Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Build the Open Shelves Classification

This mural is said to depict Dewey and the railroad service he gave to Lake Placid, FL. It's time to throw Dewey under the train.
I hereby invite you to help build the Open Shelves Classification (OSC), a free, "humble," modern, open-source, crowd-sourced replacement for the Dewey Decimal System.

I've been speaking of doing something like this for a while, but I think it's finally going to become a reality. LibraryThing members are into it and after my ALA panel talk, a number of catalogers expressed interest too. Best of all, one library director has signed on as eager to implement the system, when it comes available. Hey, one's a start!

The Call. I am looking for one-to-five librarians willing to take leadership on the project. LibraryThing is willing to write the (fairly minimal) code necessary, but not to lead it.

As leaders, you will be "in charge" of the project only as a facilitator and executor of a consensus. Like Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales, your influence will depend on listening to others and exercising minimal direct power.

For a smart, newly-minted librarian, this could be a big opportunity. You won't be paid anything, but, hey, there's probably a paper or two in it, right?

Why it's necessary. The Dewey Decimal System® was great for its time, but it's outlived that. Libraries today should not be constrained by the mental models of the 1870s, doomed to tinker with an increasingly irrelevant system. Nor should they be forced into a proprietary system—copyrighted, trademarked and licensed by a single entity—expensive to adopt and encumbered by restrictions on publishing detailed schedules or coordinating necessary changes.

In recent years, a number of efforts have been made to discard Dewey in favor of other systems, such as BISAC, the "bookstore system." But none have proved good enough for widespread adoption, and license issues remain.

The vision. The Open Shelves Classification should be:
  • Free. Free both to use and to change, with all schedules and assignments in the public domain and easily accessible in bulk format. Nothing other than common consent will keep the project at LibraryThing. Indeed, success may well entail it leaving the site entirely.
  • Modern. The OSC should map to current mental models--knowing these will eventually change, but learning from the ways other systems have and haven't grown, and hoping to remain useful for some decades, at least.
  • Humble. No system--and least of all a one-dimensional shelf order--can get at "reality." The goal should be to create a something limited and humble--a "pretty good" system, a "mostly obvious" system, even a "better than the rest" system--that allows library patrons to browse a collection physically and with enjoyment.
  • Collaboratively written. The OSC itself should be written socially--slowly, with great care and testing--but socially. (I imagine doing this on the LibraryThing Wiki.)
  • Collaboriately assigned. As each level of OSC is proposed and ratified, members will be invited to catalog LibraryThing's books according to it. (I imagine using LibraryThing's fielded bibliographic wiki, Common Knowledge.)
I also favor:
  • Progressive development. I see members writing it "level-by-level" (DDC's classes, divisions, etc.), in a process of discussion, schedule proposals, adoption of a tenative schedule, collaborative assignemnt of a large number of books, statistical testing, more discussion, revision and "solidification." 
  • Public-library focus. LibraryThing members are not predominantly academics, and academic collections, being larger, are less likely to change to a new system. Also, academic collections mostly use the Library of Congress System, which is already in the public domain.
  • Statistical testing. To my knowledge, no classification system has ever been tested statistically as it was built. Yet there are various interesting ways of doing just that. For example, it would be good to see how a proposed shelf-order matches up against other systems, like DDC, LCC, LCSH and tagging. If a statistical cluster in one of these systems ends up dispersed in OSC, why? 
I have started a LibraryThing Group, "Build the Open Shelves Classication." Members are invited to join, and to start working through the basic decisions.

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Blogger JJR said...

(selected quotes)
The goal should be to create a something limited and humble--a "pretty good" system, a "mostly obvious" system, even a "better than the rest"
system--that allows library patrons to browse a collection physically and with enjoyment.

And DDC22 fails to do this...how?

"The OSC itself should be written socially--slowly, with great care and testing--but socially."

Sounds like what OCLC staff are doing with DDC, which is in fact an international collaborative effort.
(I guess the major failing here is that this is the collaboration of experts, who actually know what they're doing, rather than well-intentioned "users" who don't?)

"Public library focus"
DDC is already primarily used by Public and School libraries.

This all seems to be a nice example of...

Library 2.0 Marketing 101:

Mischaracterize a time tested library tool you don't really understand and then propose your own radical new solution that isn't actually new and could actually make the problem worse; After all, To err is human--to really foul things up takes a computer.

