Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Cultural differences

I know a lot of librarians read this blog, but bear with me a few moments...

Imagine you're a customer. Yes, "customer", not "borrower" as they are small people who live behind the skirting boards. Not "user" - libraries are not heroin, nor even opiates for the masses. Not even "reader", as we all offer much more than that - don't we?

Anyway, for the sake of argument, you're a customer and you're looking for Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking.

You walk into a bookshop - you look around at the headings on the bookshelves - you notice that there is an area headed "cookery" or "food and drink", you think - ah, yes, that sounds right. On closer inspection, you notice that every couple of shelves is a smaller sign "barbecues", "soups", "A-z by country" Ah-ha!!!! a,b,c,d,e,f - French cookery.

You take the initiative - you read the titles and author's names on the spines of the books - OK sorry, getting a bit controversial there. But hey - you did it!

Now the alternative scenario - you walk into a traditional library. There are no signs above the shelves. On the end of each run of shelving, you notice an array of numbers (340-385, 610-649 etc.) You walk further and may notice a decrepid poster filled with a list of these numbers and what they mean, written in arcane language. (If you're a kid, your poster may have a jungle theme but the language will be the same).

OK - you say - I get it, there's some sort of coded system in play here! But, I'm an intelligent human so I can work it out. Right, let's see:

000 - computers, information and general works (nope)
100 - philosophy and psychology (nope)
200 - religion (well Delia's a bit fanatical about eggs but...nope)
300 - social sciences (don't think so)
400 - language (non!)
500 - science (erm, no)
600 - technology (nope)
700 - arts and recreation (ah-ha! The culinary arts! Recreational activity - sounds good, just finish checking)
800 - Literature (nah!)
900 - History and geography (no - hee-hee! I've cracked it, now, off to find the 700 section!)

time passes.


Give up.

Go home or ask the code master.

Of course 641.5944!! "Utilising the sciences to harness the natural world and it's resources for the benefit of mankind" = Cookery! Silly me.

By the way - helpful tip, when you do get to it, if you do get to it, hope there's not too may books on French cookery, because chances are, you won't be able to identify the book you want behind all the spine labels.

There ends today's anti-Dewey rant.


Scott said...

I remember from my days in the Ref that we (started by Jan - possibly suggested by Caroline) tried to minimise some of this by for example in the Art/Lit sections blening first part of Dewey with first part of surname , so Shakey plays would be at 812/SHA (obviously no idea if they still do this or not???).

The bookshop view of things is good, and if you have a small non-fiction collection probably ok, but the more items you have may make it harder to manage from a shelving and 'putting back in right place' point of view - Dewey etc makes this easier (unless of course one of these libraries that insist on puting full number like 214.6785566 or some such on a book spine - never been sure who that helps)

I guess what I am saying, is that I am a fan of Mr Dewey ... BUT ... I don't think libraries should be rigid in they way they display their books, and I don't think new ideas should be dismissed just because they don't conform to his or the LOC rules. As you rightly say the library should work primarily for the patron, not the librarian - a fact often overlooked by people not on the front line.

Paige Turner said...

Hello Scott,

thanks for your comments. At Swansea, in our newer libraries, we have a kind of halfway system, whereby areas of stock are grouped together (e.g homes and gardens; mind, body and spirit; social sciences). Dewey sequence applies within these areas but there is subject guiding rather than just Dewey numbers or no guiding.

Spine labels are kept to a minimum, unlike a Central library I was in lately in a large English city, where some fiction titles had up to 4 (count them!) spine labels - sometimes obscuring the whole author's name.

I couldn't face non-fiction, so I left.


Scott said...

Sounds like a good middle ground approach Paige.

Anonymous said...

A little puzzled by Scott's comment (31 Oct) on 'people not on the front line' - who can he mean?? Surely not managers, perish the thought! Most have spent years at the coal face and before the mast never mind the front line before reaching the giddy heights.

Sophie said...

641.5944 is the reason I missed lots of good reads when I was at uni :( catching up now gnar gnar gnar!!!