Why Do You Still Use Dewey? Academic Libraries That Continue with Dewey Decimal Classification

By Shorten, Jay; Seikel, Michele et al. | Library Resources & Technical Services, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Why Do You Still Use Dewey? Academic Libraries That Continue with Dewey Decimal Classification


Shorten, Jay, Seikel, Michele, Ahrberg, Janet H., Library Resources & Technical Services


Reclassification was a popular trend during the 1960s and 1970s for many academic libraries wanting to change from Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) to Library of Congress (LC) Classification. In 2002, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale's Morris Library changed from DDC to LC. If one academic library recently converted, might other DDC academic libraries consider switching, too? Conversely, for those academic libraries that remain with DDC, what are the reasons they continue with it? A survey of thirty-four DDC academic libraries in the United States and Canada determined what factors influence these libraries to continue using DDC, and if reclassification is something they have considered or are considering. The survey also investigated whether patrons of these DDC libraries prefer LC and if their preference influences the library's decision to reclassify. Results from the survey indicate that the issue of reclassification is being considered by some of these libraries even though, overall, they are satisfied with DDC. The study was unable to determine if patrons' preference for a classification scheme influenced a library's decision to reclassify.

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In the 1960s and early 1970s, reclassification of library collections from the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) to the Library of Congress (LC) Classification was a major trend in academic libraries, primarily for the economic reasons of improving efficiency in cataloging and reducing processing costs. Many of the libraries that did convert to LC were left with split collections when reclassification projects were ended because of decreased budgets. As the trend to reclassify faded, new trends took its place, beginning with automating library functions and later providing electronic access of information via the Internet. Reclassification appeared to be as passe as Melvil Dewey's spelling improvements.

However, is reclassification really obsolete? In 2002, the Morris Library of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale changed from DDC to LC. (1) If one academic library recently converted from DDC to LC, might other DDC academic libraries be considering switching, too? Conversely, for those academic libraries that remain with DDC, what are the reasons that they continue to do so?

At Oklahoma State University (OSU) Library, a DDC institution and the home of two of the authors of this article, users' awareness of the different classification systems is apparent when faculty and graduate students raise the question, "Why do you continue to use DDC?" That DDC query often results in the library administrators having to explain OSU's choice of remaining a DDC library. Do others academic DDC libraries receive similar comments, and do patron preferences for a classification scheme influence a library's decision to reclassify? This paper examines why DDC libraries remain with DDC, the status of reclassification at these institutions in the United States and Canada, and whether libraries consider the patron in reclassification decisions.

Literature Review

The majority of publications on reclassification appeared during the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1990s, the number of articles on the topic dropped considerably, indicating a loss of interest. The call to reclassify was most often expressed in terms of LC advantages over DDC disadvantages. Downey and Taylor both note the efficiency and economy of using LC-produced catalog cards with an LC classification number already assigned. In contrast, only a minority of cards was produced with DDC numbers. (2)

LC was considered more flexible and expandable, and had shorter numbers than DDC, thus the claim that LC is better suited for academic libraries. Other reasons cited were the numerous revisions in the DDC schedules with each new edition and the local practices that were instituted to compensate for those changes. Without reclassification of the library's existing collection, the new material on the same subject would be scattered. …

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Why Do You Still Use Dewey? Academic Libraries That Continue with Dewey Decimal Classification
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