7/08/2008 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe the main point is it needs to be open. Currently OCLC has a lock on Dewey. I use LOC myself since it is in the public domain, as classification of knowledge properly should be.

7/08/2008 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Book stores are book stores. Libraries are libraries. I don't think they need to be alike in how they "shelve" information. That's what it comes to in the end, I think: it's a shelving issue. Libraries shelve nonfiction for information retrieval.

If you want to educate people to access information, I think it's best to keep the system we have in place, I think. Dewey is not that difficult to learn to navigate. Once students learn it, they can learn to navigate the university libraries and the more complex LC call number. Learn one; you'll learn the other. Cataloging a library's resources is not the same as marketing books. I will never assume my patrons, regardless of age or IQ, are not smart enough to learn to navigate the Dewey. I would never assume a college student could not be taught to understand the LOC's call numbers, at least from a basic level.

I do wonder how you make something "limited and humble" when what you are trying to catalog is anything but a limited a humble array of "information objects," or metadata.

Open shelves... how do they hold intangibles such as online articles, wikis, etc.? I ask because these were mentioned in the original article as being part of open shelf concerns.What is the real issue here? I am not sure.

7/08/2008 2:24 PM  
Blogger RAY BARBER said...

I have mixed feelings about this. For small libraries perhaps.... I obtained a copy of the classification system used by bookstores and I did a literature search on the topic. As I looked at the bookstore classification system I saw as many problems as there were in Dewey. Any classification system is a procrustean bed and will have problems in some areas from some libraries. After all, classification is about making choices.

However this said I would certainly throw out the 800s which do not work in small and medium sized libraries and school libraries.

Ray Barber

7/08/2008 2:40 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

For a response to JJR see: http://www.librarything.com/talktopic.php?topic=40858

7/08/2008 4:14 PM  
Anonymous Mrs. Micah said...

Sounds like an interesting idea...but (there's always a but, right) I'm curious about how you'd plan to implement it.

Right now, I work at a county library with something over a hundred thousand titles. 100,000. More being added every week.

How would one implement a dynamic coding system??

I'm not trying to be troublesome, but it seems almost impossible.

County libraries are heavily underfunded. We have fewer staff than we should and can't even keep up with shelving. How could we possibly implement a system which was dynamic?

Dynamic is great for online catalogs/materials where it's all a matter of rewriting code or shifting some things around.

But this would be a matter of periodically physically re-labeling thousands of books (as well as teaching patrons any important changes).

I like the Dewey works quite well as a general rule, though I wouldn't be opposed if another excellent system came in to take its place.

I simply don't think this is usable in an environment where the libraries (since we're talking public) are chronically underfunded and the materials are physical. And the current system's admitted flaws render it nowhere near unusable or even unwieldy.

Since the new system wouldn't be perfect either, I don't see this as being worthwhile for libraries. Our money would be better spent on acquiring new books, bigger buildings, and more staff.

Sorry. It really is a cool idea, but you'd have to come up with something very finished and essentially static before libraries might even touch it.

7/08/2008 9:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

No, I completely agree. I can't be changing when its used in a real live library. This needs to be a theoretical project for some time.

7/08/2008 9:04 PM  
OpenID simonator said...

umm.... unless you're using the Alastair Cook system, shelf order is ONE dimensional. The fact that we break the big line o' books into segments and stack them on top of each other doesn't change the fact that every call number is greater or lesser than every other call number, not higher and to the right.

7/08/2008 10:23 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Ha. Very true. I am being an idiot. :)

7/08/2008 10:27 PM  
Blogger black_magdalene said...

I would like to work with this project as an Information Sciences student and a beginning cataloger. Additionally, I'm watching your conversation on AUTO-CAT, with growing interest.
I am confused, though. I view LibraryThing, which is used by many of my friends, as a book social networking site or an amateurs' WorldCat. It's not quite a bookstore or library, although it has elements of both and neither. To compare it strictly to either misses the point. One has to look at this from a completely different angle.
Please feel free to contact me via underdow at mtsu dot edu.

7/09/2008 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tim, you seem like a very well-educated huy. You might want to check out the definition of "hubris".

And by the way, BISAC was never meant to replace Dewey.

