How one library pioneer profoundly influenced modern librarianship
Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey was born on 10 December 1851. Keenly interested in simplified spelling, he shortened his first name to Melvil as a young adult, dropped his middle names and, for a short time, even spelled his last name as Dui.
Dewey invented the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system when he was 21 and working as a student assistant in the library of Amherst College, drawing from Sir Francis Bacon’s classification of knowledge as well as library classification systems designed by William Torrey Harris and Natale Battezzati. Dewey’s promotion of his classification and emphasis on centralization of cataloging efforts set in motion a new era of “library economy”.
Dewey’s role in American librarianship is impossible to ignore. Dewey helped establish the American Library Association (ALA) in 1876; he also co-founded and edited Library Journal. Dewey became the librarian of Columbia College (now Columbia University) in New York City in 1883 and founded the world's first library school there in 1887.
Melvil Dewey died after suffering a stroke on 26 December 1931, at age 80. His legacy is complex, but nearly ninety years after his death, he is best known for creating the most widely used library classification scheme in the world, the Dewey Decimal Classification.
Want to learn more about Melvil Dewey?
Read a biography authored by noted historian and library educator, Wayne A. Wiegand. Wiegand's book, Irrepressible Reformer, explains the early development of the DDC, the origins of the American Library Association and other endeavors undertaken by the often controversial Melvil Dewey.
The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system is the world’s most widely used way to organize library collections. The DDC constantly updates to enable better discovery across any topic in multiple languages. Because the DDC is easy to use, you can increase the visibility of your materials quickly and efficiently.
Past and recorded events
11 February 2020
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