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Raising Arizona

Submitted by Karen G. Schneider on July 23, 2007 - 6:38pm


What do two initiatives from a new branch library and a large city library have in common? Both--from Maricopa (Az.) CountyLibrary District and Phoenix Public Library--are about moving out of library silos and leveraging the wide world of information.

Years of focus groups had taught the Maricopa County system that 80 percent of their users came to their libraries to browse popular reading, and Dewey organization didn't meet their needs: it wasn't friendly, and it wasn't familiar. Complaints from users indicated they wanted the library to be more like a bookstore. The new Perry branch was an ideal test bed for rethinking organization, because the community hadn't been conditioned into what to expect in a neighborhood library and also because Maricopa would stock the library with a brand-new, opening-day collection, so that there weren't issues with retrofitting records.

So Maricopa elected to organize books by BISAC headings. BISAC — for Book Industry Standards and Communications— comes from the bookselling world, and is "an industry-approved list of subject descriptors." BISAC has 50 major descriptors and many more subheadings. You've seen BISAC headings on shelf labels if you've ever walked into Borders or Barnes & Noble and seen shelf labels such as "Computers," "History," or "True Crime." 

Library staff worked with vendors from Brodart and Baker & Taylor to select the right BISAC subheadings, and the library, had a soft launch in June and officially opened on July 7. (See these photos from "Gather no Dust" blogger Jeff Scott's site visit.)

The result? Circulation is robust, patrons are happy, and though the library staff steeled themselves for "outrage," not a single customer has complained. As Maricopa County library director Harry Courtwright points out, if it doesn't work, they can always go back to Dewey--but they are optimistic enough, based on the initial response, that they are planning to use BISAC organization for a library they are opening in 2008.

As the mainstream press observed, there was a fair amount of wurra-wurra on some library discussion lists, with librarians asking why a library would abandon something as "proven" as Dewey, and others predicting the end of the world as we know it. Librarians also struggled to argue that sure, using BISAC would work for a small neighborhood library branch, but it could never, ever work in a larger setting.

Some librarians--in what sounds an awful lot like sour grapes--said, sure, fine, but this wasn't really innovative; it had been done elsewhere. To which I would observe that in the marketplace of ideas, the race often goes to the strongest, clearest voice. Bold theft of ideas from other venues is just another innovative strategy.

Meanwhile, other librarians wondered aloud about the "additional expense," unaware that Maricopa buys all of its books precataloged, and that vendors assign BISAC to books as a matter of course.

The Plot Thickens

Meanwhile, over at Phoenix Public Library, Jesse Haro in the automation department has been demonstrating that at least in the world of online library catalogs, BISAC may be better than Dewey for topical browsing of large library collections. (Oddly, Phoenix Public Library is in the same county as Maricopa, but in the Byzantine world of library organization, Maricopa is its own tax district and Phoenix is a city library.)

Haro and crew initially set out to improve their OPAC by replacing it with Endeca, which offered distinct improvements such as more relevant search results, spell-check, and the ability to integrate tagging, pick lists, RSS feeds, and much more.

However, Haro encountered a problem I discussed in an earlier article about NCSU's implementation of Endeca. I commented that while adding facets (guided navigation) to the OPAC was a huge plus, in the end, the usefulness of the facets was limited by the browsing language used to generate them, and I added that Library of Congress Subject Headings are "not designed for browsing collections on the Web."

I didn't mention Dewey, but that system was in my mind as well.

BISAC codes are pragmatically user-centric; they're designed to make it easy for customers to browse for books. The language is simple, the subcategories broad, and the main groupings are designed around user browsing and buying habits, such as "I'm looking for new mysteries" or "I am planning a wedding."

Melvil Dewey, on the other hand — and this is no criticism of his efforts — was designing middleware. Dewey invented his Decimal System in an era when most libraries had closed stacks and library workers retrieved known items or conducted their own "browsing" on behalf of patrons. The Dewey system wasn't designed to be easy for casual users in a neighborhood library where the emphasis is on self-service; it was designed to be efficient for large collections organized and managed by knowledge workers.

Pouring a nineteenth-century inventory system into a twenty-first-century search engine can lead to--shall we say--interesting results. Haro comments that "Endeca exposed our catalog in ways that were for better and for worse." Once of the "worse" ways was the clunkyness of library-generated metadata for topic browsing.

Purely unscientifically--but based on five years working work with thesauri for web portals--my conjecture is that for browsing purposes (in either the physical or the online world), most classification systems are at once too broad at the top level, such as Dewey's nine categories, and too narrow at the next level, where our systems suddenly drop into deep water (and our classification systems are hopeless with fiction, for which many libraries have created their own codes). I am particularly familiar with the
"onesie syndrome," where a broad subject heading, when subdivided, suddenly leads to exactly one item (q.v. "Gorillas -- Congresses"). This is not a browse-worthy outcome.

In any event, as a profession, we've had notoriously little luck with teaching people to think "341.5" (uh, make that 641.5!) instead of "cookbook," or "917" for "travel."  So how did Haro and others at Phoenix decide to use BISAC topics? They went to Barnes and Noble and looked at how the bookstore organized its books -- exactly what Maricopa did -- and that's when the idea of BISAC came up.

