As you know, librarians live to create order from chaos.
Over the years (centuries) that libraries have been in existence, librarians have developed and tested dozens of different ways to organise books and information on shelves. Different libraries use different systems, and for different reasons. Here at Christchurch City Libraries, and at many other public libraries and school libraries, we use the Dewey Decimal System for our nonfiction books.
Not in fact named for the middle of the three nephews of Donald Duck, but designed by Melvil Dewey of Amherst, Massachusetts in the 1870s. It was initially published in 1876, with the second edition of his by-now-copyrighted system arriving in 1885, under the eye-watering title Decimal Classification and Relativ Index for arranging, cataloging, and indexing public and private libraries and for pamflets, clippings, notes, scrap books, index rerums, etc. (Note Mr Dewey’s somewhat unusual approach to spelling – another of his passions!)
I love people who are passionate about things, and use that passion to create something new. And I do love Mr Dewey and his system. I also LOVE that apparently before Melvil started his masterwork, many libraries had a shelving system based on the height of the books, and the date they were acquired. This would have been very handy for the customers who frequently arrive at the desk here in the library, saying things like, “I can’t remember what it was called, but it was a really big book, and I read it about 5 years ago.”
In my madder moments (and yes, there are a few), I think about how I would go about rearranging the library shelves if given the opportunity. There was a trend last year for arranging your home bookshelves by colour, which led to some amazing rainbow-type displays. I have friends who organise by personal ranking, or how many times read, or completely (but purposefully) randomly.
And I think about how Mr Dewey would cope with today’s subjects – things he may never have dreamed of having to choose a number for, like one of my personal non-fiction faves: the Zombie Survival Guide, and the always-contentious sections on religions, self-help and how sugar (or carbohydrates, or CFCs, or coffee) is the enemy. It always makes me glad I am not the person who decides which books end up in the Fiction (made-up) versus the Non-Fiction (true stuff) sections of the library.
How about you? How are your bookcases organised at home? Do you separate paperbacks from hardbacks? True stories from made-up ones? Award-winners from pulp fiction? How would you go about reorganising the library if you had absolute power over the shelves? And what “non-fiction” subject or title have you been surprised by recently?