Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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What’s my takeaway?

Posted by lpearle on 4 July 2008

The thing I look for most when I attend conference sessions is the takeaway: what’s in it for me?

At MFPOW we had a class on Constitutional Law. Every year I’d get the students coming in for research asking for “the law section”. Well, technically, according to Dewey, there are several “law sections”. Too complicated for my students. The same thing happens at MPOW whenever there’s a research request: where are the science project books? (we have them in General Science and then broken out in each discipline of science) I have to do a project on slavery (check Social Sciences and American History, unless you also want a 360 overview, in which case try some of the African Histories). Again, too complicated for my students.

It’s been with some unease and curiosity that I’ve followed the controversy over Maricopa County Library District’s change from the DDC to BISAC. BIwha??? BISAC is the system bookstores use to categorize books. It’s not perfect (just as DDC and LC aren’t perfect systems), but it is familiar to the general public. So when they offered “Dewey or Don’t We” at ALA, I decided to attend.

I sat next to a woman who worked in a nearby public library, also interested in how this “new” system could work at her library. We chatted before the session started, mostly about how one found the items on the shelves. While the change doesn’t sound completely nonsensical, the ease of finding items is critical.

So, what did I think about their presentation? Meh. Most of it was reiterating what we’ve heard time and time again about moving to a one-desk, customer service-centered library. Good signage, inviting spaces, responding to user need: been there, heard that. The important, interesting stuff was at the end and rushed…

  • The Perry Branch is a mixed-use facility, serving both as a school and a public library.
  • The surveys they’ve conducted indicate 100% customer satisfaction.
  • 80% of their collection is new stuff.
  • Signage, signage, signage (using public feedback for “tweaking”)
  • Vendors, particularly your outsourced cataloger/provider, are critical during the changeover

As I said, meh. The breaking up of the fiction collection into genres makes sense… until you run into a book like Dirk Gently. I, Robot – sci/fi or classic? But think about when you go to your local Barnes & Noble or Booksamillion. If you know the author and genre it’s easy to find things. When I’m looking for a specific cookbook or a bestseller, I can generally find it. Yet when I’m not really sure, when it’s a general search for information on a person or to find a new book by an author, it’s not always easy, particularly since most patrons just shove books on to the shelves without really paying attention to organization.

The next day, I met a woman who works in an independent school near MCDL. She confirmed what I’d suspected: for real research this approach is a total failure and students are suffering. The converted branch, and the proposed new branches, are small facilities serving public communities. I can see how this reconfiguration works in those settings – maybe the Smalltown library near my parents could benefit from this. But a library that is supposed to help people research topics? You need a better system. Imperfect as it is, DDC is what we’ll be sticking with… for now.

So, my takeaway? Perhaps moving some sections around might be better for our “public” – placing the 300s (social sciences) and the 900s (history) closer together, for example. That way students don’t have to do a treasure hunt all over the library when they’re doing research. I mean, we did away with our Biography section for that reason (and the biographies have actually gotten used, now that the books are in with the subject ares).

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