Unlike Maricopa, with its brand-new collection, Phoenix had the problem of retrofitting existing catalog records. So catalogers at Phoenix enriched MARC records with BISAC headings (in the 695 field, as a record display shows), using a Dewey/BISAC crosswalk provided by the vendors. Endeca (along with other faceted-navigation search engines such as FAST and Siderean) can display any metadata as a facet—so now users can browse for books in the Phoenix Public Library catalog the way they can browse for books in the Perry Branch.

Courtwright says he has a team at Maricopa looking at their catalog, to see if the bookstore-style organization that's working so well at the Perry branch can be extended to their virtual display. I keep hoping the two libraries could at least have a coffee klatch to discuss their amazingly similar and delightfully innovative work.

Comments (50)

[I'm looking at this thread

[I'm looking at this thread as a librarian and a business analyst for a book vendor.] Dewey vs BISAC aside, let us see for a moment if we can look at Karen's post from the perspective of the fact that libraries are part of a product/service supply chain whether we like it or not. What role do libraries and their patrons play in the supply of information resources and metadata? Are they just mere recipients and consumers of information products and services such that their interests are necessarily antagonistic to that of suppliers? Or can they play an important role in defining the quality of materials and metadata flowing through this supply chain? The use of subject headings defined by the book industry opens up a link between the browsing behaviors of library patrons and the production and distribution of information resources and metadata. Now, we can either look at this as opening up libraries to the marketing manipulations of suppliers or creating a healthier feedback loop by which libraries and their patrons can exert greater influence over the quality and robustness of an economic ecology of which they are a part.

One aspect of this

One aspect of this conversation that hasn't been touched upon is the size of the Maricopa Co. library experimenting with BISAC. Folks, it is 30,000 items, a pretty small collection [my library's smalles branch is close to twice it's size] which is a perfect size for a more general, browsing arrangement. They are not going to have real detailed narrow subject books. Are you comfortable in arranging the main Phoenix PL branch which is over 700,000 items in a browsable arrangement? With a collection of that size, you are going to want to drill down to narrow, specific topics and be able to find the item on the shelf. God knows I've spent enough time in bookstores browsing and unable to find what I want specifically. Happen to be working today and I will say we could easily incorporate better signage to help patrons and staff find the bigger, more popular, general topics. Either way you go BISAC or Dewey, as a end user you have to learn the ropes on where to find things. Great debate though and that of importance. BTW - out here in Los Angeles, the LA Co. PL serves unincorporated County areas that cannot or don't provide their own City services. LA PL covers the City of Los Angeles. As areas grow and begin to provide their own services they break away from the County based opperations. Looks like Maricopa Co. system does the same.

There will be no locations

There will be no locations in the future. The problem to solve is finding the information in the catalog, not finding the shelf it's sitting on.

Meg, I'd like to me-too you

Meg, I'd like to me-too you on the fundamental problem with any second-order system (as David Weinberger would refer to it). In the physical world, you will always run into those systems. Katie, the either/or comes in because BISAC groups things differently than Dewey, and -- from a bookstore's point of view -- better. I do think the point about how to subcategorize within BISAC is important to consider for large collections -- though if we get too carried away with librarianesque eensy-teensy categories, we'll be back in onesie-land; perhaps the point is to impose consistent order within categories so books can be located as well as browsed.

Why do we have to choose

Why do we have to choose BISAC or DDC in Public Library land? Can’t we have both? The article talks about how Phoenix was able to enrich its MARC records with BISAC headings. Great! Let's do it - it can only enhance the patron's ability to use faceted and natural language searching. Dewey is still there as the final result and the item is still in a specific location. Now go to the shelves and enrich them with subject headings more familiar to most patrons. Is it more work? You bet! I did the signage route when we knew our Internet and ILS were going to be down for almost a week. I made signage for each endcap listing the major/popular subjects and their corresponding Dewey numbers in each aisle. Some of the lists were long and quite varied - we had an aisle in the 600's that went from birthing babies to broken down cars. Making the lists was tedious but coming up with catchy headings was a lot of fun. I was able to leave those signs up for few months and everyone really liked them (except the director who abhors paper signage even when it is card stock with nice borders). What we did was a quick fix for a known situation. In the future I would love to revisit this and create a more professional display for each endcap possibly using the same BISAC headings that I have hopefully been able to get added to the MARC records. But, the items will still be in Dewey order on the shelf for easy retrieval and reshelving.

Karen, about the users

Karen, about the users saying they want a system where they can browse more than a system where they can find a specific item... The real trick is to devise a system that is browseable yet where one can quickly locate a specific item. That way you satisfy the needs of the majority without disabling the minority. To me, that still involves some sort of specific categorization for items along with a smaller collection in a large space and some great signage. Books in order by Dewey are highly browseable if we don't cram 5,000 of them together on a shelf, refer to them only by Dewey number, and mention category names only on row endcaps. Unfortunately, many libraries maximize the number of shelves, the items per shelf, and the shelf height because they are pressed for space. In a situation like that, browsing will seldom be truly successful because the signage is difficult to see. This leads me to wonder if it would it be better to halve the contents of our libraries and rearrange them for better browsing or if the 'more is better' approach should stay. I'm happy this library took the time to find out what their patrons wanted and are trying to meet it. I look forward to seeing how it goes. I'm just also curious whether or not the same layout and success could have been achieved while maintaining a more thorough categorization scheme so as not to abandon the researchers. One other note--my coworker worked for B&N for years before getting her MLS. She commented to me that they were constantly having to change their signage, and that things still ended up categorized in weird places (Sex in the City in Sociology, for example.) I think so long as we have to find a physical location for an item that makes sense to multiple people, we're going to run into these problems.

