Monday 24 June 2013


Every so often a question comes up on the school librarian network (SLN) about where to shelve a particular book within Dewey which usually ends up in a discussion about the merits, or otherwise, of various library classification systems. In my library, I use Dewey for my information books … okay, it’s a simplified version so that I rarely have more than one number after the decimal point and, in many cases, I’ve used the lowest common denominator for a section to make it even more abridged but it is still the basic Dewey system; ten sections categorised loosely by subjects. I also believe that you have to make it work for your own situation which sometimes means putting a book where it will be found rather than religiously adhering to the “correct” Dewey number; for example, does a book on Tudor theatres go into the history section on Tudors, with your Shakespeare resources or amongst the drama books?
I have to admit that I have very little recollection of ever using Dewey myself, either in my school or public library. I must have done but all I knew then was that if I looked up a book in the card index, it would tell me the number where I’d find that book on the shelves. I also knew that I’d find other similar, possibly useful, books near it. These days, give me a subject and I can tell you, if not the exact number, then roughly where you’ll find it. It’s not that I’ve learnt these numbers by heart, despite the belief of many of my students, but that working with them all day for several years has resulted in me absorbing them by osmosis.

Dewey isn’t complicated. It basically divides all information resources into ten areas according to the subject matter.  And, after I’ve introduced this concept to my year 7s, shown them the subject index and given them an exercise on finding books on specific subjects, very few of them have problems understanding how it works – I also think they rather like being able to come into the Library, use the subject index and find a relevant book without my intervention. This gives them confidence and empowers them as library users and, for those who will go on to FE or HE, skills to enable them to find information in much larger libraries.
But is Dewey the best classification system for school libraries? Would we serve our users better by adopting an alternative system? … and make no mistake, we have to have some sort of system otherwise no-one would be able to find anything (though it would make reshelving quite quick and easy)!

One alternative would be to shelve by curriculum subject (and many years ago I remember going into the children’s section at Guildford public library and discovering that this is exactly what they did, using coloured stickers). That’s fine for subjects that have very clear demarcations but what do you do regarding cross-curricular resources? Books on energy sources that are used by both Geography and Science and never Technology (even though that’s where you’d find them under Dewey). And what about books that don’t come under any curriculum area but are used by a certain department? I have a collection of books on pets that are well used during an English project yet they certainly aren’t anywhere near the Dewey sections for English resources.
A further arrangement that has been suggested is to shelve information books by year group according to the topic being studied during each term; so you’d have Roman books on the shelf labelled Year 7 History Autumn term and Pop Art on the Year 9 Art Spring term shelf.

I guess teachers would like this arrangement – it would be quick and easy for them to just pop into the Library and grab the pile of relevant books. It would also mean that if you had a specific class in for a research lesson then they wouldn’t have to waste time browsing the shelves looking for books but could all just go to the appropriate section. And those students who were lazy and couldn’t be bothered looking up the Dewey number would also be well served. You’d not have to bother making up resource boxes and your issue statistics might also go up. But is this the sole reason we have information resources? I know one of our functions is to support the curriculum but we also exist for a lot of other reasons. And we all know that issue statistics do not reflect book use. In fact, it would be quite easy to increase our stats artificially … not that I’m saying we should spend a couple of hours each week issuing and returning books to random students, but you get my point?
By arranging our resources in this way, are we actually doing the students any favours? Or are we just adding to the “spoon feeding” culture in education that focuses on targets and results, and not equipping students with the research skills needed to function effectively in society?  Arranging resources in this way may have some advantages but I think the disadvantages outweigh these: what of those year 9 boys who are fascinated or obsessed by a topic that happens to be part of the year 7 curriculum, are they going to borrow books from a shelf labelled for younger students? And what about cross-curricular subjects, something I’ve already talked about. Not to mention all those resources that link with personal interests and hobbies that aren’t covered by the curriculum … the list is endless … cars, aliens, dragons, zombies, extreme sports, horse riding, ice hockey, wrestling …
Libraries should be for discovery. For wandering around and browsing and finding something intriguing, strange, unusual, something that you probably wouldn’t find if you just went to the “curriculum section” for your year group. When I do my Dewey exercise with year 7s, I have them roving around all over the place and it’s surprising how many “find” books that they then borrow … books on things that they’re already into but that they “never realised I had these in the Library” or books on something that “just looked interesting so I’m going to borrow it.” This is how we nurture children’s imaginations, dreams, aspirations … by letting them discover for themselves.

The world is full of systems; if I want to buy macaroni then I know I have to go to the pasta section of my local supermarket. Which isn’t much different from knowing that if I want a book on castles then I have to go to the section on buildings and architecture …



Saturday 15 June 2013


I was originally planning to write about library related things in my next blog but a lot of my time the past couple of weeks has been spent talking to people about the CILIP rebranding so I thought I may as well continue with that …

Those of you who have been following developments will know that the date of the meeting has been changed; this is so that, according to the constitution, members are contacted by post 21 days in advance – you should have received the letters by now! And I do sympathise with those having to sort all this out, I’ve had constitutional dealings within both my SLA branch and SLG London & SE group, and it can be a nightmare to interpret!

I’ve been meeting members recently at various workshops and events, and it’s interesting to get their perceptions on all this. One thing that comes across is that people thought the original survey was actually a ballot and that the new name would be taken from the presented list. I hope by now people realise that this is not the case … and that you’ve completed the second survey where it asked for three suggestions; it will be interesting to see what the results of this are.

The vote on Monday 8 July is simply a choice between halting the rebranding or carrying on with it. That’s it! It will not be a vote on a possible new name; that vote will be taken later after further discussion and consultation.

I do think that calling this a “rebrand” is slightly misleading though. When companies rebrand, they streamline their organisational structure, look at their market placement and assess future opportunities, creating a vision that is fit for purpose; and then they “rename” … usually with a media launch to promote and advocate the new image.

As CILIP have already done most of this, they have, effectively, more or less completed the rebranding so it is just the “renaming” left to discuss. A vote to stop this will not result in CILIP reverting back to the organisation it used to be. All it will mean is that we will have a forward-looking organisation that has worked hard to reflect the needs of its members in the 21st century, that has instigated a change programme to ensure the organisation is inclusive to the wider membership and all areas of the profession but that will have the public and media perceptions of the old name. Something that will be very difficult to advocate and promote because people will immediately associate “CILIP” with whatever views they already hold about it.

Stopping the rebranding process will effectively be stopping members’ right to vote on whether they want a new name or to stay with CILIP. This is a decision that should not be made by a few but by all members, and halting the rebranding now would deprive members of making that choice.

So … if you can’t make the meeting then please use your vote. You can ask anyone attending the meeting to vote on your behalf or the Chair, and you can tell them how you want to vote or leave it up to them. The online form is here and takes little time to complete:

I can’t make the new date as I’m accompanying a group of students to a Wolf Sanctuary as part of our activities week; I’m giving my vote to Phil Bradley.