14 September 2011

Testing Dewey

As of this week we now have almost 3200 books cataloged! I am so excited to report this number. Although, to be honest, I am purposely not looking at the number of books left to catalog. If I did that, I would be completely overwhelmed. So, of the 12 rows/areas of books in the library, we now have 5 rows finished.  I know 5 rows of books doesn't sound like a lot but I estimate we have moved over 120 shelves of books. And considering we didn't really get going with the cataloging until mid-March, I see this as a huge accomplishment.

Of course, many students were starting to notice the changes. A week or two ago I noticed student staring at a group of shelves for what seemed like a long time. (When your library is one room you can pretty much see everyone at one time.) I went over to ask if he needed help. He said: last semester there was a book right here...and now I can't find it. I said I was sorry but we're moving lots of books lately. I briefly explained that each book gets a number but didn't go into much detail. Just asked what he was looking for and helped him find it.

But as more and more situations like that kept happening, I realized I really need to start explaining the Dewey Decimal system to the students and what all the white stickers with little numbers mean.

First, for all those non-librarians out there...the numbers in the Dewey Decimal call number system actually mean something. They're not just there to look pretty. Each number refers to a subject so that all the books on the same subject have the same number and are together on the shelf. In theory this all sounds easy but can be tricky with some books that fall into a couple of different categories. When we are cataloging the books we have to think carefully about where students are most likely to look for the book.

Second, let me say I've simplified the call numbers as much as I can. I'm afraid I might make other librarians shudder. But I as soon as we started this project, I knew I need to keep things simple. The goal is usability and sustainability. Those things are rarely helped by complexity. So, I made I'm keeping things as uncomplicated as possible. For example, at my last library Dewey Decimal numbers could be quite long...I think the longest was 11 digits. Here I decided 5 is the absolute maximum, preferring to keep to three or four. Yes, sometimes I avoid using the decimal part of Dewey Decimal.

At any rate, I knew I needed to start explaining the changes to students. Not many people like change...especially when they don't understand the changes. So, first I put up a sign to help students begin to understand the numbers. (Side note: I am often envious of all you librarians in the US who have [color] printers, laminators, markers, other fun supplies, and budgets at your disposal...please know you are very, very blessed!) Many libraries that use Dewey might have a sign that says:
100s - Philosophy
200s - Religion
300s - Social Sciences

But I was afraid something like that would not help my students. So for my sign, I literally listed out a lot of numbers in detail. It's not complete but the some of the most commonly used sections are listed number by number. I've found this sign incredibly helpful. Now, when a student comes to the desk and asks for a book about the Holy Spirit, I can show him on the list: 231.3 God as Holy Spirit. Then we walk over to the shelf and find all the books with that number. I even saw another student showing his fellow classmate the list today!! :)

But last week I decided to do a test run with Dewey. We brought in our four scholarship students (for those of you in the US, think work-study students) and spent an extended time talking with them and explaining the call numbers to them. After we explained, we gave them each a book and asked them to put it away. Then we showed them one shelf with a lot of problems and asked them to put the shelf in order. They passed with flying colors! I've never been so excited to hear someone say, "Hey, this book is in the wrong place".

Like all 'focus group' scenarios, I learned a lot. And have more signs to make and orientations to teach. But for all you librarians out there who doubted...don't worry, Dewey works in Africa too.

Look at all those call numbers! :)

A picture of my sign...sorry it's hard to read.
We put it in a plastic page holder first to protect
it from the dust.

1 comment:

  1. Way to go, Rachel! I can't even imagine undertaking such a huge task, and I LIKE organizing. :~)