Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Amherst Method

This article describes the debate that has surrounded Dewey's Decimal Classification System for some time. In this article, Wiegand attempts to describe Dewey's state of mind, and the forces that impacted him when he created this system. Wiegand also evaluates Dewey's thought process based on his education and experience at Amherst, and specifically cites instances where faculty members had an impact on the ordering of his system.

At the end of the article, Wiegand asserted that the Anglo-Saxonism inherent in Dewey's system has made it resistant to change over the years. He goes on to say "the scheme itself has quietly - almost invisibly-occupied an influential position as one of the forces sustaining the discursive formations of a Eurocentric patriarchy." If the DDC is so "tightly wound" how can it be updated to reveal a more diverse view of society today? Can it even be done?


Deborah said...

I started a literature review last semester about bias in classification systems. Some scholars have proposed doing away with the DDC completely. Other scholars have suggested developing a revised DDC system for different countries. For example, in Iran, class 400 and 800 (I think) are used for Farsi, the national language.

A librarian in Africa has suggested adding numbers or subdivisions for missing information. Cocoyam, a staple crop in some African countries, is not found anywhere in the DDC.

I also read an article by two library science Ph.D.s in Korea, who suggested revamping the DDC's religion section to account for religious diversity. Korea doesn't have one predominant religion (like Christianity in the U.S.), so simply substituting one religion for Christianity (like Islam in the Middle East) doesn't work. The Korean scholars advocated for a whole bunch of DDCs that were designed for individual countries.

SarahStumpf said...

I personally am leaning towards scrapping the whole thing all together, or a complete re-write but keeping the popular Dewey Decimal name.

I'm leaning in this direction because I doubt that the system can just be tweaked. The whole thing is fundamentally biased.

Deborah gives some suggestions for other countries, but the DDC is a lousey fit for 21st century America too. It doesn't accurately represent or fit American religion, american politics, american civil rights issues, american literature, or even american medicine and science. And that is a lot to leave out.

So lets scrap it and use Library of Congress or a new system, because it is going to take a LOT of time and effort to revamp it, and that time, money, manpower, and thought could probably go into something more worthwhile.

Katie K said...

First, not to be picky but Library of Congress has just as many problems as Dewey. No systems is perfect (obviously) but to scrap all of the hard work that's been done already would be silly. Despite their flaws, we have two very well thought out systems that have worked for the field for years. People find these books, even if the subject heading isn't PC or the most modern term. We have bigger things to work on and there is no way we will be able to overhall the entire organizational structure of most libraries in America with limited budget resources and overworked librarians.

And yes, I'm playing devil's advocate...

Kelly said...

DDC has its problems, but switching every DDC library over to LCC? That's not a trivial task. In fact, I'm getting a chill just thinking about it. Maybe you have to have worked in a library to really appreciate this, but it would be a massive project for even a small library to have to update all the call numbers (on both the books themselves and in the metadata records) and rearrange the books on the shelves.