We are in the midst of a HUGE Dewey debacle in school library media centers! More and more, school library media specialists are considering the benefits and the damages associated with ditching Dewey and moving to a genre-based organization of their collections. I taught in the P-12 school media centers for nearly 30 years and at the university level for 25, either as adjunct or full time school library media faculty. I have experience at elementary, middle, and high school levels, and have had the pleasure of working with educators (my students) from various fields of study as they move into librarianship. In other words, I’ve GLEANed a lot of perspective on how collections can be organized to yield optimum use by patrons of all ages.

I teach a cataloging course at the University of West Georgia that includes a pretty heavy dose of Dewey Classification and Sears Subject Headings content. Coverage of organization by genre is also discussed at length. The questions that arise as a result of examining this content are many. And the solution is heavily debated! Questions are:

  1. Pedagogy: Is it in the best interest of students to start them out in Kindergarten using a numbering system that makes no kind of sense to them? On the other hand, is it best to provide high school level researchers with broad topic terms that do not allow for drilling down to the specific resources they need for research? Is it better to provide a word-based system (by genre) for younger, more concrete learners, then move to a number-based hierarchical system (Dewey) for students who are much more abstract in their thinking and reasoning?
  2. Adaptability: If students learn to access information using a genrefied system, will they be able to easily transfer to a more sophisticated system, such as LOC, when they move on to higher ed? Likewise, as students expand their search for information to public libraries where Dewey is used, will they be able to understand the organization if they are accustomed to a tagging or genrefied collection?
  3. Uniformity: As more collections are being transformed into access by genre for non-fiction, who determines the topics and subtopics used for the collection? Upon examining the literature, there are a myriad of ways that library media specialists have developed tags for their materials. Some have used BISAC industry standards, some have developed their own system based on their curriculum, still others have “borrowed” topic headings from neighboring school districts. Authority control is lost among various types of libraries.

It would be most interesting to see what the views are from other library professionals, both public and academic. As school library media centers continue to debate the Dewey issue, serious consideration of these questions should occur, both philosophically and literally. Have to admit, I am a Dewey fan for non-fiction, but the argument from the “genre-gurus” does have some strong points!