Bronze Statue of a Frog by the Children's Room in the Main Library

Big Change at Library

Posted on April 16, 2014 at 1:01 PM

Every institution, organization or business has a “sacred cow” or two that they cling to even though there is no logical reason to keep it around.  A sacred cow is that policy, or procedure, or piece of furniture that we keep just because it has always been here or always been done that way. 

This summer WCPL is letting go of a very large sacred cow – the Dewey decimal classification. A great contributor and supporter of libraries, Melville Dewey developed this system of organizing books in libraries in 1876.   While Dewey worked well for librarians over the years, challenges arose for patrons. 

Dewey classified fiction in the 800’s.  As publishing and readership of general fiction grew, libraries decided that it would be much easier for patrons to find their favorite authors’ books if they alphabetized them by author’s last name.  The Dewey classification continued to be used for nonfiction materials; however, as the number and range of topics grew, the decimal numbers became longer. 

Our library feels that it is time to let Dewey go and change the way we organize our information.  Libraries do need to be organized, but perhaps it can be more intuitive for the patron.  Thanks to Google’s popularity, today most of us are adept at searching. However, it is only at the library that a word search results in a Dewey number that may not be meaningful to the library visitor.    

Many of today’s patrons are independent browsers.  They enjoy using the catalog, browsing the stacks, and even checking out their own material.  Our library has taken steps to make the Dewey classification easier to browse.  Several years ago we added signage in the aisles and on the shelves to assist patrons in finding subjects of interest.   These efforts were well received. 

After evaluation, the staff and board decided that if subject words are necessary to interpret Dewey and make it more customer friendly, then why are we hanging on to Dewey?   Several libraries throughout the country have successfully developed a word-based classification systems for their collections.  After assessing other systems, WCPL librarians developed our own system of organizing nonfiction material according to subjects.  We have dubbed it our “WordWise” classification. 

In our WordWise system, the books will be shelved alphabetically in categories –ANIMALS  through WELLNESS.  Patrons will still find books using a specific call number (or perhaps we should say “call words”).  For example a diet book may be found alphabetically by author at WELLNESS FITNESS DIET instead of 641.56314 Ma.  WELLNESS is the main category with FITNESS and DIET being sub-categories  that are appropriately marked on the shelves.  The goal is user-friendliness.   Patrons can walk away from a service desk or the online catalog with words to guide them logically to their materials.  If they wish, they can just go to a section of interest and be able to easily identify the shelves they wish to browse.

Reorganizing the library’s over 40,000 nonfiction items is not an overnight process.  Months have already been spent developing our WordWise system.  We are now ready to change the location in the catalog, replace the  spine label and  move every nonfiction book to its new location.   We ask that you please bear with us if your cheese –or favorite book—is moved on your next library visit.  For most of the summer,  you can expect to see the adult nonfiction books moving.  As always, the staff will be happy to assist you.  The next several months will be a challenge, but we hope the end result will be an easier- to-use library. 

Interesting fact: Melville Dewey supported spelling reform and changed his name to Melvil and even spelled his last name Dui.  I’d like to think that anyone who was so interested in simplification would also support Dewey reform! 



Written by Stephanie Davis

Hello! I am Stephanie Davis, Director of the Wells County Public Library or as my adult children have fondly dubbed me, “the boss lady.” I have the best job ever working with the best staff, in the best place, and for the best community. Come find me anytime in the office with all the windows or email me at sdavis(at)

Read all posts written by Stephanie Davis

Comment on this post

Posted by Kayleen Reusser on
Zowie! I can't imagine such a project! I'm sure it will keep all of you busy! Good luck and we'll support you.
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