The editors of the Dewey Decimal Classification system have always collaborated with librarians to ensure the classification is up to date. Today, we’re excited to share changes that are making the editorial work on Dewey more transparent, inclusive, and responsive to community needs—and we need your help!
The evolution of the Dewey Decimal Classification system
The Dewey system was designed primarily based on the collection at Amherst College. Its inventor, Melvil Dewey, despaired over the disordered way the books were organized. Amherst’s library collection was typical of many American colleges and universities of the time, heavily weighted towards what were considered the classics of Western tradition.
Since its first edition in 1876, Dewey has been revised innumerable times. Twenty-three printed editions have been published, the last in 2011, and today the system is updated multiple times a week via OCLC’s online platform WebDewey and annually via the Dewey Print-on-Demand option.
The Dewey editorial team works to keep the classification up to date, including research in any subject area you can imagine. We work at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where we consult frequently with the classifiers who assign Dewey numbers to new publications so they can keep us informed about new publication trends (for example, gluten-free cooking [641.5639311] or self-driving cars [629.222]).
Recent updates are far more inclusive than the system’s original focus on productivity and efficiency. New provisions for works include those focusing on gender identity and sexual orientation as well as providing new options for classifying works about Indigenous peoples.
Inviting diverse perspectives into revising the DDC
The Dewey Decimal Classification system is now the world’s most widely used library classification system. Like any classification, Dewey is a system of categorizing ideas, and what is recognized as a concept that is worthy of being enumerated constantly evolves. As a reflection of what is being published and collected by libraries, the DDC reflects changing cultural norms.
Today, the editors work to adapt Dewey to demonstrate librarians’ deeply held values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. We can work together to mitigate bias, both by being cognizant of any system’s origins and by making changes to the system.
The DDC needs you!
Addressing bias in Dewey also includes making the process of revising Dewey more transparent. And it means getting more people involved to include more diverse viewpoints. While previously, only discussion papers were shared with Dewey users, as of February 2019 we’ve made all our research public and we now invite comments on proposals for changing Dewey before they’re implemented. We’re also inviting subject specialists and librarians around the world to help us by contributing proposals to revise Dewey.
If you have ideas about how to improve the DDC, we want to hear from you. We know that you—library workers around the world—are the ones with the best insights into how to represent the communities and disciplines you serve. So please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any thoughts you have on ways to improve and broaden this important shared resource. As we often work through these issues publicly on the Dewey Blog, you can keep an eye out there, too.
Our hope is that these steps towards a more engaged community ensure that we’re increasingly responsive to new trends and that we’re providing a more global and inclusive perspective within the DDC.