Replacing Dewey? Rearranging Knowledge? Perspectives on Genres in Nonfiction

Dewey is dead or dying.  There seems to be consensus in libraries across the spectrum that the Dewey Decimal System  is both problematic and outdated. Some of the many reasons cited include:

  1. Categories based in the Nineteenth Century fail to incorporate modern scientific and technological changes ranging from computers to the Space Age, and are then “plugged” in to odd, and often inconsistent, places such as 000s, 600s, and more.
  2. There are considerable biases in religion (most of the 200s are dedicated to Christianity with other religions declared to be “other” and crowded into the 290s.
  3.  The social sciences are rife with outdated and biased approaches to 21st Century problems and conditions.

For all these reasons, and many more, I decided to rearrange/genrify Dewey within my High School library.  Developing a new genre-based system is certainly not as easy as it might seem on paper.

Given the move to digital resources and limited space, I weeded a considerable number of print books from the collection.  Even so, I still had to reckon with arranging nonfiction since I was not eliminating it altogether.

What I came up with provoked philosophical and intellectual questions even as I moved titles around, playing “musical books:”

Essentially, I broke up everything and merged areas together to arrive at:

  • Philosophy and religious studies–however I merged mythology with folk and fairy tales (regardless of origins, and rightly or wrongly, readers now see them simply as another form of story)
  • Arts and music (however, sports and games are moved to a new section entitled “Daily Life” which encompasses cooking, food, holidays, etc.)
  • I created a new Health and Wellness section which includes psychology from the 100s, anxiety from the 600s, and biology from the 500s. 
  • A new civil rights section includes African Americans works from the 300s, and criminal justice reform (which could equally well go in my constitution/law/politics section)
  • A new media/journalism area now includes internet and social media as well as propaganda.
  • History now features Ancient History (all civilizations, no more emphasis just on Rome, Greece and Egypt) 
  • Middle Ages (throughout the world) This time period was the zenith of civilization for many cultures who had no “dark ages.”
  • The Twentieth Century unfortunately is broken into wars: World Wars One, Two, etc. Here, I combined all books on the subjects including literature and arts–all books on Vietnam were previously divided into American, Vietnamese, etc, similar to the Cold War which brings together related titles from the 300s and 900s, bridging disciplines and countries.

On a related note, the 800s no longer exist, with every form of literature joining novels in a literary section. Focused on the idea of story, there are subsections for novels (in turn divided by genre), short stories, poems. Dramatic works merged with theater from the 700s. As mentioned, this area also includes the myths/fairytales. It is interesting that for ages libraries considered novels “fiction” but other forms were “nonfiction.” 

My next conundrum is Graphic Novels.  I believe these are a literary form of their own right.  But what of Graphic Nonfiction?  These are not fiction.  I think I would place them in the best subject area.

This process is a work in progress.  I welcome suggestions. It has certainly opened my eyes to the complexity of revising Dewey. This process instilled a new awareness of interconnectedness and the arbitrary compartmentalization of knowledge, however necessary it is to facilitate easy tracking of materials.

One thought on “Replacing Dewey? Rearranging Knowledge? Perspectives on Genres in Nonfiction

  1. I commend you for taking this on. Did you do it on your own or collaborate with your staff? It is definitely a challenging task. The one problem I see going forward is lack of consistency from one collection to another. Of course if your patrons know how to search the catalogue, they probably won’t even notice the difference in physical location from one library to another.

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