College & Research Libraries News

Why we arrange books as we do

By Constance A. Mellon East Carolina University

“Why must we do these things just so?” Young catalogers want to know.

“There are good reasons,” I reply.

“So listen, and I’ll tell you why.”

Old Melvil Dewey, clever lad,

Once said, “The state of things is bad.

There is no order to the way

That books are shelved. I’ll start today.”

And after days of thought and toil,

And nights of burning midnight oil,

He cried, “Oh yes! I’ve got it now!

It’s easy. Let me show you how.

You take nine hundred ninety-nine,

Then break it down. This plan of mine

Will revolutionize our work.”

Then Melvil, never one to shirk,

Created, in a careful frame,

The system that still bears his name.

But LC kept collecting books.

They sat on shelves. They hung on hooks.

They covered tables, chairs, the floor— Arranging them was quite a bore.

So LC said, “I guess it’s true.

Nine hundred ninety-nine won’t do.

These categories cannot grow

As we expand the things we know.

Though once the decimal was fine,

The numbers can’t fit on the spine.

It’s all those numbers—that’s the worst.

So let’s use letters. They’ll come first.

We’ll use this way in every college To classify the world of knowledge.”

Said OCLC, “Hold the phone!

Why do we always work alone?

We work through winters, summers, springs, To catalog the same darn things.

And though we’re working day and night, Our backlogs still are out of sight.

If we could just communicate,

Then we could all stop working late.

And, since we have computers now,

Let’s work together. Here is how:

We’ll catalog from east to west,

From north to south. It’s really best

To let us guide you.” So they did.

We still are doing as they bid.

“And so you see, there is no mystery.

It’s simply cataloging history.”

Copyright © American Library Association

Article Views (Last 12 Months)

No data available

Contact ACRL for article usage statistics from 2010-April 2017.

Article Views (By Year/Month)

January: 1
February: 0
March: 0
April: 0
May: 3
June: 1
July: 2
August: 2
September: 1
January: 2
February: 3
March: 2
April: 1
May: 2
June: 1
July: 2
August: 0
September: 0
October: 1
November: 1
December: 0
January: 1
February: 3
March: 2
April: 0
May: 6
June: 2
July: 4
August: 1
September: 1
October: 1
November: 2
December: 3
January: 0
February: 0
March: 0
April: 0
May: 0
June: 0
July: 0
August: 7
September: 2
October: 3
November: 1
December: 3