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Deer Park Library tosses Dewey Decimal System

February 12, 2019

Deer Park Library director Rebecca Pool decided in September to make one of the most dramatic changes in the facility’s 53-year history.

The library ditched the Dewey Decimal System. The new approach is to provide a setting more like what readers would find in a bookstore.

“When you go to a book store like Barnes & Noble and you’re looking for a cookbook, you expect to go to a section marked ‘Cookbooks’,” she said. “You’re not going in there looking for section 640.00. And if you’re looking for a vegetarian cookbook, you’d expect to find it in the same section as the regular cookbooks; you wouldn’t be looking for 640.38. We wanted to organize the library in a word-based way that made sense to people.”

And so the venerable Dewey system, which dates to 1876 and had been used at the Deer Park Library since it became a city department in 1969, went without fanfare into the dustbin of history.

After receiving City Council’s blessing, Pool and the library staff spent a couple months cataloging, organizing and re-categorizing the thousands and thousands of books in the collection, and in early January, most of the books found new homes on shelves ordered in a way that likely makes more sense to the casual browser.

The reorganization was also built around a flow of topics that made sense.

“Now, you’ll find sections that are related next to one another,” Pool said. “So you’ll have books on how to build computers next to books on programs, and those are all very close to the math, science and technology books.”

But it wasn’t always this way, Pool said.

Why UFO books were near computer manuals

“Computers weren’t a thing when the Dewey Decimal System was created. So, when books on computers were written, you had someone at the Library of Congress looking for where to put them and they said, ‘Well there’s room in the OOs,’ which meant computer books were closer to books on UFOs than other math and science books,” she said. “The reorganization is more intuitive and has allowed us more flexibility to create a system based on what we have in our own library.”

Some libraries elsewhere in the country, such as the branches of the Maricopa County Library District in Gilbert, Ariz., began dumping the Dewey system in the late 2000s, resulting in initial protests from some patrons.

While not all of Deer Park Library’s collection has been reorganized, most of the nonfiction books have been, Pool said. Books have been divided into interest sections such as mind and body, home, art and literature, entertainment, science and technology, history, people and places, and education, career and business.

“There’s more of a natural flow here now,” she said. “We looked at what other libraries were doing, and this has worked very well for them. We found that it was pretty common, for example, that if someone was looking for a book on Texas history, they would also be looking for books on traveling in Texas; so those are closer together now, just like they’d be in a book store.”

So far, the change has garnered community support.

“Apart from the initial, ‘Where are all my books?’ shock,” Pool said, “people seem to really like it. Things are easier to find, we’ve created good signage to help direct people and we’ll eventually be developing maps to show people every section of the library.”

In a time when it seems like libraries are either dying or changing to fit what their communities want, Pool said it was her hope to keep growing to fit Deer Park’s needs.

“We need to be user-friendly,” she said. “That’s part of the reason for this. It’s part of the reason you can still access all of our electronic services even when we’re closed. Our job is to be available to Deer Park in the way they want us to be.”

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