You know, your suggestion might be viewed differently without the attacks on DDC and OCLC. They are completely unnecessary. And how long before you start charging for your user-generated content? Oh, that's right, you are already doing that!

7/09/2008 11:38 AM  
Blogger Word Woman said...

In reference to the previous comment:
"Book stores are book stores. Libraries are libraries. I don't think they need to be alike in how they "shelve" information. That's what it comes to in the end, I think: it's a shelving issue. Libraries shelve nonfiction for information retrieval." The major problem public libraries have had in the past (and some currently) is the failure to realize that people also want to retrieve fiction based on information. Once, simply being "fiction" was enough. Today, people want books set in California dealing with [inseert topic] in the 19th century. The automated catalog can provide all those searching terms - if the automation department allows enough server space and the catalog staff do the work...In a post-modern world that looks to literature and narrative as viable information sources the hypertext catalog is a must. Block the collection into True Books and Nontrue books arranged alphabetically - but have the information in the catalog!

7/09/2008 12:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. LibraryThing needs to re-focus on your market position. Do not try to be everything for everyone. You are very successful as a book social networking site for individuals. Don't try to be a public library or a bookstore.

2. As one of the posting stated "DDC is already primarily used by Public and School libraries," why not make OSC "individual user" focus? Kind of like social tagging?

3. According to Newsweek article "Revenge of the Experts," (http://www.newsweek.com/id/119091) the wind seems to be swinging back toward "edited information vetted by professionals."

7/09/2008 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mrs. Micah-

I do not think that you would necessarily have to change the spine labels if you decide to use the new classication system as a means of navigating the collection virtually. From the perspective of the new classification system, those spine labels might as well be accession numbers or barcodes. It would not matter, because you would be "browsing" from the screen anyway. Literal shelf-order would not necessarily be a barrier.

7/09/2008 1:06 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Thank you for the Greek lesson, anonymous coward.

And by the way, BISAC was never meant to replace Dewey.

Of course not. But it has been used in this way in a library context. That it was not designed to do this is one of the reasons it is unsuitable. Did you have a point here?

You know, your suggestion might be viewed differently without the attacks on DDC and OCLC. They are completely unnecessary. And how long before you start charging for your user-generated content? Oh, that's right, you are already doing that!

LibraryThing is very clear about what we sell and what we don't. The guarantee of anyone's actions are the licenses they have. Much of our data—ThingISBN, ThingLang, all Common Knowedge (series, etc.) and all our book covers have been released without license or under a copyleft license. The OSC is to be completely public domain, with no license applied at all. DDC is a licensed, copyrighted and trademarked monopooly.

I know, facts are difficult things.

7/09/2008 1:47 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I think what you are trying to do Tim (or should I call you Mr. Spalding) at librarything is incredible. I'd love to be involved, and plan to be, as a leader or otherwise, in the process. I'll be a "newly minted" librarian in about three weeks, and love the progressive lean of this classification idea. I'm not so much a Dewey hater as someone who thinks Dewey's time is over. LC belongs in an academic library or a very large public one.

As far as a bookstore is a bookstore, a library is a library, that's a ridiculous comment. Going to a bookstore and going to a university library, yes that should be different. But as someone who has worked at a bookstore and a library for five years, let me tell you that the public have made no distinction other than that they pay at one and not the other. People go into bookstores looking for information (not just fiction) and will sit in the cafe or in a cozy corner and spend all day with that information. They find it easily because it's categorized in layman's terms. They know where to look, because most of the time, that's where they'd put it. In order for libraries to keep up and stay alive, they need to adapt. The library is an organism and should behave as one. Anyone afraid of change and too blind to see where its all going is going to be left behind. I love my local bookstores, but I want people to look for information for their projects on Uganda and on leopards at the library, not at the store. I also don't want them to spend hours looking for something because Dewey is another language to them. Access is the reason catalogers do what they do. (At least it should be). It's not to keep a classification system alive which is already dying.

7/09/2008 2:01 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Mr. Dewey is not to blame as suggested. Rather, much of this would be split between Charles Ammi Cutter and even earlier roots in Europe such as at the British Library in the early 19th century. The notion of classifying things is fairly recent and is rooted heavily in Baconian philosophy coming out of the Enlightenment. Depending upon your worldview whether you belong to one of the three main monotheistic religions or otherwise, there can never be a perfect classification system created by human hands. If you believe in the world being created by a deity who has their own order, then how can a finite mind completely grasp the infinite and omnipotent? DDC is always a work in progress just as much as the Library of Congress Subject Headings are.

