melville dewey

Appendix A: About The Librarians

I Know Too Much about how libraries and librarians work. This resulted in complicated headcanons about job roles and org charts, trying to figure out how the behind-the-scenes of all the accumulating bits of canon and fanon would work. Hope it’s okay to share this here.

Crossposted to AO3


Libraries contain vast amounts of information that create possibilities, and stories, that have an immense amount of narrative weight and power. They are basically one giant liminal space, but one that exists for the people that use it. And it’s the people that work in the library that create that connection.

The Fair Folk have opinions about librarians. There’s a certain amount of idealism involved that would make them vulnerable, but so much of what they know and do is dangerous. They are accorded a certain not-inconsiderable amount of respect and caution, let’s say, and leave it at that.

There are two kinds of librarians at Elsewhere University, two sides to the same coin. There are the librarians who have an employee ID number, and a title on their nametag. They have lunch breaks, vacation time, and salt and iron in their pockets and stashed in odd corners in their desk drawers and offices, just like the rest of the staff and faculty. And then there are The Other Librarians. The other librarians can be found on floors ten through twenty-three. Officially, there are nine floors to the library. (This does not include the rooftop garden that is not accessible by stairwell or elevator.) The sub-basements are officially recognized. The tunnels are not.

The other librarians also have officially-issued library nametags. All they say is “librarian.” Some of the other librarians may have been human once. They may have officially retired. They may have learned too much, or willingly given up something that held them tethered to mundane cares outside of The Library, or made a bargain for something the library needed.

There are stories of a cataloguer, best of his generation, who reached a point where he could recite chapter and verse of the standards, never misjudged a subject heading or used the wrong cutter number. The arcanest of arcane inscriptions held still for him while he captured the true author and all relevant cross-references. There was not a text he could not read, or element of biliographic control that he could not master. The years went by, and the standards changed, Anglo American Cataloging Rules superceded the Rules for Descriptive Cataloging, ISBNs were introduced, AACR became AACR2, and a switch from cards to computer records loomed large. He knew so much, but was afraid so little of it would still be relevant. He made a deal.

He wasn’t the first. There are still cards appearing in the card catalogue today written in copperplate Library Hand script, as proscribed by Melville Dewey, with a pen and an inkwell.

There are still memories on the lower floors of a reference librarian who could find anything. There are people on staff who worked side-by-side with her on late night reference desk shifts, and tell stories of how she had an infinite command of Boolean logic to wring every penny out of the paid-by-the-second online search services. There was not an annotated bibliography or index that she didn’t have at her fingertips, and she could walk a student though the reference interview from “I need a book, I guess” to “help me find three print sources for my introduction to pre-confederate Canadian literature mid-term paper” in twenty seconds with a smile. Rumour has it that she bargained away the memory of every childhood pet she ever had to get internet access in the library for undergraduates. Officially, she retired in the late nineties. But in the Deep Library, there are those who can coax the dial-up modem into connecting to a Dialog subscription that the university hasn’t paid for in two decades, and bring back an answer in seconds every time.

There are fading echoes of the year that the entire cataloguing department and half the reference librarians vanished in the stacks in the early 1940’s. The university was smaller then, and the protections that were needed to balance a tumultuous time in world history took a terrible toll. It was said that if you stood in certain parts of the stacks, you could hear the air raid sirens, and watch the collection grow as refugee books were taken in. There were dark whispers that some of the staff disappeared into the library in a trade for safety for family members or one of the other desperate bargains made in wartime, but some were promoted to the upper floors without warning because the library didn’t want to lose their valuable talents to conscription or worse.

If the Library needs you, it will take you. If you are lucky, it will be on your terms, at a time of your choosing. In most cases, a masters’ degree in library and information sciences from a nationally-certified graduate program is required, though in some rare cases, an equivalent combination of education and experience may be considered.