As a former Borders and B&N

As a former Borders and B&N employee myself, and current collection developer at a large public library system, I think some of the statements above are *way* overstating how difficult it is to find known materials at bookstores. It certainly isn't any more difficult than it is for the uninitiated (read: non-librarian) at a library. And bookstores are not quite as strict in keeping their 'catalog' to themselves as have been Cassandra's experiences; Borders has had browsing kiosks at a number of their stores, for example. Librarians aren't being fully honest with themselves if they think that most of their customers prefer to wander through aisles of books classified by a numbering scheme they either don't know or have forgotten. If Karen herself forgot that a huge section like cookbooks is in the 640s, I can only imagine what little the general public knows about Dewey. That said, Dewey (or an improved system) along with clear signage is probably still the best way to go, for both librarian and customer. Browsing becomes facile, while items that a customer actually requests can be found at a distinct location on the shelf. One other aspect that I've heard is that the bookstore model should not be implemented for libraries because, unlike in libraries, books are not returned to the shelves in bookstores. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are plenty of items unpurchased or returned that need to be resituated in their proper location at a bookstore. And more importantly, new materials come in and publisher returns go out all the time at bookstores. Without a clear definition of where items are located within a bookstore, these many ongoing processes would be impossible. The concept that bookstores are somehow disorganized and thrown together haphazardly, and therefore inferior to libraries, is somewhat insulting, even if librarians do not intend that notion to be.

One of the messages from

One of the messages from Maricopa is that the users want to browse more than they want to find specific items. As librarians, we privilege the latter behavior, but if a group of library users -- say, residents of small communities -- are saying they want to *browse* more than they want to *find specific items*, doesn't that mean we aren't listening to our users? arkham, I think you have the cart before the horse. Library districts aren't born in a vacuum; quite often, librarians are centrally involved in their creation. Additionally, the fact that nationally, libraries are organized along feudal, highly-regional lines should not be taken for granted but understood as an event within the context of library history.

Just a quick comment on the

Just a quick comment on the idea of Dewey as a kind of 'middleware' opposed to a 'self-service' concept. At any Borders, Barnes & Noble, or other chain bookstore I have been to personally (which is quite a few in different states), there is no provision at all for 'self-service' in finding a specific item or even a specific subject, beyond loose general categories. Say, 'Cookbooks.' You can wander around until you find a sign that says 'Cookbooks.' Sometimes, if you're lucky, the cookbook shelves have small sub-labels to help you find 'Baking,' 'Barbecue,' 'Entertaining,' or various ethnic cookery. If you're looking for French Baking, you might be able, by yourself, to find 'Baking,' and 'French Cooking,' and you might get lucky. But if you don't get lucky, then you have to discern: are they putting it in another category I don't know about? Is there a display in some random place in the store? (Always a possibility). Maybe they don't have anything on the subject. If I'm in a mood to wander and see what grabs me, which, as a bibliophile, frequently happens, the organization of these stores is fine. But any time I'm actually looking for something specific, where do I end up at these chain stores? With a person who stands behind an Information Desk, who looks something up on a computer screen that I am generally discouraged from peeking at. This computer is usually as nitpicky about spelling as our OPAC, which means if the search is one letter off, they find nothing. And I can't go to the computer (card catalog) myself and see what they might have in stock. It's all 'middleware' that they control. Part of the point here is that sure, the library needs to be browsable, so a person leaves with something that might help them, as much as it's possible for us to provide. That's similar to what a bookstore does. But libraries also serve a lot of research/information purposes that bookstores do not, and if I need to find a specific item because of that, most bookstores don't do that job well. They're not in the business of providing me with what I want or need. They're in the business of selling me something. Sometimes those are the same thing. A lot of the time they're not.

Interesting discussion. If

Interesting discussion. If Dewey really was a Platonic idea of how information fits together ('the shape of the world') I'd say librarians should defend it. But - it isn't! It's clunky and biased and doesn't adapt well to changing ideas about what subjects are important and how they relate to one another. It's not easy for people to use. LC is no better, but it doesn't pretend to be. I don't see how using a different classification system would make it any harder for people to find books that are not marketed and promoted by publishers. On the other hand, I find shelving arrangements at big box bookstore nearly impossible to use - particularly (as others have pointed out) for known items. If we want to claim libraries are distinguished by their superior ability to organize knowledge in meaningful ways then we'd have to do a better job than we've done so far. Classification and cataloging are great concepts, but for the most part libraries would rather copy minimal data from someone else, throw it into an expensive but lousy piece of software, and do other things. (I'm guilty: not a cataloger, never wanted to be one - partly because it seemed totally about learning to adhere to picayune rules that seem anchored in another era.) This experimental move away from Dewey is valuable if only because it calls the question. I don't honesty think BISAC categories are much of an improvement, but if people are able to find what they're looking for more effectively, then we need to think hard about our claims that we are better than anyone else at organizing information.

