Libraries, bookstores, and organization

A new library opened in Gilbert, Arizona in 2007. Being a new library, they decided to try something new. Instead of organizing it according to the Dewey Decimal Classification, as 95% of American public libraries do, they decided to organize it like a bookstore. After all, their thinking went, people find those numbers a little cryptic, but everyone understands “gardening,” or “technology,” or “computers.”

I haven’t heard how it worked out, but I think they exchanged something that works well for something that doesn’t. If I go to a bookstore just looking for a general topic, I can find something. If I look for anything in particular,  I can’t  always find it.
Too often, I have looked in the bookstore’s computer and noticed that they have the title I want and not been able to find it. It’s supposed to be in some broad topic, arranged by author. Unfortunately, if I can’t find it right away, the clerks can’t, either.

That’s frustrating enough, but if I want something more specific than the store’s broad topic and don’t know a particular title or author, it’s arrangement actually hampers my ability to find anything. For example, I can easily enough find the gardening books, but if I want something about perennials, the whole gardening section is filed by author. I have to look through all the books on vegetables, shrubs, fruit trees, annuals, fertilizers, and whatever else is there to find whatever they have on perennials.

At most public libraries, I can go to the catalog, type in perennials, and find that all the books on perennials are classified 635.932. Books about gardening in general, by the way, are simply 635. Every number after the decimal point means some more specific aspect of gardening or some more specific kind of book. Gardening dictionaries, for example, are 635.03. I can use the numbers go directly to what specific topics I want. I can skip the general books, if I don’t care about them, and everything between them and my topic. Within each more specific number, the books are arranged alphabetically by author.

Yes, libraries have to change to keep up with the times. The changes ought to result in better services, not in needlessly frustrating patrons. For all I know, the library in Gilbert has quietly joined the Dewey fold since it opened. Whatever libraries can learn from bookstores, it doesn’t include classification.


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