Dewey places works pertaining to civil rights under a sociological rather than an historical perspective and further divides out the civil and political rights of all (323) and the civil and political rights of “non-dominant groups” (323.1). That, in a nutshell, is why your civil rights books are in 323.1. There is no option in Dewey to class “civil rights” in “history”. There certainly is a longer discussion taking place about how the Dewey system consistently shows its 19th century, WASP-y bones by “othering” events and peoples that are not white and male, but that wide-ranging and nuanced discourse is for another column. Instead what I want to get at here is: can you move your civil rights movement books to 973.9?
Now, if you took a cataloging class in library school you probably got the impression that you absolutely cannot argue with Dewey and that placement of these books is THE RULE. You probably didn’t hear too much about the local option caveat which basically means if you want to catalog it in your own library another way, you should go for it.
So, do you dare disturb the Dewey universe?
Sure. I don’t care.
But… then again, I do. I have an opinion and it is that you should stick to Dewey whenever possible. But— I reiterate— that’s an opinion, not some rule enforced by Big Dewey who’s going to mark it down on your permanent record somewhere that you transgressed and are officially a bad librarian. However, before you grab your blank spine labels to exercise the local option on your collections, I want to lay out the reasons why I advise sticking with assigned Dewey whenever possible:
- You may be bound by district / consortium agreement to accept assigned Dewey. Many districts and consortiums want to keep cataloging standardized across libraries to ease collection transfers, interlibrary loans, and patron use.
- It’s less work for you, and saves time and money. You do not have to go through a recataloging project. You have not condemned yourself (and your successors) to original cataloging of whole sections of your library. You can buy pre-cataloged books from your vendors. With most of us already overburdened, think about this very carefully. Ask yourself: “What else could I do with the time I’m going to spend doing all this cataloging?” If the answer is: “teaching, planning, collaborating, advising readers, living life outside of work, etc…,” then setting yourself up for an on-going battle with Dewey is probably not a hill you want to die on.
- Assigned Dewey is universal. If your goal is to teach your kids to be independent library users one of the ways to do that is teach them correct Dewey. Once they’ve got that under their belt, they can go into any Dewey-based school or public library and find what they want. If you make up your own scheme the only thing your kids are going to learn is your scheme.
Curriculum units are not shelving schemes. The desire to shelve together all books for a curriculum unit is a strong one. But that is shelving to purpose and not content. That might be fine if curriculum (the purpose) never changed, but curriculum changes constantly, the content of a book does not. Save yourself the trouble of cataloging and recataloging things to fit the curriculum. Not all your books are there for curriculum purposes anyway. Instead, use online catalog collections and resource lists to group together titles for specific areas of interest or study units. It’s quicker and easier to add or remove books to these lists than recataloging physical books and it doesn’t matter what your shelving scheme is. It’s easier than trying to come up with a shelving format that fits a constantly moving target.
Where do you draw the line? Building and changing cataloging schemes involves a lot of forethought, even if you think it’s in just one small subject area. When we say “civil rights” books we generally mean the social movement around the civil rights of African Americans headed by Dr. King, but there are plenty of other “non-dominant” groups that have their own roles in American history. Women, the LGBTQ+ community, Native Americans, Chicanos, Asian Americans, and others all had their own civil rights movements. Are you going to recatalog their books too? There are other social movements, sociological phenomena, and “histories” that land in the 300s, or end up split between 3XX and 97X: immigrants, education, military history, industrialization. Should you move those too? How big is your history section going to get if you move all those books? Are you going to have to start subdividing (adding decimal places) to 973 to shelve it more coherently? In Dewey, 973 decimal breakdown is by date. A book about the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th century will sit in a different place than a book about civil rights concerns since founding. You will need to think carefully about what gets moved and why, and what gets left behind.
So what do you tell your third graders when they ask why the civil rights books aren’t in the “history”? To be honest, I don’t know exactly. I’m not very adept at whittling complex issues down to age-appropriate answers. What I’m hoping is that I’ve given you enough of an explanation as to why it happens that you can come up with better answers (and some lively classroom and collegial discussions) than I can on the issue.
In the hope of continuing such discussion, please add your comments or questions about cataloging below. I would love to hear from you!