A couple things I noticed in

A couple things I noticed in the article...the article talks about the '...Byzantine world of library organization.' when referring to the fact that Maricopa and Phoenix are in the same county, but different libraries. This may be confusing (I know it is, for example St. Louis has city, county and municipal libraries within the St. Louis city/county area, which confuses the heck out of patrons). To ascribe the fault to 'Byzantine library organization' is unfair, as it's all due to tax districts. Most of the librarians in the St. Louis area would likely prefer to have it all be essentially one system (as long as their jobs remained safe :D) but the various tax bases won't agree to cooperate. And now to BISAC, Dewey and LCSH. BISAC is great for commercial bookstores. It forces people to browse for any book they want, which exposes more titles to the customers, and hopefully(from the point of view of the store) gets them to buy more than just one item. I know that I like to go in, find the European history or archaeology section, and browse. If I'm going to the library, I'll do the same, looking in the 930s and 940s. However, if I'm doing research, I need the EXACT item I'm looking for. I want a specific location, I don't want to be forced to browse through 50-100 books on my topic. Dewey gives me that. LCSH is a major issue in library catalogs. It is a great tool for finding a specific topic, if you know what you're doing, but it's too impenetrable for the average library user to put in the effort. What we need is not to abandon controlled vocabulary altogether but to find a better way to convey the information in the online environment - including changing our vocabulary if necessary. Faceted searching is one way to try to change how finding is done in the online environment, but it isn't perfect, and more work needs to be done to improve it. In the end, what we need to more study of what works and what doesn't in the online environment. I suspect that we'll need to incorporate a number of strategies, including faceted searching, subject browse options (improved and not so impenetrable as full LCSH, I would hope), user tagging and more I'm not thinking about. But abandoning everything to BISAC and keyword searches will not enhance findability, which should be our (the library profession's) main concern.

I think the site

I think the site is worth a look. It's a kid's Internet index. At the bottom, there's a link to look at the page through the librarian's eyes. It should give you pause to think in the context of this 'controversy.'

I must say that since I

I must say that since I first heard about this experiment on NPR, I have been fascinated by the idea. I think it might be worth a road trip. Forget cookbooks, think computer software books that can get cataloged in the 000's or the 600's or possibly somewhere else. Think about body building books that end up in the 646's instead of with the other workout books. And don't even get me started on self-help. I think the time has come to rethink non-fiction classification and the BISAC headings are a natural place to go.

Karen. I agree that many

Karen. I agree that many items in Dewey are ridiculously categorized. My head steams when I see books for Microsoft Word in with the 640's rather than the other computer books in the 005. But that is a cataloging issue. The same thing could happen in bisac heading placement, putting a book on a writing application in with writing books rather than the computer books. The advantage that dewey has is that if sorted correctly, allows users to easily find a SPECIFIC title once they know its call number. In most cases, users find the item by the title on the spine when they are close to the area it is in. You might argue that subject organization does this as well. But having worked in a bookstore for 3 years, I can tell you that there were countless times when I would try to find a specific title in a topic area (either an entire shelf or row!) and would look for at least 10 minutes (who knows how long the customer had been looking). Sometimes I would find it, other times I gave up and simply ordered the book for the customer. I definitely think there are some things that libraries can learn from the bookstore model, signage, displaying of books, etc. But I don't think we should be exactly like them. Giving up a system of organization that allows users to find an exact title or specific subject would decrease access to valuable information, which from my teachings and belief, is what seperates the bookstore model and the library model.

Karen, thanks for this

Karen, thanks for this stimulating topic. We are thinking hard about this shelving arrangement, but are also considering the combo of categories and Dewey used in the Bayside Library in Perth. see I understand the Perry Branch has already experienced very high circ (of course you are going to expect that in a new structure.) I also note that they have 30,000 items in 28,000 square feet - this is about one third to one quarter of what we would house in a building of that size. Does a pared-down all-new collection skew their user's experience and luck in finding something good to read? I am going to Perry to see for myself in a couple of months.

My experience with

My experience with bookstores is that they're great for the big subjects - but for smaller ones, not so much. Example - I'm looking for books on counted cross stitch. I find the Crafts section - but the books aren't separated by type of craft and I find cross stitch books with knitting and soap making etc. With Dewey, at least there's a good area for counted cross stitch and I can just browse the shelves.

Beth's comment shows that

Beth's comment shows that the same things we struggle to classify in Dewey are also difficult to categorize in BISAC. And if you browse through PPL's catalog, it becomes apparent that Dewey and BISAC really aren't all that different. Domestic architecture is pretty much all in 728.37. Even in the Body, Mind, Spirit section, when you get to the subsections, they match up with Dewey most of the time. I do think BISAC does a better job at assigning natural language headings, but again, that's signage. And unless you're working with a new library like the Perry branch, you're not going to reshelve your collection. PPL shows the dewey number on the browse screen--you can be they didn't reshelve (big, beautiful library that they are). So at some point you deal with Dewey, at the shelf where you can lay your hands on the exact book you want.

But what if you hate the way

But what if you hate the way B&N is organized? For example, when I had to go out and buy additional copies of David Pelzer's books for my library, I had to check the psychology, self-help, addiction & recovery, biography, and current interests sections before I could figure out where they shelved it. When looking for a specific title that may well be interdisciplinary, there is no way to find it other than waiting in line for a staff member to do the search. Give me dewey anyday . . .

