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A time for change: Dewey decimal, a system in transition

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Public libraries have long utilized the Dewey Decimal classification system which uses 10 broad categories and breaks them down into subtopics.

Many have grown up learning Dewey Decimal in schools and later seeing it in public libraries all around the country and world. I remember as a kid using the card catalog and then meandering through the stacks trying to find that number I scribbled down on a scrap of paper.

But I certainly didn’t understand it! What do those numbers mean anyway? For more than 100 years since the Dewey Decimal system was created by Melvil Dewey, librarians have used this system to organize their collections. But has anyone asked the people what they prefer?

Over the years, libraries have heard confusion from patrons trying to understand the Dewey Decimal system. Some of the main questions are: "What do the numbers mean? How are we supposed to remember exactly what is what?" Not to mention, "Sometimes it does not make sense." For example, do we really consider cooking to be in the technology section?

We get it; the system is not that easy to understand. So as time has gone on, you’ve spoken and libraries are starting to listen.

Recently there has been a trend within libraries to move away from Dewey Decimal. In 2007 Maricopa County, Arizona, incited a heated discussion in the library world about classification systems within public libraries. Maricopa County decided to scrap Dewey in favor of a system commonly known as the bookstore model. Since then, a handful of other libraries have followed suit, or have adopted similar-but-adapted versions of this.

Coming soon, the Rapid City Public Libraries will introduce a version of the bookstore model, which we are fondly calling Dewey-Lite. The libraries will feature two new sections in our collection, organized in word-based categories to help make browsing and finding nonfiction books easier than ever.

Beginning Dec. 29, we will have sections for Home and Travel. The Travel section will group together travel guides and language-learning materials. The Home section will bring together cookbooks and party-planning guides with room to expand to related topics such as gardening and crafting.

Still know and love the Dewey numbers? Don’t worry, they’re not going away. Within each section, the numeric organization will continue so you can easily locate materials and browse the shelves just like before. This adapted version uses the best of both worlds: the usability of word-based categorization, reorganizing the collection as users would expect items to be grouped, while keeping the detailed organization which Dewey provides.

For years, libraries have made everyone adapt to their language, but it no longer has to be this way. Welcome to the 21st century, library; welcome to Dewey-Lite.

If you have any questions on the collections, Dewey-Lite, or even have suggestions for additional expansions to the new model, call us at 605-394-6139 or contact us at

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