Benbrook Library / Useful Information

Hi, My Name is Melvil Dewey


Earlier this week, I was helping a patron and her daughter find some books, an everyday occurrence here in library land. During the process, she pulled a book from the shelf and later wanted to put it back. Clearly a little unsure of where to put it, she said, “I think it goes here,” and placed it in a gap* between two other books. She asked me to confirm that she had returned the book to its proper place, so I checked the call number and moved it over a couple of spots to its rightful home (thankfully, it was not too good for its home), thereby restoring order to the kingdom. “How do you know where to put it?” she asked. I should point out that we were in the non-fiction section, where the befuddling, intimidating, and seemingly arbitrary rules of crazy ol’ Melvil Dewey rule the land. I gave a brief answer about the Dewey Decimal System, and the interaction was over.

This incident got me thinking about the Dewey Decimal System and how it is seldom understood and even more rarely mastered. While this system does not comprise the entirety of my professional life, as one of my dearest friends who enjoys asking me if I “had fun with Dewey Decimal today” likes to believe, it does play a sizable factor in my dealings here, and I don’t even fully understand it. However, getting a grasp on the major classification areas isn’t too difficult, assuming you can get past the initial confusion of that random-looking soup of numbers, dots, and letters. If only there was a fun way to learn this stuff.

I took to the Internet in search of a fun way, or at the very least, an easy way, for newbies to learn Dewey. As it tends to do, the Internet provided something better and more glorious than I could have imagined (actually, I could have imagined this. I don’t , however, think I could have executed it, and that’s where the glory is). Check it out:

How have I not seen this before today? All my teachers failed me. While it doesn’t give you anywhere near an in-depth understanding of the system, this video is by far the most entertaining way that I’ve seen to learn basic Dewey. Bravo, “Melvil Dewey.” If you look under the video title, you’ll see that this guy has posted twenty other videos, all of which are related to books and libraries. I think it’s safe to say that he is much cooler than the real Melvil Dewey, a man who, while deserving of major credit for creating a groundbreaking classification system that is still used today, was by many accounts a pretty big jerk.

I hope you enjoy the video as much as I did. If nothing else, I’ve succeeded in getting that song stuck in your head for a few days, and I’ll take that as a victory. For those interested in understanding the Dewey Decimal System in more depth, click here. While the site is sorely lacking in the beats and rhymes department, it contains a wealth of information.

*Fun side story: At one of my past library jobs, we had to give a shelving test to new student employees. This involved pulling around twenty books from the shelves, having the employee re-shelve them, and checking for accuracy. Knowing that leaving gaps where the pulled books used to be would make the test too easy, my coworker who was in charge of the test would push the books on the shelves together to close the gaps. This action was hardly fiendish. However, he would also sometimes take things up a fiendish notch by creating gaps in random spots in the collection to see if careless shelvers would fall for the bait and incorrectly place books in the fake holes. You could call this cruel. We called it quality assurance.

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