Karen, re: 'crucial'

Karen, re: 'crucial' above, I agree. The simple point is that there is nothing sacred about Dewey or LCC. In response to Kevin's question, K.G. Schneider said: 'The other question I have is what is the advantage of shelving by Dewey?' mcstatton answers Kevin's and Karen's question wonderfully, and then asks, the key question: 'Is it time to sacrifice somewhat on finding particular items in order to enhance browsing? Where are our users in all of this?' This gets to the heart of the issue. If the BISAC arrangement will not allow people to find *particular* items easily, let's not try to hide this fact, but talk about why compromise is necessary. Well, than it may indeed all come down to user surveys and circulation stats. Of course, this follows a business model. In any case, this elitist thinks that Dewey, for all its faults, is a not only able to actually help us find particular items - and is not arragned to get us to buy, buy, buy - but is also a better system representing the world. In other words, it does not only contain knowledge that has been effectively marketed or popularized (the books with the buzz) such that it can be sold widely among the general populace (and when a book is of high educational quality and has been effectively popularized, it is an awesome thing!), but also certain books (still colorful, well-done, etc., but not 'mass-marketable') that only public school libraries would buy, for instance. I'd rather my 5-year old son learn the general shape of the world via Dewey any day (with signage please!) - and not via a system that is constructed to categorize only those author creations that are mass marketable: things most people find highly entertaining, interesting, and enjoyable (which many times equals, “more, easy, fast, fun”, or worse yet, “the Secret”) but are *perhaps* little concerned with a comprehensive liberal arts education.

I agree this conversation is

I agree this conversation is proving an interesting read. Yes there is certainly a growing trend for public libraries to make their collections more accessible and useable to patrons, but I don't see this as being at the expense of dewey. Simple rearrangments of the non-fiction collection are a great place to start. We have 'Living Rooms' where the titles are arranged into subject groupings (eg. Health & Sport, Law & Business, Art & Photography, etc, etc, etc) but arranged on the shelf by Dewey. This both allows for the browsing aspect of patron usage, makes it much easier for patrons to find the items they're after (by subject, grouped together)and helps library staff locate titles on the shelf - first by room and then by dewey call no. For us, it works really well and I have noticed more and more libraries around the state similarly arranging their collections within 'room' headings that make sense to their community - it's a great way to both enhance the public library within the local community and reflect the nature of that community within the library's arrangment.

I find this conversation

I find this conversation very interesting and informative. I think the arrangement of the collection is very important and should be examined. I believe that any classification system for items on the shelf are designed to do two things: find a particular item easily and also browse for other items that may be similar. Dewey is an attempt to find a middle ground between the two. It is much easier to find a particular book in Dewey than it is in a bookstore. The bookstore is not as interested in you finding a book quickly and then leaving. They would like you to browse and find others that you may like to buy as well. They emphasize browsing and can change their store arrangement quickly as interests change. They sacrifice finding particular items easily. Dewey on the other hand emphasizes finding the particular item, not only in that library but in all libraries using the Dewey system but it sacrifices somewhat on browsing. Rather than just numbering them 1, 2, 3, it has an element of browsing built in but it is not as flexible as a bookstore. The question is where should libraries be on this continuum? It probably depends on the library. Is it time to sacrifice somewhat on finding particular items in order to enhance browsing? Where are our users in all of this?

Kevin, part of the

Kevin, part of the difference is that materials are colocated differently, supposedly in friendlier groupings. The other question I have is what is the advantage of shelving by Dewey?

Karen, I'm a bit confused

Karen, I'm a bit confused by your comment. Most staff (sort crew) shelf the books according to their spine labels and how they relate to the books on the shelf. The signage (history, computers, true crime) would be visible for patrons who are browsing the shelfs. The dewey numbers would be for patrons (and staff) who wish to find a specific title and received it either from the catalog or the reference desk. Maybe I should ask the question again. What advantage does having your library organized by natural language have over having your library organized by Dewey with natural language signage?

I agree, surveying the users

I agree, surveying the users (but not too much :> ) would be good to do. Another thing to track (for which it's good the books still have Dewey in their records, since that's what we know) is to see if some categories got a nice bump in circ (or did not).

Karen, excellent piece.

Karen, excellent piece. Surprised you didn't title it 'Razing Arizona' since you'd think that's what they did by switching! LOL! I agree, let's see what happens with circ. I look forward to more reports from the branches.... maybe even some user polls?

Kevin, I think that's

Kevin, I think that's actually how people browse. The shelf labels are more for the staff, since books circulate. My guessin', anyway!

Still waiting (with a grin

Still waiting (with a grin on my face) for an argument where having just bisac signage over signage and dewey is better. I can see where having it in the catalog and pointing patrons to the area that way may be easier (may is the optimal word here), but for patrons who are just browsing, the 'code' wouldn't even be looked at, let alone in their mind, if the signage was good. And I must say the Perry Branch has some REALLY good signage. But couldn't the SAME THING be accomplished with books organized by dewey? Signage for History say oh... in the 900s, Computers in the 005-006, and True Crime in the 364.1523 (had to look that up, but I knew it was 360 something). It is rather elementary. Prove it otherwise.=)

Jeff, that's a biggy. But

Jeff, that's a biggy. But genreflecting the fiction won't hurt either. MEW, I don't think we as librarians WOULD find 'big chain bookstore' arrangements helpful. We're trained differently than our users.

I would bet that after a

I would bet that after a year, this branch will have higher circulation of non-fiction. Non-fiction is almost always the laggard when it comes to circulation. Popularity has something to do with it, but how many patrons have been turned away because they can't find something?

