Thursday, October 22, 2009

Without Melvil

There was an article in the local paper last week that the Albany Public Library was going to do away with the Dewey Decimal System in favor of a system that's more like a bookstore, as I understand it. I have mixed emotions.

On one hand, I see why the library would want to utilize a system like that which the book-using public is used to. While I grew up using the Dewey Decimal System in the Binghamton Public Library, where I worked as a teen, it's not as though I'm wedded to it. Indeed, the books in the special library where I work uses the Library of Congress classification, an alphanumeric system even more arcane for the casual user than Melvil Dewey's categorization. Also, when I was going to library school, I quickly tired of the jokes about my devotion to the DDC.

On the other hand, the conversation suggests that DDC is complicated and that the bookstore model is "better". Maybe it's me, but I always find what I'm looking for in a DDC or LC library, while I'm more likely to have to ask for need help from a book store clerk. That's because the categories in some bookstores are not as helpful as they might be.

The example that immediately comes to mind is Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, by Douglas A. Blackmon. Last month, the Writers Institute and the Friends of the Albany Public Library sponsored Doug Blackmon to speak at APL.

For those of you not from the Albany area, the Writers Institute was co-founded 25 years ago by William Kennedy. Bill Kennedy is THE most noted writer to come out of Albany, and his fiction about Albany has been award-winning. I happen to particularly enjoy his nonfiction book, O Albany!

There was a dinner before the Blackmon presentation, and for reasons unknown to me, I had the pleasure to sit next to Doug Blackmon. We had a very interesting talk. One point that he made, relative to this current discussion, is how well or poorly his book sells in a given store depended, to a very large degree, on where his book was placed in said bookstore. If it was placed in the American history section - and the story certainly is an American story not often heard - then it sold all right. But if it were placed in the ghetto of the black history section ("ghetto" is my term) - as though the story were only important to, or applicable to black people - then it tended to do less well.

Now, a library book is not sold by the institution. But how often a book circulates certainly effects whether or not other books on that topic and/or books by that author.

I have no inside information just how this "bookstore" model is going to look until the Pine Hills branch - MY branch - reopens next month beyond what I've read here. But I'll be very interested to find out.

1 comment:

egold52 said...

As a non-practicing librarian and avid reader, I think this is just WRONG. The Dewey Decimal system is simple and precise enough for the general reader. I don't know how this "bookstore" system will work, but since I can never seem to find what I'm looking for in most bookstores (except alphabetized fiction), I think this is a terrible idea. Where do these ideas come from?