DDC is not something that has been unchanged since the days Mr. Dewey walked the earth. Between editions of the books there are often changes where schedules are re-arranged. The numbers for computer-related texts sometimes change way too fast beyond editions to keep up with a changing marketplace. What Mr. Dewey published in its first edition was not nearly as huge as what we have now. Then again, the world in which we live has expanded exponentially since then too.

The maintenance of DDC and other related schema is somewhat open but not totally. For well over a decade there have been procedures for rank-and-file catalogers to propose changes to make things better. DDC itself is not even wholly owned by OCLC because the Library of Congress has some appointment rights relative to positions as editor of the classification. All of these systems, though, assume that crowd-sourcing is not the way to go. In some of the more obscure library literature, it has been noted that that sort of road has already been travel almost a hundred years ago and was abandoned. Even within the library community, typically catalogers are the only ones who are able to use these channels. Changes do not happen on a whim and there are information requirements for supporting proposals to change things.

Just because it is old, is flexible in terms of granularity level, and is not open for Joe Six-Pack to make changes does not mean it is broken. As a lawyer friend noted in his personal blog after returning to American Samoa from a visit to the mainland, there are terms he heard that have never been heard in the Samoas. Probably the most critical factor in the design of such systems is to keep down the local/regional dialects and allow for some degree of uniformity in describing a concept. Without a way to even have that on a basis that is not biased towards the US, I don't see this classification scheme being all that useful.

After all, do you call it soda or pop?

7/09/2008 3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I do not think that the DDC is quite dead yet, judging by the many interesting things OCLC is doing with it:

Dewey Browser


7/09/2008 3:19 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

After all, do you call it soda or pop?

In parts of Maine it's still "tonic"—a dialect quirk that has escaped the whole coke/soda/pop debate, and therefore further confirmation of your point.


7/09/2008 3:20 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

sigh. hello "anonymous".

Dewey is not dead to librarians. And the point made by Stephen about universal classification, changes in dialect, etc. is a very good one. All I'm saying is that it is very dead to the patron. Teaching them Dewey will do no good either, as all they want is fast access, and if they can't do it themselves, they'll simply have you do it for them. I'm proposing that we should have a new system that is more user friendly. I was very good when I did cataloging, and enjoyed the hunt through the schedules to figure out where a book went. But I'm a librarian. My sister, for example, is a very smart girl, but she could care less about the logic of Dewey. She just wants to find the book. So, while I admire OCLC and what they're doing, I still don't think it's the answer.

(And before you ask, no, I don't have the answer either. But I'm working on it)

7/09/2008 3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't classification and subject cataloguing dead arts? I agree that Dewey is becoming obsolete. I just don't understand why we would bother to build another system to replace it.

Findability does not require a classification system.

7/09/2008 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Classification is for locating things on shelves, still valuable for that purpose in a physical library, less valuable with ebooks and online resources. Classification is only one part of cataloging. Locating the resource through good subject cataloging, authority work, and keywords picked up from fields like the contents field, those are of more lasting value in my opinion.
In my college library, most students don't browse the shelves. They know what they want, they just need help finding it, and as a reference librarian I point them to the catalog where I've done a good job when wearing my other hat as cataloger.
We use Library of Congress classification, and it serves the purpose, and once a person has located the book they want, they might browse a bit and find others.
For online resources, however, we do not assign classification numbers, not even for the ebooks. They are connected to the ebooks with a link and there is no need for a call number for locating it.

7/09/2008 4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Classification is not just for locating items on shelves. You can also use it to navigate collections virtually. Classification numbers (not to be confused with call numbers (class number + book number)) can be applied to just about anything, virtual or physical, and in great numbers. It's one of the main features of the classfied catalog. It's just that in practice it's rarely done because classification has become synonmous with shelf location device. You can apply as many class numbers to things as there are subjects. Again you find this in classified catalogs. In fact Dewey designed the DDC in part for classified catalogs. Dewey's own classified catalog still exists in the State Library of New York the last I checked.

