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Nyack Library: Dewey Decimal Debated (2 of 3)

by James Mahoney, Director of the Nyack Library

The Dewey Decimal System is alive and well at The Nyack Library. We continue to use the classification system as it designed in both our children’s and adult collections. The physical arrangement of the newly expanded building, utilizing multi-levels for the adult collection on the top floors, requires us to divide the collection into some division of subjects as it cannot all fit into one area. Our architect did a wonderful job given all the code restrictions and land contour. No matter what arrangement we choose it would require some relearning and reorientation for both the public and staff. The flow of numbers from one stack to another is a difficult thing to manage when the book stacks are interrupted by considerable space.

The adult collection has been organized into a series of broad categories that for the most part follow the descriptions of the Dewey Decimal System. For instance the Dewey System 300s are for business and sociology (hence our title Business & Society); the 500s are for Science and Technology. The 100s are for philosophy & psychology ‘€“ the 200s for religion ‘€“ part of the 600s is for health and medicine, hence our title ‘€œBody, Mind and Spirit’€ a category well used in common language.

In the model we have employed we are taking what many other public libraries have done in the arrangement of their collections, and given it what we believe is a more sensible and appropriate approach. For instance, Albany Public Library has successfully given up the Dewey System completely. Whereas other libraries have totally abandoned the Dewey number system for a word system: ‘€œHealth ‘€“ Diets ‘€“ Atkins’€ Nyack Library retains Dewey : ‘€œBody/Mind/Spirit 613.2 ATK’€. This allows both the browsers and the catalog users who want a diet book to find what they want.

Our Marketplace design is a highly organized and integrated approach to library management. As a library collection grows from small to medium size, adjustments must be made, otherwise we simply become a warehouse of bookstacks. From the one room library of the early 20th century ‘€“ something like the general store ‘€“ our Library has developed into a collection of smaller organized and integrated units.

It is like walking down Main Street in the old fashioned days shopping a series of specialty shops, only here we are encountering material for reading and research: books, recordings, newsletters, electronic information, magazine etc. Each Marketplace unit has a professional librarian as its manager, and is assisted by college educated library staff who assist in collection development. Much of the library’s material on any given subject will now be found in one place, rather than being spread out or hidden in long rows of stacks. Soon each marketplace section will begin to develop its on-line presence on the Library’s webpage, to further enhance public access and connection to our materials.

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Our on-line catalogs show both the Dewey number and the Marketplace area, and we have a handlist of all the numbers and a map of their placement available at all terminals for quick reference. Every Marketplace section is arranged in strict Dewey order, just as they were in the previous configuration.

The Dewey Decimal System is far from perfect, and unfortunately its inconsistencies (which were present all along) are a little more apparent now that we have given the collection more room to breathe. We plan to improve some difficulties with the Marketplace over time and as budget allows. The Marketplace arrangement is built upon contemporary library principles that to the extent possible the arrangement of materials should not be broken up by format, and that all the library’s resources on a given subject be placed together.

Magazines fall under these organizational principles as well. We recognize that there are many people who come to the library with broad, eclectic interests and want each format arranged in a certain way, but there are also many people who find that having all the home and garden magazines together with the books and visuals on gardening to be a great improvement.

While we recognize that change is not always easy when it rubs against long standing tradition, our changes were made with thought and professional consideration
. Twenty-one years ago the Nyack Library stopped using the card catalog and converted to the computer catalog. We were among the first libraries in the Ramapo Catskill Library System to embrace the new technology. There is no turning back now, nor would we wish it. Similar changes have been introduced throughout the Library because of growth, changing use patterns and new models of library service.

The Library still has work to do, to better engage with our users to help them understand what we have done and why we have made changes. This educational role will be in the forefront of our efforts in the next several years, and we pledge our commitment to excellence in customer service and personal assistance in making a visit to the library a rewarding and satisfying experience.

James Mahoney, Director of The Nyack Library, responding to a letter written to the Library Board of Directors about the library’s use of the Dewey Decimal system.

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