In case you hadn't heard, there's a library in Arizona that has gotten rid of its Dewey classification system and put books on the shelves in the semi-random way that bookstores do. Doing so is a way to make it easy for people who don't know anything about libraries and who don't care about finding any particular book to feel more comfortable when they enter a library. They'll feel more like they're entering a big box bookstore, and will thus be more likely to plunk down $7 at the coffee bar for a skim latte and an oversized cookie. Then they can randomly browse the shelves and not worry so much if they spill their coffee on that gardening book. Of course I don't worry about that in chain bookstores anyway. If I spill my latte on a book at one of those big chain stores I just put it back on the shelves and get another one. That's the reason I shop at the big chains instead of the local bookstores where I'd feel bad about doing that kind of thing. I'd still do it at the local stores, but I'd feel bad about it. Besides, the coffee at my local bookstore is terrible.
I guess people who might want to do some research and be able to find specific books relatively quickly are out of luck, but those people probably wouldn't bother with the local public entertainment center anyway. They'd head off to a college library, where presumably the librarians are still interested in bringing order out of chaos instead of making the chaos more comfy. Saving the time of the reader isn't very important when the readers don't know what they want anyway.
This has been in my queue to write about for a week or so after it appeared in the New York Times. The Times has such great stories about libraries these days. They're just obsessed with how hip and happening libraries and librarians are, and, as many hostile critics implied during my last foray into Times territory, there's no such thing as bad publicity, no matter how stupid it makes you look. I'm surprised some of these hip young librarians don't let the paparazzi photograph them as climb out of the bookmobile without underpants. As long as librarians aren't portrayed as helpful, overweight, middle-aged white women, everyone seems to think that's a good thing. If librarians will just wear hand-me-downs and quit being so anal about organizing things, the Times thinks they're the bee's knees.
And now I see the Wall Street Journal has an article on this Deweyless library as well. This is big news, apparently, though I'm not sure why anyone in New York would care what some libraries out in the middle of the desert are doing. I searched Google News for news in other big city papers, but didn't find any. Perhaps New York Public is considering getting rid of its classification scheme to be more like Barnes and Noble as well, but I guess the Boston Public isn't interested. Cleveland libraries are probably too busy disinfecting their keyboards after the onanists finish up with them to worry about their classification scheme.
Supposedly this is some big debate in library land. The WSJ article quotes a number of library bloggers who are semi-prominent but much less caustic than the AL, and they try to put forth the terms of the debate, if there is a debate. They seem to do a good job, so no criticisms of them this time, but I wonder if there really is much of a debate. I mean honestly, who of us really cares what some library system out in the desert is doing with their public libraries? So they get rid of Dewey. They could start shelving by accession number for all I care. It's a public branch library, after all, not a research or college library.
Public branch libraries don't exist to serve a clientèle of researchers; they exist to provide bestsellers and how-to books for the adults, kiddie books for the kids, and computer terminals for the onanists and the poor folks from the wrong side of the digital divide. How many books could this branch library have, anyway? It's not like the patrons are going to be heading into the stacks at the Library of Congress or the New York Public Library or the Harvard library and trying to find specific books under the topics of "weddings" or "computers" from the millions available. They don't have a research agenda. These are people who just want to browse around for some random books to kill some spare time and maybe to figure out why so many people are moving so quickly to the desert when there isn't any water there.
Most public libraries I've been in have already shelved their biographies alphabetically, so Elizabeth Taylor and Zachary Taylor sit next to each other on the shelves. If public librarians haven't been bothered by that sort of historical dissonance, why should getting rid of Dewey for the rest of the collection matter?