One other thing that is not well known about the DDC: it was not primarily designed as a shelf location device. That was actually an afterthought. Read Gordon Stevenson's paper "The classified catalog of the New York State Library in 1911" In Melvil Dewey the man and the classification : a seminar (ISBN: 0910608342). From that paper:

To most librarians in the United States, 'classification' means
'shelf classification'exclusively. This is not what it meant to Dewey. The use of the Decimal Classification (DDC) to organize books on shelves was an afterthought, a byproduct of a system originally conceived as a method of subject cataloging.

In the Preface of the first edition of the DDC, Dewey wrote:

The system was devised for
cataloguing and indexing purposes, but it was found on trial to be equally valuable for numbering and arranging books and pamphlets on the shelves.

7/09/2008 5:47 PM  
Blogger Casey Durfee said...

Britannica:Wikipedia::Dewey:Open Shelves

Microsoft:Linux::Dewey:Open Shelves

Get it? As far as selling user contributed data, would you say that Red Hat has been bad for Linux?

I find it eponysterical that the people so stridently arguing for the traditional notion of bibliographic authority and the general attitude of "OCLC knows best" are posting anonymously and making wildly unsubstantiated claims in extremely uncivil ways. [citation needed], I believe the kids say...

7/09/2008 7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Casey, it's interesting that you mention the word "civility". Tim's blog post showed a picture of Dewey near train tracks and said it was time to throw Dewey under the train? That's civil discourse?

I think Library Thing has done some good and interesting work. But the ego needs to go under the train.

I am newly minted MLS working with metadata for a vendor; been working in electronic publishing for quite a while. I have enormous respect for the intellectual foundations of LIS; though I think the profession is a bit fossilized at times. But it's changing and evolving. You might show a little respect for the profession, and perhaps even learn something about its foundations. I don't know why you think OCLC is the evil empire; some librarians would agree, some wouldn't. But your diatribes undermine your work; the LIS community is simply not going to take you seriously with your brand of "civility".

I am remaining anonymous because I don't want you maligning my employer the way you malign OCLC and others.

7/09/2008 8:56 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Dewey's been dead for 75 years—and was vicious antisemite to boot... whoops, uncivil of me.

7/09/2008 11:20 PM  
Blogger unaluna said...

In light of this discussion, for anyone who might be interested, Alberto Manguel discusses different systems of classification including a brief history of the Dewey system and the possibility of new ones in "The Library at Night". I just finished reading the chapter and then found this discussion.

7/10/2008 12:35 AM  
Anonymous carlym said...

I'm not a librarian, so I don't claim to have any expert status in this discussion. But, I think this project sounds cool. What's the harm in trying to create something better? If it doesn't work out, it won't hurt libraries any, because no one is making them switch.

DDC is not perfect at all from a user's standpoint. I've been participating in the Dewey Decimal Challenge, so I have probably learned more of the categories than most library users, but learning the categories is still only marginally helpful when browsing for books at the library. Within the main categories, the order of subcategories and sub-sub-categories (whatever they're called) is not intuitive or particularly logical.

7/10/2008 12:42 AM  
Anonymous Oliver Flimm said...

I think the existence of a free, open, hierarchically organized and modern classification system is a "must" for organizing browsable content in a web based word. Point.

I'm the developer of an open source search portal called OpenBib that is used as our "KUG" (Koelner UniversitaetsGesamtkatalog =
Collective catalogue of the University of Cologne, kug.ub.uni-koeln.de) for the library catalogues of the numerous institutes (around 145 in 110 separate catalogues) at our university as well as 'other interesting sources' like local OAI repositories,
special collections etc.

I quite recently added a classification browser with two hierarchies. For this browser I looked for different classification systems. DDC failed due to the restrictions Tim already pointed out. The same applies to other classification systems. I simply can't undermine the open source character of my software by integration 'content' where royalties are due.

Another important point is sharing of metadata. Having a central or several decentral catalogues I can mirror the classification based on ISBN or a bibliographic fingerprint like bibkey is essential.

For that reason I looked at two of the big library centers in Germany - GBV and BVB. GBV uses Basisklassifikation (BK, Basic Classification) that originally came from the Netherlands. BVB uses RVK (Regensburger Verbundklassifikation), another classification system.

