Monday, December 10, 2012

Birth Anniversary of Melvil Dewey

Melvil Dewey
Melvil Dewey, Librarian
Public Domain image
As a librarian, I can't let this day pass without some acknowledgement; after all, the eponymous library classification system is used everyday in our line of work. The inventor of the Dewey Decimal system was very much a man of his time, with a marked Victorian sensibility, but he was also possessed of a decidedly odd personality. Although he had friends, his difficult nature also earned him many enemies.  A column written a few years ago in Straight Dope states, "We feel obliged to note that Dewey was no saint. He was racist, antisemitic, anti-black, anti- everything not white male Anglo-Saxon Christian." For all his negatives, however, he left a lasting legacy in the area of librarianship. A little known Indian librarian, S.R. Ranganathan, who also made contributions to library science, spoke of his communication with Dewey near the end of his life. In a transcript of his recollection of Dewey's letters to Ranganathan, it's interesting to note that Dewey was aware of how Eurocentric the Dewey system was. It's especially true when considering the religion class of the Dewey system, the 200's, which is heavily weighted toward
Christianity. All non-Christian religions are relegated to 299! Well, whatever its deficits, the Dewey Decimal system is practical in many ways and continues to keep public library collections in good order to this day. Wikipedia has an entry for an expanded list of other library classification systems.

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