The DDC is Killing Our Libraries - Repost

The following is a repost from the infomancy blog.

The DDC is Killing our Libraries

April 9th, 2010 by infomancy
The Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC) is broken. I am not going to entertain any sort of conversation on this point, it is just a fact you need to accept. Accept it, and move on. One of the incontrovertible facts that clearly demonstrate the brokenness of DDC is that we have to teach DDC, and that is the focus here.
Consider for a moment a brief exchange from Apple’s recent iPhone OS4 briefing:
“Q: How do you close applications when multitasking?
A: (Scott Forstall) You don’t have to. The user just uses things and doesn’t ever have to worry about it.
A: (Steve Jobs) It’s like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it. In multitasking, if you see a task manager… they blew it. Users shouldn’t ever have to think about it.” [Engadget]
If we have to teach our library classification system to a student, we blew it. If our users have to think about it, we blew it. If we have to spend weeks teaching students how to use DDC we certainly blew it. DDC does not, in any way, prepare students for success in college or in a career. As such, it is something that we cannot teach any longer. Let me repeat that. We cannot – indeed must not – waste our time teaching anything that cannot be shown to have a direct impact on the preparation of students for success in college and careers.
So when (not if, when) we get rid of DDC, we are going to need a new system. So what should it look like? The basis of the new system I would suggest needs to be the basic concept of “Don’t make me think!” When I walk into a school library, especially an elementary school library where the DDC is especially developmentally inappropriate, I should immediately and instinctively understand how and why books are classified. When I want to find a book about animals, why aren’t they all located together? Under the new system, they will be.
Why not have the types of animals in alphabetical order so I can find the cat books after the bird books and before the dog books. Countries? Put them in alphabetical order also. History? Timeline order would be much more sensible here. Now I am not a classifier, so obviously I am breaking all kinds of rules and mucking things up, but I strongly believe that these ideas are solid.
Instead of a 200 year old system that doesn’t make sense, we need a new system that just works. Steve Jobs, love him or hate him, makes things that work. You don’t have to learn how to use an iPad, children just pick it up and start using it because it is an almost instinctual interface. They have hidden the things that you shouldn’t have to think about and removed the minutia that require instruction. Libraries must do the same. We must make our collections accessible, with a user experience that just works. And to do that, we must rid ourselves of the Dewey Decimal System.


  1. In my experience at the elementary level, the kids succeed in learning about DDC but do not retain it over time. We have already broken out of the DDC constraints to some degree by grouping books in some sections in a more logical, intuitive manner. Carina, what's your full vision for a new system?


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