Emily's Old Man Rant

Okay, look, I think progress is good. And I think that libraries need to reconsider the ways that they interact with patrons.

But this story in The New York Times really bothers me. The Perry Branch library in Gilbert, Arizona has given up the Dewey Decimal System, but not in favor of the Library of Congress cataloging system. Instead, they've set up the library as if it were your local Barnes and Noble, with books separated into categories and shelved as such. The way to find a book is to find its general location and then hunt around for it.

Now, I am a big fan of browsing around the bookshelves (Amy's sending us to shelfari has given me a whole new way to do this). And I personally prefer the Library of Congress cataloging system, but that's because I'm primarily a researcher when I'm in a library.

What I don't like is the way that some libraries are gradually changing into bookstores. I understand that bookstores have certain advantages over libraries, but I'm not convinced that turning into a bookstore is going to encourage people to go to the library. Some libraries, due in part to a lack of space, are even beginning to ditch classics that have low circulation. So, if you can't find a Willa Cather book at your local Barnes and Noble, don't count on finding it at your local library.

I'm really of the persuasion that libraries are cultural institutions that should be a repository of our cultural memories. (I will admit that libraries do need to pay attention to patron needs, but part of the advantage of having a good collection, and good librarians is that they can suggest to people older books that they might like, based on current best sellers).

Although this "get rid of Dewey" movement is shunned by the general membership of the American Library Association, it still bothers me and seems indicative of a general trend.

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