Library Stacks

Now that I’m retired, if you asked me what I wish I had been when I grew up, I would probably say a librarian. The thing is, I’m basing that on the fact that I like to read, and that libraries make me happy. I have loved libraries since I was a little girl.

I have a friend who actually is a librarian, or at least was, because now she, too, is retired. She told me once that when she was interviewing people for library jobs, she always asked them why they wanted to work in a library. If they answered because I like to read, she would immediately discount them as a viable candidate. Because if you think about it,  the reality is you are more likely to see them sitting at a computer doing research.

That, my friends, is why I would actually have SUCKED at being a librarian. I have little talent (or, frankly, affection) for research. I generally can’t even figure out what words to put in Google when I’m trying to figure out the answer to a question or problem.

Anyhoo, she and I had lunch recently, and we got to talking about libraries. Which then got us talking about the Dewey Decimal System.

“Kids don’t even know what that means,” I said to her. She quickly corrected me,  reminding me that the Dewey Decimal System is still alive and well and accessed frequently. If you go to a library and look for Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen cookbook which was published in 2001, you will still find it in the 641 area, at 641.5945. The difference is in the system by which you access that number. Baby Boomers recall going to a library — either a public library or your school library — and finding a wooden filing cabinet full of index cards arranged alphabetically. Those cards provided all of the information needed to locate the book, the information that we now access via the library’s computer system. Those paper cards have gone the way of our Rolodex wheel.

I have fond memories of those wooden file cabinets. It’s how I — and all Baby Boomers — researched our English or Social Studies term papers. Our research began, however, by stopping at Marion the Librarian’s desk so that she could suggest books and save you time.

What I learned from my librarian friend that I really DIDN’T know was that Melvil Dewey was not a very nice fellow. It’s true that he created the library classification system that saved all of our asses, but in his spare time, he was sexually harassing women long before Matt Lauer’s grandfather was born. Not only was he making young female librarians run for cover when he entered the door, but he also was racist and antisemetic to boot.

The American Library Association, whose members’ grandmothers were probably among those being chased around the book stacks by Dewey himself, voted this past June to remove his name from its highest honor, formerly known as the Melvil Dewey Medal. There was no debate, and the ayes won handily.

While there was no excuse for Mr. Dewey’s behavior, without the Dewey Decimal System, I bet it would be a free-for-all at Public Libraries world-wide.

5 thoughts on “Library Stacks

  1. Such a clever way to organise books although many books fit different categories it was a librarian’ nightmare working out what was the best category to shelve it under. Now you get the cataloguing directly from the Library of Congress so all libraries are the same.

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