheme. For instance, I have a book about a museum collection of 18th century American Rococo furniture and decorations. Its number is 745.40974090330747471. This breaks down as follows: 745 is decorative arts, 754.4 is pure and applied design and decoration, -09 means history, -74 then means Northeastern US, another -09033 for the 1700s. Tack on the -074 because of the museum thing, and finally a -7471 for New York (it’s the Met). Voila! A wonderfully complex but completely descriptive rendering of the subject of the book.

My goal, when all of this is done, is to have read (and reported on) a book in each DDC section (in the above case–745). By my count, the DDC 22 has 904 sections (96 of the possible 1,000 are unused or unassigned). There are some maddening sections, like the 310s, which is supposed to be for collections of general statistics of sections of the world. That’s going to be tedious, but a goal is a goal.

Here we go.