HomepageLibrary and Information TechnologyFrom Myrin Library’s Collections: Delving Deep into the Dewey Decimal Classification System

From Myrin Library’s Collections: Delving Deep into the Dewey Decimal Classification System

Did you know that Myrin Library uses the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) System to classify its print books? Melvil Dewey, (1851-1931), developed the system in 1873 while working as a student assistant in the library at Amherst College because he wanted to use a decimal system to organize human knowledge. The Dewey Decimal Classification system at the time of its publication in 1876 was not an invention – it was more of an amalgamation of the best elements Dewey observed in other classification systems, including those of Charles Jewett, Charles Ammi Cutter, Nathaniel Shurtleff, and William Torrey Harris.

Successive editions of the Dewey Decimal Classification System have since been published, and libraries are currently using the 23rd edition of DDC 23: Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index, published in 2011. Generally, the Dewey Decimal Classification System is used in public and school libraries as well as small academic libraries. Most academic libraries, especially large research universities, use the Library of Congress Classification System, created in 1899.

The Dewey Decimal Classification System is organized into ten major classes, outlined below, with further subdivisions.

000 Computer science, knowledge, and systems

100 Philosophy

200 Religion

300 Social sciences, sociology, anthropology

400 Language

500 Science

600 Technology

700 Arts

800 Literature, rhetoric, and criticism

900 History

 

A further breakdown of the Dewey Decimal Classification System, the DDC23 summaries published by Online Computer Library Center, Inc. (OCLC), can be seen on OCLC’s Dewey ® Services web page as well as other helpful information about the Dewey Decimal Classification System.

How does the Dewy Decimal Classification System work? Every book is assigned a call number which is placed on the spine of the book. The call number is used to identify the book and to situate it on the bookshelf alongside other books with the same topic or subject. The first part of the call number is the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) number, and the second part of the call number or “Cutter” represents the author’s last name, or sometimes the title if the author has written many books. The Cutter item number method, created by Charles Ammi Cutter, places the author’s work within the Dewey Decimal class.

The tools that the library staff at Myrin Library use to catalog the books are the DDC23: Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index , (2011 ed.), C.A. Cutter’s Three-Figure Author Table (1969 ed.), and the integrated library system, OCLC WMS. Most of the time, the library staff copy-catalog books, meaning that they download bibliographic records of the books that have been already created for other libraries. The staff then use the Dewey Decimal call number that is in the cataloging-in-publication (CIP) data, usually found on the copyright page of the book. Sometimes the Dewey Decimal call number of some books are modified to best fit the call number pattern that is popularly used in the integrated library system.

To illustrate the Dewey Decimal Classification System, look at the image accompanying this news story. “784.4 Sa To 791.436164 Sp” represents the range or side of a bookshelf in the main circulating collection on the library’s third level. This bookshelf range starts with the book, “A Sailor’s Songbag: An American Rebel in an English Prison, 1777-1779” with the full call number 784.4 Sa21. The DDC number 784.4 refers to American folk music and, since no author is given for this book, the Cutter number Sa21 represents the first word of the title, “Sailor”. The bookshelf range ends with the book “Uncanny Bodies: The Coming of Sound Film and the Origins of the Horror Genre” by Robert Spadoni, with the full call number 791.436164 SP11. The Dewey Decimal call number 791.436164 places the book in the horror films genre, and the Cutter number SP11 represents the author’s last name, “Spadoni”.

To help locate the book on the bookshelf using Myrin Library’s OneSearch system, first find the title of the book in OneSearch system. For example, look for “A Sailor’s Songbag: An American Rebel in an English Prison, 1777-1779”. 

Next, click “Map It”, located right next to the call number, 784.4 Sa21. A pop-up screen will then appear indicating the level of the library on which the book can be found, as well as the appropriate bookshelf.

The next step is to go to the bookshelf on the third level, take the book from the bookshelf, and take it downstairs to the Learning Curve on the first Level of Myrin Library to check it out.

While examining the library’s first 300 books that were acquired in the early years of Ursinus College’s founding, one observes that the two popular Dewey Decimal Classification sections of the library first being developed were the literature (800’s) and history (900’s) sections.

Today, the three largest Dewey Decimal Classification sections of the library’s main circulating collections are the social sciences (300’s), literature (800’s) and history (900’s) sections.

For further reading:

If you’re interested in reading about Melvil Dewey, a very comprehensive, well written biography about him is: “Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey” by Wayne A. Wiegand. Chicago, ALA: 1996.

A wealth of information about the Dewey Decimal Classification System can be found on OCLC’s Dewey ® Services web page.

Also, 025.431 Dewey Blog is a very helpful blog for cataloging practitioners using the Dewey Decimal Classification System. It has many lively entries about the Dewey Decimal Classification System in action, as this is a continually evolving system. The blog provides guidance about which call numbers to use for various subjects, including what call numbers to use when countries change their names, or what to do with outdated terms, such as “illegal aliens”.

Special thanks goes to Carolyn Weigel, Ursinus College’s Archives & Special Collections Librarian, for her assistance with the library’s 1869 accession book.

Contact Kerry Gibson, Collection Management Librarian, about finding print books in Myrin Library’s circulating collection and checking them out!

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