I don't find the big chain

I don't find the big chain bookstores arrangements terribly helpful, but I recognize they can't do too much of anything else. Let's take a book on the Clinton Presidency -- would that be under history, politics, or current events -- or, if written by Clinton himself, under biography? I've spent plenty of time in Borders/B&N stores trying to find things. At least in a library there's someone to ask who would be interested in helping.

I didn't say what system we

I didn't say what system we use isn't crucial; I said that the tool doesn't define who we are. thanks for all the comments... I look forward to seeing what others have to say!

Karen, I've reserved the

Karen, I've reserved the book. Nevertheless, I suspect that our profession is giving away the rope with which to hang itself. You are right to say that what system you use isn’t crucial, but the point is that librarians of the past implicitly AND explicitly recognized that our systems have an educative component. In fact, I would argue that how you label, categorize, organize actually educates (e.g. have you noticed this connection? Have you seen this wider context? Did you notice how this is interrelated to this? - algorithms cannot do all of this...). They are only granular, but are holistic, helping people see not only the tail or the trunk of the beast, but the whole elephant. So all systems organize and hence, educate about the world “out there” (sometimes, like in the case of special libraries, focusing on the medical world for example, sometimes, as with the case of school, public and university libraries, focusing on the cosmos). Some systems however, do this more poorly or more fulsomely than others. Again, all of us – and this is true more so as we get deep into a profession - are stewards (curators) and organizers. For us, however, it really is the case that our greatest assets are immaterial, I think. And this is important to remember as more and more goes online. Again, I cite Thompson-Gale as someone who “gets it” – who is not ashamed to tout their “expert organizer” credentials. Its who they are. Its who we, I think, are. Or maybe I never understood the profession to begin with

Karen, Your comments about

Karen, Your comments about adopting other people's good ideas are well-taken - but is this is a good idea is the question (another point: As it stands now, most libs in the U.S. have the same arrangement, so I can go from place to place and things are oganized in a similar manner). Now, curators. Would you happen to be able to recommend a good informative article that describes the work of a professional curator? I ask because I'm sure to some degree you are making an excellent point (to me, it seems that all of us are curators, to some degree, just like all of us are philosophers / organizers / categorizers). At the same time, it seems to me that a large part of the job - one that would distinuguish it from other kinds of managment / CEO-ship) would probably be arranging one's collection in ways that are helpful and educational for one's patrons (and again, these 'collections' are things we will probably be having less and less of)


A NOTE FOR THE DISCARD DEWEY CAMP Amidst all the hoopla surrounding the current move away from the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system it is perhaps incumbent upon us to review the history of the system. “The DDC attempts to organize all knowledge into ten main classes. The ten main classes are then further subdivided. Each main class has ten divisions and each division has ten sections. Hence the system can be summarized in 10 main classes, 100 divisions and 1000 sections. DDC's advantage in choosing decimals for its categories allows it to be both purely numerical and infinitely hierarchical. It also uses some aspects of a faceted classification scheme, combining elements from different parts of the structure to construct a number representing the subject content (often combining two subject elements with linking numbers and geographical and temporal elements) and form of an item rather than drawing upon a list containing each class and its meaning. Besides its frequent revision, DDC's main advantage over its chief rival—the Library of Congress Classification system developed shortly afterward—is its simplicity. Thanks to the use of pure notation, a mnemonics system and a hierarchical decimal place system, it is generally easier to use for most users. DDC and UDC are also more flexible than Library of Congress Classification because of greater use of facets (via auxiliary tables) while Library of Congress Classification is almost totally enumerative. On the flip side, DDC's decimal system means that it is less hospitable to the addition of new subjects, as opposed to Library of Congress Classification which has 21 classes at the top level. Another side effect of this is that DDC notations can be very much longer compared to the equivalent class in other classification systems. Another disadvantage of DDC is that it was developed in the 19th century, by essentially one man, and was built on a top down approach to classify all human knowledge which made it difficult to adapt to changing fields of knowledge. In contrast, the Library of Congress Classification system was developed based mainly on the idea of literary warrant; classes were added (by individual experts in each area) only when needed for works owned by the Library of Congress. As a result, while the Library of Congress Classification system was able to incorporate changes and additions of new branches of knowledge, particularly in the fields of engineering and computer science (the greater hospitability of the Library of Congress Classification was also a factor), DDC has been criticized for being inadequate for covering those areas. As a result, most major academic libraries in the US do not use the DDC because the classification of works in those areas is not specific enough. The Library of Congress Classification system is not without problems; because each area is developed by an expert according to demands of cataloging, there is little consistency. It is also highly US-centric (more so than DDC) because of the nature of the system, and compared to DDC it has been translated into far fewer languages. The Library of Congress Classification system is also more complicated to use, and unlike DDC cannot be customized for the needs of a smaller library collection.” Wikipedia. Now some caveats are in order. In the context of our present society and the increasing reduction of intellectual pursuits (dumming down) it is evident that little or no effort is being made to instruct our students and patrons in the use of this logical system which has been with us successfully for over a century. That is not to say that there is no need for improvement. A useful combination of the best of DDC and LC would seem to fit the bill. A library is meant to be a logical and efficient storage of information. Browsing through a shelf that has been marked “Animals or Mammals” will take infinitely longer than having a specific number to look for. Most patrons do NOT know titles or authors and our job is to reduce the frustration in finding suitable information. Most of us have experienced the frustration of browsing in a book store for a specific title especially when the bookstore constantly shifts its collection based on which publishers pays more for upfront space. The assumption is that we as a society are so intellectually immature that we cannot understand the simplicity of a decimal system. Probably the same assumption which prevents us from adopting the much more efficient metric system. By exposing children to the DDC in Kindergarten and continuing the education through the grades there is not doubt that these students will be knowledgeable and comfortable when using the library. By substituting only subject categories for shelving you are doing a disservice to these students who will be unable to navigate their way in college libraries. The average student today expects to find all their answers to an assignment in one book or floating around somewhere on the internet. With the exception of vetted databases there is no guarantee that the information they find is accurate. Books still remain the most accurate approach to primary source material and without a specific number it will be much more difficult to locate. The case is being made that libraries are more for pleasure reading and not research. Someone forget to inform the schools (especially those with inadequate libraries) that they need not send students with assignments for reference work. There are also serious logistical problems that have not been addressed by the proponents of Discard Dewey Camp. One wonders how the books will be returned to the same place on the shelf or how books will be found when they are requested for a reserve! Are we also going to color code the bindings?