Most undergraduates and visitors (both the mundane kind that come from outside the campus, and the Visitors), and some university support staff, will leave with a vague impression of any of the librarians as an ominous yet helpful shape, and an overwhelming sense of sameness. This is a type of protective camouflage that the library generates, and it extends to cover all the librarians, the one that leave at the end of the day, and the ones that do not. They cannot all be the same. It is, of course, impossible to run a library without a wide and varied pool of skill sets and personalities, all of which contribute to the, shall we say, unique personalities, egos, interdepartmental rivalries, feuds, and alliances that are the lifeblood of an academic library.

This protection waxes and wanes depending on the year. During the spring and summer semesters following the Chemistry Majors’ Revolt, anyone remotely associated with any of the science departments would find themselves on the doorstep of the library with a ringing in their ears like the sudden absence of a loud noise, holding the books or other information they’d gone to the library to find, with no memory of how it got there. An entire spring-semester introductory chemistry class knows the structure of an APA-style bibliography inside and out, but could not tell you when or where they learned it.

In more recent times, sufficiently motivated undergrads, graduate students, and faculty will have little trouble differentiating one librarian from another, if they are on floors one through nine. (They must, of course, be referred to by job title as they do not have names.)

There are operational needs that must be met. It’s hard to plead your case as to why the library really should keep that critical music theory database for your graduate level seminar course that currently costs as much as all of the journal subscriptions for the art history department combined when you’re not sure if you’re talking to the subject liaison librarian for fine arts, the head of interlibrary loans, or an eldritch creature with no face but a really excellent recall for geopolitical boundaries in medieval Africa, and a working knowledge of twelve dead languages, seven of which were never spoken by a human tongue.

(Interlibrary Loans and Fine Arts–the subject librarian, not the department–have been in the midst of a prolonged feud for the past decade over a hiring committee disagreement regarding practicum student placements and a botched exorcism. It is rivalled only by the cold war between Interlibrary Loans and Cataloguing over supply budgets that’s been running since the late nineties. Confusing one for the other would be unhelpful, to say the least.)

The Other Librarians generally do not encroach on their colleagues’ responsibilities. They are still librarians with all of the professional ethics that entails, and are generally orderly and rule-abiding, unless a fundamental principle of librarianship is at risk. (Do not speak of internet filtering within the library walls if you wish to leave with all of your fingers intact.)

The Deep Library should be approached with utmost caution, regardless. Some people in the profession say, your library should have something in it to offend everyone. EU’s library would agree to that statement, with some extensive additions, explanatory footnotes, and cautionary appendices. Respect the Library.


anonymous asked:

'#OH or i could talk about the problematic nature of the dewey decimal system and how we should change the whole fucking thing' um. if you don't mind. please do?


The main problem is the inherent bias of the system. It was set up in the late 19th century, so the issues of the time are pretty prominent. Some things have been fixed, like homosexuality no longer being classified with “abnormal sexuality,” but there are still a lot of problems. It’s most obvious in the 200s–religion books. Here’s a rundown:

  • 200-220: General religion stuff–concepts of God, etc.
  • 220-230: Bibles!
  • 230-290: Christianity, Christianity, and more Christianity
  • 290-300: EVERYTHING ELSE. For example…
    • 292: “Classical” religion/mythology [also this tends to be mainly Greco-Roman while non-western and Native American religious stories sometimes get put in the 398s with fairy tales WHICH IS ANOTHER ISSUE]
    • 295: Zoroastrianism
    • 296: Judaism
    • 297: Islam and Baha’i
    • 299: Other not specified, including (some) Wicca books–other Wicca books may appear in the “occult” section at 133.

So the first 90% of the 200s class is Christian-centric, while all other religions get shoehorned into the last ten digits. Which doesn’t mean that a library will necessarily have fewer books on those religions, just that the call numbers become incredibly unwieldy and can be a barrier to discovery. With Christianity, there’s enough room to divide major topics into whole numbers–so 236 is Eschatology, 246 is Christian art, and 282 is Roman Catholicism, and you can subdivide each of those with the eponymous decimals. But to do the same thing in Judaism you get things like:

296.097 – Early American Jews

296.0973 – American Judaism: A History

296.09730904 – Judaism in Contemporary America

So as the decimals grow, the subjects get more specific, but honestly when the post-decimal numbers are longer than a phone number, It’s no longer an effective navigational tool. If the number doesn’t fit on the spine, its not useful anymore.

