Why Did My Library Move My Stuff?

You might be passably familiar with the Dewey Decimal system, but the chances that your kids and grandkids know about the library materials classification system that’s been around since the late 1870s are getting slimmer by the year.

It’s a fact: bookstores and online searches (even grocery stores!) are organized by category, not a string of numbers. So in an effort to make finding what they need as simple as possible for patrons, a number of U.S. libraries — including Kent District Library — are aligning themselves with the “search by subject” method.

It’s called BISAC — book industry standards and communications — and by the end of the year all 18 KDL branches will be organized according to this system. As of August 1, eight branches have been completed.

What this means for you: instead of finding materials on, say, weddings, all over the branch — wedding cakes in 641.8653, flower arrangements in 745.926 and wedding planning in 395.2, just to name a few — anything that has to do with weddings will now be in the “Weddings” section. Simple.  

Here’s another example: During the school year, librarians everywhere are inundated with requests from students to help them find someone famous to write a report about. Until BISAC, however, biographies could be found in multiple areas: entertainment, sports, literature, politics and more. Now, biography is its own enormous section — making it easier not only to find an interesting subject, but, as browsing tends to encourage, possibly an unexpected one.

“Bottom line is it makes searching easier for patrons,” said Michelle Boisvenue-Fox, assistant director.


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Written by Morgan J.

Morgan J.

Morgan J. is a KDL communications assistant. She spends summers as a “hood ornament” of sorts while her husband captains their old, cedar-sided pontoon down the Flat River. In the wintertime she counts the days until she’ll have her toes in the water again.

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7 Responses to “Why Did My Library Move My Stuff?”

  1. Debbie Says:

    Is there a way patrons can discover where within the library to find these “Sections,” or do they have to ask?

  2. Morgan Jarema Says:

    Debbie – Good question! Just like at a bookstore or grocery store, book subjects are printed on large, overhead signage, so most people will be able to find what they need right away. But don’t ever hesitate to ask a library staffer for help — that’s why we’re here!

  3. Andy Says:

    This is fantastic.

  4. Shirley Culver Says:

    I’m new to Grand Rapids from Fairbanks, Alaska, and our Meyer stores have a section in the store which is all Health Foods, Vegan, Gluten Free, and etc, we don’t have to run all over town to be healthy….I very much miss that part of not being in Ak.

  5. John Says:

    Except you new system isn’t actually better, simpler, or even well organized…

    Bookstores at least keep like items together, you aren’t.

    Your new system has Bibles shelved by ‘title’ under RELIGION CHRISTIANITY, some end up under HOL for Holy, while the Zondervan NIV study Bible ends up under ZON, etc., etc. While a bookstore and Dewey would keep Bibles next to each other on the shelves you have them interfiled with everything else about RELIGION CHRISTIANITY. This ‘feature’ extends to other religion sections as well.

    Plays by Shakespeare and (non-biographical) works about Shakespeare’s works are separated into two areas (DRAMA and LITCRIT) where for some unfathomable reason “The Complete Works of Shakespeare the Alexander Text” is DRAMA SHAKESP, but “The Portable Shakespeare” is LITCRIT.

    Some materials are completely mis-classified… For example: Zen Habits by Leo Babauta is labeled “RELIGION BUDDHISM” when the book has NOTHING to do with Buddhism. It has a Dewey number of 646.7 (Management of personal and family life) and subject heading that correctly reflect the content, but it is supposedly a RELIGION book just been there is Zen in the title!?

    Is “The ode less travelled : unlocking the poet within” by Stephen Fry with other books containing or about poetry? No, it is in LNGSKLS WRITING where it would be shelved between LNGSKLS WRITING books on various different topics based solely on the name of the author.

    If you want foreign language materials that isn’t a major enough language to get a more specific label than LANGUAGE, everything is shelved by author, so the books just labeled “LANGUAGE” move back and forth between different languages, and different item types (e.g. grammars and dictionaries) on the shelf.

    You claim you want to be like bookstores because it will make things easier, but Barnes & Noble and Schuler Books have MUCH better organization of their books.

    And Biographies have ALWAYS been 921 under Dewey. I can find less than a handful of items in your catalog that have the new BIOGRAPHY label on them, but have something other than a 921 Dewey number. Your new enormous biography sections are your old enormous biography sections.

  6. Michelle Boisvenue-Fox Says:

    Hi John!

    Thanks for your comments. You have clearly been looking at this in great detail and I appreciate your questions and observations.

    This new arrangement will not satisfy every nuance to assigning books to categories just as the Dewey Decimal did not.

    You mention the Biography section which is a much larger one in the new arrangment because it is not the old 921 section. It now includes biographies from the Entertainment, Sports, Literature, Politics, and Health sections.

    We are happy to offer a one-stop shopping for all the Biographies in our collections to eliminate the need for people to have to visit different areas of the collection to find what they need.

    There are many benefits to shopping in a bookstore and we have found it interesting that our patrons who work in bookstores have commented favorably on this new system because we have taken the time to assign EVERY book to a category that is searchable in a computer catalog. That is a noted benefit that they see in this new arrangement.

    At the end of the day, we feel that offering an arrangement that does not depend on a numbered organization is more friendly to people who are not familiar with the Dewey Decimal system. Making our libraries easier to use by all people is important to us.

    Please let us know if there is anything else we can do to make this change easier for you.

    Kinds regards, Michelle

    Michelle Boisvenue-Fox
    Assistant Director, Kent District Library

  7. steph Says: