DDC 920

In the midst of the holiday bustle, let's take time to give a birthday shout-out to a landmark figure in library history. Today is the birthday of Melvil Dewey, a former State Librarian in New York (as well as the creator of the library classification system that bears his name). He would have been 156 years old today if he, well, hadn't died in 1931.

Dewey was born in Adams Center, just southwest of Watertown (where our own Mary Hoffman once lived). He was 26 when he conjured up the Dewey Decimal System. This was a means of dividing all human knowledge into 10 broad categories, which could be divvied up further still depending on the subject (like biography, which begins with "920"). Before then, librarians were expected to arrange books on the shelves by either size or color, and memorize the placement of each one.

While we've never used DDC at this library (shoehorning some of the subjects in our collection into the rigid ten categories results in some astronomically long classification numbers), it is something that's found in most public and school libraries.

You've all heard of it. To this day, I get to hear cracks about whether I arrange my clothes per the Dewey system (no . . . I use the Library of Congress method). That's not Melvil's fault, though. Happy birthday, old man.


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