I would have liked to use something like OSC with more hierarchies, but until that is a reality I'll stick to BK.

So I will follow the development of OSC with great interest.

7/10/2008 3:15 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...


You've broken my heart!

You really cannot see the value, beauty, intricate design, and infinite variety in Dewey?! That surprises me.

The Librarian from Columbus

7/10/2008 1:40 PM  
Blogger Casey Durfee said...

Anonymous, I really don't have a problem with you wanting to keep your identity private. Good for you. What I was objecting to was making unsourced claims. Who you are doesn't lend any credence to your "argument". Facts do, but they're pretty much lacking in what you've written here so far. It's true because OCLC says so, because LibraryThing says so or because some guy on the internet says so are all meaningless in my book. But if you're going to argue from authority, it might be nice to, you know, maybe cite an authority or two.

No, I don't think saying "it's time to throw Dewey under the train" is at all uncivil. It's like saying "it's time to throw the WMV file format under a train." Saying "let's throw Melvil Dewey under the train" would certainly be uncivil, as would saying "let's throw the Bible under the train." Let's try and keep some perspective. The Dewey Decimal System is not sacred.

As far as me not knowing anything about libraries, I'm not sure where you're getting that from. I've worked in the library industry for 7 years. I've worked with thousands of librarians at hundreds of libraries all around the world. I've done tech support, systems analysis, software development, systems administration, customer relations, product management and sales for libraries. I've worked closely with circulation, cataloging, acquisitions, special collections, ILL, mobile services and systems librarians. The last 2 jobs I held (at Dynix and the Seattle Public Library), the people hired to replace me had MLSes and many years of experience as professional librarians. I certainly don't know everything but to say I don't know anything, or even that you as a freshly-minted MLS know more than me, is just ludicrous.

I challenge you to find one time in my entire life that I have ever shown any disrespect for librarianship as a profession.

Maybe I've doled out some tough love on occasion, but it's always been because I've been fighting for libraries and librarianship my entire professional life. There are few things in life more important to me. You questioning what I've made my passion and my life's work is cowardly, disgraceful, unprofessional and shows a complete ignorance of who I am and what I've tried to do for libraries. It makes me sick.

It was shameful enough that you decided to make this personal, but if you are going to do that, you need to get your facts straight. If you don't, it's called slander.

7/10/2008 4:08 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Saying "let's throw Melvil Dewey under the train" would certainly be uncivil, as would saying "let's throw the Bible under the train." Let's try and keep some perspective. The Dewey Decimal System is not sacred.

I agree but would go farther. Dewey is dead. Everyone knows he's dead. He's been dead a long long time. His children are dead. His grandchildren are probably dead too. Dewey stands for something. Saying "Let's throw Dewey under the train" is like saying "Let's throw Mao under the train," except that Mao died more than forty years after Dewey. Dewey did his key work in the 1870s—him and Otto von Bismarck. Get some perspective.

Everything else I agree with Casey on. But he can fight his own battles. With a career in libraries, not just one job, he has much more solid ground to defend himself there.

7/10/2008 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I do want to apologize -- I was directing no more than the first sentence to you. I was actually referring to LT in general, not you personally. My post was not worded carefully and I do apologize for that.

I will say that I read "throw Dewey under the tracks" as referring to the man, not DDC itself.

Your personal credentials are impressive. And to repeat: I think LT has done good and interesting work. What I find objectionable is the general tenor on LT to denigrate the work of others. It detracts from the work that you are trying to do.

7/10/2008 4:27 PM  
Blogger jlsprad said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/11/2008 5:21 PM  
Blogger jlsprad said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/11/2008 5:22 PM  
Blogger Helcura said...

Sorry about the deletes.

As a reader I find the Dewey system senseless from the perspective of finding a book. Adjacent groups of items seem to have no relation to each other. I always search for the title or subject in the catalog and then go to the stacks. Admittedly, this is not particularly difficult given the speed of computer catalogs.

I suspect that creating a system which will please both readers and librarians will be extremely difficult. Nonetheless, it's worth a try, even if it only serves to demonstrate the benefits of the current system.

Getting input from a diverse, book loving population, who may be "ignorant" non-experts is likely to result in many useless ideas, but also a few really brilliant "out of the box" type things as well.

I don't think it's arrogant to point out the weaknesses in the current system or to attempt to create something better.