The trouble is, overhauling this would mean that every library using the DDS would have to recatalog and relabel every single book in their 200s, and you can well imagine how interested everyone is in that.

oakttree  asked:

please tell me about dewey and his decimal system! why is it racist? (i know i could google this but if you have time i'd rather hear about it from someone i know, who's in the field)

OK, so. First off, Melville Dewey was a sexist, racist, anti-semitic creeper. He was an advocate for women getting into libraries, and helped found one of the first library schools at Columbia. This was mostly because he felt women were suited for the “repetitive nature” of library work at the time. He also thought they were more easily controlled and “didn’t cause trouble”. So, ew. 

It is not possible to represent the full spectrum of human knowledge, we know that now, but you can tell a lot about what people find important by what they choose to privilege within the types of classification schemes they create. For example, Ranganathan was remarkably abstract, using things like personality, matter, energy, space, and time as sorting facets for his Colon Classification schema.

The Dewey Decimal System (DDC) is much more concrete, but in ways that give short shrift to an awful lot of the world. Everything about the DDC is appallingly Anglocentric. If you take a look at the 200s, where religion is classified, you will note how many subclasses are devoted to Christianity. Every single other religion in the world gets relegated to the 290s. And language and linguistics! Everything non-Western gets relegated to the 490s. The 800s are devoted to literature. One guess what happens there. 

Given that DDC is used mostly in public, school, and smaller libraries that don’t have enough books to warrant a classification system as complex as Library of Congress, one wonders what sorts of values are being imparted by the emphasis on Anglo/Eurocentric everything. Obviously these things can be overcome, and nobody would ever accuse the DDC of causing the devaluation of non-western ideas or thought, but it’s just one more subtle structural fuck you.

[eta 3/19/2015] Which is not to imply that LC doesn’t also have biases. Please see the middle of this talk by Chris Bourg, director of libraries at MIT, for examples. These are manifestations of biased systems in general, not just classification schemes. [/eta]

To be honest, it’s mostly institutional entrenchment that hasn’t lead to any sort of reform. (Insert rant on how you can put ten catalogers in a room and come out with twelve opinions.) Librarians are well aware of its flaws, but it would be a tremendous effort to overhaul the DDC. And asking people to implement those changes, in an age of declining appreciation for libraries and thus staffing levels, would probably not be the best use of those limited resources.

There are alternative classification schemes formed in opposition to DDC for various reasons, including the lack of inclusivity, the most notable being BISAC, which is based upon subject headings used by booksellers. The problem is these systems have not been evaluated particularly thoroughly, even by the institutions that use them. And they are not suitable at all for libraries with large collections (but most of those use LC, which is its own can of worms). 

That was probably more than you wanted to know. :D

When I was about 11, I mentioned to some of my school classmates that my family is distantly related to Melville Dewey, the guy who invented the Dewey Decimal System.  

They immediately argued with me that it was impossible.  Their reason?  "His name wasn’t Melville Dewey, it was Dewey Decimal!“  

They refused to believe me that the guy’s name was not Dewey Decimal.  I tried to explain that the "decimal” part was because of the decimal points in the numbers.  They would have none of it.

I think that’s when I started hating everyone.

On this day in 1851, Melvil Dewey, inventor of the Dewey Decimal system of library classification, was born. Published in the US in 1877, The Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC) introduced the concepts of relative location and relative index, using three-digit Arabic numerals for main classes, with fractional decimals allowing for new books to be added to a library in their appropriate location based on subject. The classification system is used in 200,000 libraries in at least 135 countries.

Fun fact: Dewey was also a strong advocate for spelling reform and changed his name from the usual “Melville” to “Melvil,” getting rid of the “redundant letters.” For a time he changed his surname to “Dui.”