920: Banvard’s Folly by Paul Collins

920.02: Collins, Paul. Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck. New York: Picador, 2001. 267 pp. ISBN 0-312-26886-6.

Go into any public library and you will find that all the biographies are cordoned off in their own section. Patrons love reading about the lives of others, and modern biographies have just the same cachet as they did in decades past (the unauthorized ones are usually the most salacious, though).

The Dewey System tried to do it this way, too. In earlier editions, the 920s was the holding place for biographies and it mirrored the other classes internally: the 000s were general works, so 920 was general biographies; the 100s contained philosophy and psychology, so 921 held biographies of philosophers and psychologists, and so on. Then, they decided that people reading books on chemistry should also be able to find biographies of chemists nearby. So, at some point, the folks at Dewey moved everything out of the 920s and decided that they should be classed with the subject’s area of expertise. Biographies of chemists go into general works on chemistry (540); businessmen go to 338, and painters go to 759.

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