Karen, Your comments about

Karen, Your comments about adopting other people's good ideas are well-taken - but is this is a good idea is the question (another point: As it stands now, most libs in the U.S. have the same arrangement, so I can go from place to place and things are oganized in a similar manner). Now, curators. Would you happen to be able to recommend a good informative article that describes the work of a professional curator? I ask because I'm sure to some degree you are making an excellent point (to me, it seems that all of us are curators, to some degree, just like all of us are philosophers / organizers / categorizers). At the same time, it seems to me that a large part of the job - one that would distinuguish it from other kinds of managment / CEO-ship) would probably be arranging one's collection in ways that are helpful and educational for one's patrons (and again, these 'collections' are things we will probably be having less and less of)

The 'most libraries do it

The 'most libraries do it this way' argument only works if you understand Dewey to begin with. If you don't, then for your purposes, as a user, Dewey really is just an inventory system (in outcome, not in intent). Organization is important... what system you use is not, at least in the sense of establishing professional jurisdiction. In fact, fetishing Dewey and LC could kill us. Q.v. Andrew Abbott, The System of Professions. If you haven't read it, do. Now!

Karen, Your comments about

Karen, Your comments about adopting other people's good ideas are well-taken - but is this is a good idea is the question (another point: As it stands now, most libs in the U.S. have the same arrangement, so I can go from place to place and things are oganized in a similar manner). Now, curators. Would you happen to be able to recommend a good informative article that describes the work of a professional curator? I ask because I'm sure to some degree you are making an excellent point (to me, it seems that all of us are curators, to some degree, just like all of us are philosophers / organizers / categorizers). At the same time, it seems to me that a large part of the job - one that would distinuguish it from other kinds of managment / CEO-ship) would probably be arranging one's collection in ways that are helpful and educational for one's patrons (and again, these 'collections' are things we will probably be having less and less of)

It could very well work for

It could very well work for them. I just resent the implication some folks put out that all libraries should try this. All libraries should analyze their user base and figure out what type of organization will work best for them. Not all public libraries have user bases that are dominated by browsers, or that are in the position of building a new library where they have the space and layout to make such a system effective. I'm curious how a new library with a Dewey-based system where the Dewey numbers were printed small and huge banners with category headings were set around the areas would have worked in a similar setting. We used to have a number of centers--travel center, do it yourself center, etc.--and we ended up doing away with them because the feedback we got from patrons was that they didn't use them and went to the shelf where the item would normally be instead. They just found them confusing. They also ate up a LOT of space in a library that was very cramped.

This is probably the first

This is probably the first cogent argument I've seen about this situation. There appears to be a lot of Dewey Bashers out there, but most of them also appear to be those that never even worked with DDC after that one day class in library school. I do find it odd that most articels show the Maricopa PL saying they were replacing Dewey with subject arrangement, and that, I believe, is where all this brouhaha began. Dewey IS a shelving arrangement by subject. In the public library and NFP library I worked in, we used Dewey AND we had signage. Both are appropriate. And while everything can be arranged under a broad sign, most patrons, as I recall, wanted to find specific things without having to browse 10 shelving bays before they found the right book from thousands of 'similar subject' ones. And yes, it is about intruction as well. I remember seeing patron's get excited because when they saw that one book under a dewey number, they also found other similar ones around it. It actually helped them track down items they may not have found in the sucky OPACs.

No, Nathan, I'm saying that

No, Nathan, I'm saying that our aboutness as a profession comes from our high-level role in curating collections, not from publishing the books or even designing the schemes. Just because someone else designed BISAC doesn't mean we're less than a profession for adopting it. We didn't invent alphabetical order, either, and yet we find it a useful tool. Q.v. my comment about bold theft of good ideas. Apple didn't invent the GUI; that happened in a think tank, Xerox PARC (and we need more thinking tanks). But Apple sure knew how to put the GUI to good use.

Karen, Hey, I have an open

Karen, Hey, I have an open mind, but I don't want too much to fall out in the process. :) I am interested in your answer to Micheal's question about a particular book. You said: 'Nathan, I guess I'm wondering if you write and then print the books in your library? I don't see why selecting a system of organization is so deleterious to our selfness as a profession.' Pardon my denseness, but I am not understanding the point that you are trying to make here. Are you saying that ultimately only authors and publishers can meaningfully discern and tell us what their book is about?

