I don’t remember who originally linked to this screed opining that librarians should gird themselves for obsolescence (oh, Tab Candy, your ability to add metadata to tab groups cannot come soon enough), but this quote:
It is time to end the epidemic of Munchausen by Proxy in our public service librarians, and instead acknowledge that if the patrons we patronize can’t walk without assistance, it is only because we continually kick them in the kneecaps.
…aside from making me giggle ruefully, reminded me that I had a post brewing.
So. My nonfiction at home is organized by Dewey.[*] (Well, the nonfiction not accounted for by undergrad technical textbooks, LIS textbooks, or my classics degree, which are separate…and for which we don’t actually have enough shelves…) I undertook this for two reasons:
- I was starting library school, and it seemed like the sort of nerdy thing I ought to do.
- I hoped that a subject ordering might illuminate heretofore unrealized trends in our interests, and let our bookshelf suggest coherent ways of exploring topics our collection is strong in.
And it totally worked for those. I was nerdily gratified, and I discovered surprising things. (Who would have guessed that the single most common number in our collection was 796.357? And did I have any idea that my computer-nerd, philosophy-minor husband was that into social science? And yet the 300s stomp all over our shelves. Barely a smidgen of 400s and 200s — though the latter will change a bit when I get around to cataloging all the scriptures; that’s just philosophically intimidating — fewer 100s and 900s than I would have expected, many fewer 500s and 600s (though I suppose that’s an effect of shelving those textbooks separately). But man, if you want to learn about the Cold War or political philosophies — or baseball — come on over to our house.)
That said, I now no longer know where any of my books are.
I mean, I have the general idea, because I sorta remember what all the Dewey categories stand for. And because I’ve cataloged almost the whole collection, so I’ve seen what we own. And, fundamentally, a few hundred books is few enough that you can browse for a known item and find it. But in the old regime, if I wanted to find, say, King Solomon’s Ring, I know it’s by Konrad Lorenz, and my brain has the “alphabetical” system pretty well internalized[**], so there was nothing further to consult and I could just go there. But now I would need to look it up in the catalog, which means finding some piece of technology (and I don’t own a smartphone) and digging up my LibraryThing page, or at least I need to think through “it’s about biology and uhhhhhhhh that should put it somewhere in the 500s?” and then scan the shelves for that. I need my outboard brains to navigate a system that used to be intuitive.
In other words, I’m alienated from my own collection.
And if Deweyized shelves do that to me — me! a nerd with an MLS who had an excellent intro cataloging professor — well. The whole anti-traditional-classification movement makes more sense.
(Now if only I knew what this suggested at scale; the tensions between serendipitous browsing and known-item searching (a kind I quite like!) are easier to ignore over a few hundred books than they are over thousands.)
[*] Because Library of Congress classification isn’t fun to apply, and Dewey is. So there.
[**] Pretty well. But not as well as I used to. Learning Greek, with its analogous-but-slightly-differently-ordered alphabet, messed me up with dictionaries for life.