I say crack on, Tim, if I have anything to contribute I'll be pitching in.

7/11/2008 5:36 PM  
Blogger Marie said...

I'm interested in participating. I'm a librarian in a small synagogue and I think the project has a lot of potential. Tell me more! :-)

7/12/2008 8:14 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I'd be great to make something better suited to Judaica than DDC. (Not to mention that some Jewish librarians won't use him for his anti-semitism.)

7/12/2008 8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple comments from a retired medical librarian who has also worked in public libraries.

No small public library today is likely to adopt a catalog system that does not provide cataloging information/classification with the purchase of the book (or by a simple, free online search)-- they simply can't afford it. Very few small/medium libraries do their own cataloging today.

From an entirely different perspective, one of the tightest commodities in modern libraries (and in home libraries) is shelf space. One way of economizing on shelf space is to adjust shelving to book sizes, which can wreak havoc with a strict numerical order system. Can a new system make some allowance for short, medium, and tall books while still making it possible to browse?

(NB - tried using the open ID option, but it won't recognize the url of my LJ blog.)

7/13/2008 10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to pile on, but "anonymous" above is taking offense over nothing.

All criticism of antiquated systems can be recast as "denigration" after a fashion. Saying "throw Dewey under the train" is no more "uncivil" than saying "throw Ptolemy under the train" or "throw Aristotle under the train."

It smacks of thin-skinned reactionary outrage when one skein of the intellectual foundation of librarianship (Dewey) can't be jocularly criticized lest librarians take offense that such a criticism is an attack on the very core of librarianship itself.

Librarians should be able to separate their function (classification) from the classification system (Dewey) without taking an attack of the latter as an attack on themselves.

The point is not to be so wedded to a particular system that criticism of that system becomes, automatically, a form of personal incivility towards librarianship itself.

From what I can tell, Tim is humorously if gently provocative about Dewey. He is harsher about OCLC, but I think it's healthy that its monopoly is being (entertainingly) challenged by upstarts like Tim and others. He hasn't been deferential, and he has perhaps been more irreverent than some would like; but why anyone should take offense over criticism of a classification system by a man long dead or criticism of an impersonal conglomerate like OCLC is beyond me.

A little subversion is good for liberary science in general.

7/14/2008 7:47 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Anonymous coward*, I agree with you.

*This is, in case people don't know, a Slashdot term of art.

7/14/2008 8:38 AM  
Anonymous S.D.Miksa said...


I've only recently come across this thread, but I am curious as to your reading background on library classification construction as well as works on and surrounding the DDC?

Please consider the following resources:
The DDC, The Universe Of Knowledge, And The Post-Modern Library / by Francis Miksa. Albany, N.Y. : Forest Press, 1998.
(0910608644). The bibliography is a valuable resource.

(2)Moving beyond the presentation layer : content and context in the Dewey decimal classification (DDC) system / Joan S. Mitchell, Diane Vizine-Goetz, editors. New York : Haworth Information Press, c2006.

(3)Miksa, Francis. "The Genius of Library Cataloging"--a lecture presented in 2006 at the UIUC/GSLIS. His discussion of the "one hundred year old thicket" and Cutter's work is of particular note. Links: http://waterfall.lis.uiuc.edu/dl/classes/auditorium/miksamar06_06_1.ram ; http://www.lis.uiuc.edu/news/lectures.html

(4)Creating a classification system would be greatly enhanced by reading works of the following: E.C. Richardson, W.C. Berwick-Sayers, Henry Evelyn Bliss, S.R. Ranganathan, anything from the Classification Research Group (CRG) in the U.K., Pauline Cochrane, Phyllis Richmond, Jack Mills, Eric Coates, D.J.Foskett, Barbara Kyle. These are just to name a few and are very Western-centric so I would advise you to look at non-English works, especially France, China and India.

As well, look at the use of Rhizome theory--in particular see Kathy Burnett's "Rhizomorphic Reading: An Ergodic Literacy". Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. 72(35): 315-341, Marcel Dekker, 2002. When I was still a student of Dr. Burnett's we had talked and theorized a bit on a "dynamic classification system" using rhizome theory, but alas, time passes by. You might find it interesting and useful.