Nathan, I guess I'm

Nathan, I guess I'm wondering if you write and then print the books in your library? I don't see why selecting a system of organization is so deleterious to our selfness as a profession. I mean, good grief, you didn't invent Dewey, either; you just USE Dewey. Michael, the proof is in the pudding. I don't agree with your statement about patrons not finding cookbooks 'now.' Does the fact that users stated that they preferred to browse, and that the library selected BISAC for its browsability, have no influence? Are you willing to keep an open mind and see if this works?

I am not surprised that

I am not surprised that there was little outcry by library patrons. Most of them couldn't find cookbooks before without looking them up on a computer or asking someone. They won't be able to find them now, either. The question for me, does this make it easier for patrons and staff to locate a particular book that the person wants? If it does, great. But I am going to have to be convinced and I have read and heard nothing so far that makes me think this is something that would benefit anyone who comes into my library looking for a book.

Karen, In this case, you

Karen, In this case, you just need a good cookbook sign to complement Dewey! (plus I can think of lots of other ways to help direct people in the physical space). Again, I sympathize with what you are trying to do here - making info accessible to all - but there is the fact that we are educators too. What's up with this silly dichotomy (either-or) that you put forth here? Of course librarians manage a collection of materials. They have traditionally been keepers or stewards of physical materials which were under their control (unless you want an earfull, don't talk to my friend about the hesitancy of a local university librarian to show him the old materials in their archives - we all know who owns these things!). But you know that that is becoming less and less their function everyday - the items aren't under their direct control - and when they are, they are licenses from Reed Elsevier, Thompson-Gale, etc. If copyright law changes, people stop reading paper books, etc. - even management of these materials could potentially disappear. In any case, my point here is that if BISAC can do the intellectual arrangement, and if the internet can provide the materials you need (with 'known item searching') why do we need librarians? I guess I could go work for Thompson Gale. They still seem to think that there is an expert role for librarians as information organizers - that is how they advertise their pay-for service, especially in their new PowerSearch tool. They get it. We don't. And then they'll sell us (and the LC) their stuff. And then people will decide we don't need public libraries, because the private sector are competent organizers of the world's knowledge and we obviously are not. At this point, I don't see how Martha Yee can't be right here - her article can found on the AUTOCAT listserv (she is submitting it to American Libraries). All the best Karen, Nathan

So THAT'S why I couldn't

So THAT'S why I couldn't find the cookbooks, lol... that explains it ;-) (Curse me for doing Dewey from memory!) Hmmm, I need to explore Martha Yee's comment. That seems remarkably shortsighted, unless I'm missing something, since it is the curation of collections I see as central to who we are, not the tools we use to organize the collections.

Karen, Many good points. It

Karen, Many good points. It seems to me that the purpose of all libraries, in one sense or another, to one degree or another, is to comprehensively take account of... systematically organize... and thereby make increasingly accessible / findable... knowledge of the world for the world - and of course doing so in a timely manner. But do these libraries do this? If its not organized by Dewey, how do you find a specific book? What if a student from the local public school system is trying to do some research? So much of this seem shortsigheted... Someone here said, 'Why not use signage and Dewey... you get the best of both worlds' I am coming to think that the profession has a death wish, so I fear the answer - my cynical response - is, 'if you did that, you would not be able to destroy the important educative component to the profession'! If LCSH subject headings and Dewey, LCC, etc. do not do a better job in general of introducing people to a more fully-orbed view of the world ('obscure code'?) than BISAC... what do we need librarians for? We don't. The market beats out the liberal arts. UCLA librarian Martha Yee has recently said that the thing which constitutes the sole basis for our standing as a profession is the 'human intervention for the organization of information, commonly known as cataloging'. (the other is imparting literacy which we share with the teaching profession). I think she's right. Now - on to our 'self-immolation' (Martha's phrase)... if we could just get all the academic libraries to think like these, we could eliminate the profession altogether! That's alright. I'm a smart guy and can get another job. Who cares about public education anyway?

Pouring a nineteenth-century

Pouring a nineteenth-century inventory system into a twenty-first-century search engine can lead to--shall we say--interesting results. Haro comments that 'Endeca exposed our catalog in ways that were for better and for worse.' Once of the 'worse' ways was the clunkyness of library-generated metadata for topic browsing. You hit it on the head right there. Great post, Karen.

Karen, Thanks for the

Karen, Thanks for the mention. I think libraries need to look at this model very seriously. It is easier for patrons to find items where the signs are in English, not Dewey. The side effects are the collections will need to be a bit smaller (for shorter shelves to see signage) and less defined. Signage over dewey doesn't really work as you are still tied to an obscure code (to the patron anyway), rather than putting it in plain language. We definitely need a plain language movement in libraries :).

Not necessarily Bisac (in

Not necessarily Bisac (in conjunction with Dewey, I don't think it makes sense .. they are too similar) & Dewey (in my opinion) is the most 'logical' and the easiest for our patrons. LC and NLM, signage isn't necessarily helpful for many. NLM isn't as complicated as LC by far. I think its a concept worth investigation.

I'm not sure what the

I'm not sure what the advantage would be of using bisac signage (i.e. cookbooks) over using both signage and dewey organization. Wouldn't you accomplish the same thing with signage in a library organized by dewey, and be able to keep the ability to find specific book titles? I think all this hub..bub over organizing the library by bisac is a little overdone. If it works, great. But I'm sure most libraries will say, 'Why not just use signage and dewey?' You get the best of both worlds!