Collection Development, Collection Revamp, School Libraries

Keeping busy, part II

In my last post, I talked about how we looked at the shelves as part of our goal to make the entire collection easier for students to access (particularly with the limited time they have for research, including all those afterschool activities!). One of the things we’ve been talking about, to the point of possibly traumatizing our Upper School Librarian’s son, is where books belong within the overall collection. Sometimes it’s a specific book, and sometimes it’s a more philosophical question about a topic.

At our recent presentation to AISL, I called what we’ve ended up with as “Dewey lite” or “Dewey-esque”. I’ll pause now for some pearl clutching.

Feeling better? Ok. Let’s move on. First, let me say I’m not sure I’m a believer in Dewey. I also firmly believe that the people at the Library of Congress who assign the DDC number are flawed humans. I’ll also say that any library that has been under the care of more than one librarian has books and cataloging that vary greatly: some will want very full MARC records, including every subject heading and table of contents, while others will have skimpier records; some will have full DDC numbers with Cuttering, others will truncate the number and use the author’s last name. And then there are those who use a combination… Our goal has been to clean this up.

Luckily, we’re not alone. It’s an argument/conversation that’s been going on for years (my first post was in 2009!) Others with the same qualms are the librarians at Fieldston/Ethical Culture and Berkeley Carroll schools in NYC and at Great Valley High School in Malvern PA (among many others). Our decision has been to worth with DDC, but to tweak it to meet our needs. How?

We start from the basic idea that we’re not a repository library nor are we an academic library with literally millions of books. That mean we do not need to get as specific with our cataloging as some cataloging librarians can get.

“Let’s begin with a relatively simple classification: 577.”…

“I am indeed,” his ally confirmed. “As any page knows, or should know, 577 is ecology.”…

“Now for the bonus question… Please provide the subject field for 577.68”

“The point 6 narrows our focus to aquatic ecology and the 8 narrows things down further to wetlands ecology. This is my answer for 577.68–wetlands ecology.”…

Dinty pulled another card. “629.134. I repeat–“


Mr. P’s leathery hand tapped a bell plunger. “Jet engines?”

“Jet engines is correct… now for the bonus, Mr. Paradis… 629.1343537”

“That’d be fan-jet engines.”

“Listen closely, please. The rules only allow me to say the title twice.” He paused. “Depression among Unmarried Southern Yemeni Mothers.”…

“We begin with 157 for abnormal and clinical psycholgies. From there we need to narrow our scope. Unmarried mothers are designated 306.8743. Yemenis are 927533. However, one must be careful. Southern Yemen demands an addition 5. That brings us to”–he frowned over his pad and enunciated the numbers with the precision of a Henry Higgins–“157.30687439275335.”…

“I’m so sorry, Irving. Your number doesn’t conform…. Does the other contestant wish to venture a correction?…”

The janitor rubbed his jaw. “Seems to me they vacated the 157s, though heaven knows ‘abnormal and clinical psychologies’ is a pretty darn useful category for folks working in libraries… Anyway, I got a whole bunch of problems with the way Mr. Grote is tryin’ to build his numbers. Can’t just run ’em together that way. And besides, he’s forgotten about putting those poor Southern Yemeni mothers inside their country…Depression Among Unmarried Southern Yemeni Mothers would be…616.8527008694095335.”…

“That is correct.”

The Grand Complication, Allen Kurzweil

As a group, we determined that six digits would be more than enough. Then we started to create a spreadsheet of Cataloging Norms to help with reorganizing and with future cataloging (yes, that does make putting new books on shelves take longer but getting it right is important, right?). Sometimes we got very specific, sometimes far more general. One place where we got specific? World War II:

Art got a lighter touch:

Using those guidelines, it was easy to figure out where the books we were evaluating were going, and whether they needed a new DDC number.

We’ve also subscribed to WebDewey to help with those (seemingly endless) conversations. One of the great things about the subscription is that we can also find the numbers that OCLC, as curators of the DDC system, have either relocated or retired. Older books will have those numbers, both newly purchased and those on the shelves, separating them from the newer books using the updated system. Does anyone remember when American literature was in the 820s? Our collection did. So. Not. Helpful.

Next up… tackling the Subject Headings

1 thought on “Keeping busy, part II”

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