I understand to some degree your dissatisfaction with traditional library classification systems, but I also believe that moving in new directions and possibly away from those systems should be based on a solid study and understanding of the underlying conceptual foundations.

As well, I don't believe OCLC or LC or any of the larger players operate maliciously or ignorantly (i.e, have a "lock on" as you had described) or as tyrants or dictators. It is both sad and amusing to see the anger displayed by many who have provided comments. I've felt that at times, but in the end it doesn't move things forward.

Good luck with your work.


7/14/2008 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Jen said...

This sounds like a great project. I finished my MLS a year and a half ago and started working in a public library recently after working with a OCLC network.

I find the Dewey decimal system very "un-user" friendly like most of the library world.

I can't wait to be part of this project!

7/14/2008 5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't like DDC either, and as a cataloger, I see the limitations of LoC in an online. intuitive environment, but I'm not sure what the goal is here.

7/15/2008 2:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LC is working with the Semantic Web Deployment Working Group of the World Wide Web Consortium to develop SKOS, the Simple Knowledge Organization System, which will support the use of classification systems and thesauri in the World Wide Web. The SWD Working Group met at LC on May 7 and 8. Member Alistair Miles of the University of Oxford addressed interested LC staff on possibilities for publishing the Library of Congress Subject Headings, the world’s largest and most widely used general subject terminology list, as linked data on the Web in SKOS, greatly increasing the potential for reuse and interoperability with other subject vocabularies. The LC Office for Strategic Initiatives has developed a prototype.

page 4

7/15/2008 8:40 PM  
Blogger Edward Vielmetti said...

Tim -

You could do a good start by adding a number - or, probably even better, a color! - to the current tags page.



gives you a list of books; combine the existing DDC and LC information about that set of books to generate a spectrum of where those books are in existing classifications, and then transpose that spectrum into a color or color bar to show things.

7/23/2008 11:00 AM  
Blogger mighel said...

Just got back from our local library..and the major problem I see in regard to cataloging is pre-labeled books! Apparently this library system gets their books pre-coded and seldom bother to question that classification.

I find books in obviously wrong categories on a per trip basis. When brought to the staffs attention..I get ranging from perplexed, to condescending and even annoyed.

It seems the system set up is "easy" for them. No one questions the pre assignments or feels the need to.

Reading is such a lost art now as it is..why make it harder for people to find the information?

So I applaud the idea of a new system but resign myself to it also being ignored, unused or pre-assigned.


7/25/2008 12:22 AM  
Blogger toka said...

In my opinion there would be bigger value in this project, if it would be split into two subprojects:

a) create a public multi-hierarchy of concepts (ontology) valuable for classification of media

b) choose and numerate a subset of a)

For a) I suggest to join efforts with http://www.omegawiki.org , which already have all infrastructure running to establish a multi-language interlinked directed graph of concepts.

All concepts have a language-independent ID (see classification , http://www.omegawiki.org/DefinedMeaning:(598) as an example).

As a first (crowd-based) step towards b) media could be tagged with the appropriate concept-ID. Following the directed relations between concepts, the main concepts could be identiefied and narrowed by adding broader concepts and relations.

In my opinion this procedure would have these advantages:
- synergy by joining efforts
- multilanguage from beginning
- valuable tagging from beginning
- small step approach

-- Thomas Kalka

7/30/2008 6:22 PM  
Blogger Luke said...

@Edward Vielmetti:

The color spectrum idea is intriguing. Something kinda like this?

8/03/2008 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The purpose should be to create a system which is user-friendly yet also diverse enough to be cataloger-friendly. Dewey is simple enough, yet not user-friendly in some respects. Congress is too complicated, yet somewhat more user-friendly. I have been privately working on my own system for some time now that could be both.

First, there would be four general catgories: Physical Science, Abstract Science (Math and Language), Social Science, and Arts and Entertainment. Each would have a set number of sub-categories which could be classified further with a code that actually spelled out the topic of a particular work. The categories would be given a number (1,2,3,4 respectively) and a decimal afterwards would represent the sub-category. Then a - would be followed by a code that stood for the topic the book covered.

I'm not going to write any specifics, since I don't want anyone stealing my ideas. But tell me what you think.

4/28/2009 6:16 PM  
Blogger patora said...

"- multilanguage from beginning"

Yes, we need this!

6/23/2009 11:45 AM  

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