Monday, October 29, 2007

Hybrids and Bastard Formats

So what do librarians talk about when they get together?

Apparently, where to shelve graphic novels.*

Is it art or literature? Dewey says art. Most libraries disagree (if the librarians at the panel are a good indication, anyway).

I'm sure you are all appropriately fascinated to discover that Dewey says that The Amazing Spider-man is shelved under 741.5973: Arts and Recreation; Drawing and Decorative Arts; Drawing and Drawings; Cartoons, caricatures, comics, graphic novels, and fotonovelas; historical geographic, persons treatment; American author/artist/creator.

What I actually find interesting, but not surprising, is that the DDCS has an extreme bias towards the written word. Part of what causes a lot of the hand-wringing and confusion is that most works of sequential art are hybrids rather than one or the other. It isn't just art, but it isn't just text, either.

Part of the logic behind classifying graphic novels in the 700's is that other hybrid works are classified there as well, such as dramatic works. The problem is that technically, you are supposed to be able to classify all kinds of formats by the DDC, so making the distinction between how the information is presented on the pages, but not between actual formats - unless it's fiction! - seems pretty arbitrary. Why are movies classified as Arts and Recreation? Are recordings of theatre productions shelved in the same place? (And why the hell can't I find something to tell me how audio fiction books are supposed to be classified? Are they Arts and Recreation or Literature?)

I suspect that issues like this are going to become more frequent and that Dewey will either fade into non-use by the general public or will have to completely revamp how they classify all kinds of non-text works.

*This particular "workshop" covered more than this, but a lot of the time was spent on the DDC for graphic novels.


Lyle said...

I'm having flashbacks to my favorite moment from Party Girl:

Librarian 1: I hear they're splitting up 634.72

Librarian 2: It's about time they did that.

(Which isn't, BTW, snark on library talk, I laugh because I've almost had that conversation in the past... except I've avoided ever learning what the 600s consist of... aside from the majority of nonfiction books people are interested in reading.)

Mickle said...


Well, I know it has cookbooks in it...

Part of why I find discussions like this really interesting and really dumb at the same time is because, since I don't have my MLIS yet, I haven't been trained in any of this. I also haven't had to memorize Dewey yet; I find stuff the way I always did when I was looking for myself, I get the number for a specific book and go there. Add to that the fact that my background is from a bookstore and well...

I can see the usefulness of Dewey, but I don't revere it the way some librarians do. And It feels very inflexible to me - because it is. More importantly - as someone else pointed out on one of the discussions I found on Dewey-less libraries -
the DDCS was created back in a time when librarians acted as fetchers for patrons. People now want to browse, and Dewey isn't really set of for browsing.

I don't think being exactly like bookstores is the answer either, because, seriously, talk about inventory nightmares. Something that combines the two would be best, especially if it finds a way to make it easier to revise Dewey.

Lyle said...

Interesting, in a lot of ways I find Dewey easy to understand... I started working at a library shelving the 800's which is very easy to memorize since it's so consistent.

On the other hand, I did mention the 600s and "Applied Sciences" pretty much means anything instructional, including psychology books. It's probably no less confusing than the 700's (which I can browse pretty easily) but that's because I spent months shelving that section and can still remember that the interesting stuff is in the 740s and 790s. (I've forgotten where the artist bios are, tho.. 760s?)

At the least, I like the theory of Dewey, though it does need some flexibility if only to allow for how a library's inventory changes with time.

What non-Dewey systems are there besides Library of Congress? I definitely don't like LoC, spending a lot of time at my college library I had no idea of where to find anything, except by physical location.

Mickle said...

Dewey is easy to understand when it comes to shelving and locating specific books, but it doesn't always work well for browsing. It's just not natural to think of "921" as meaning "biography" - it's much easier for them to be labeled "biography." It gets even harder when it comes to "cookbooks" or "italian cookbooks" because the numbers start to get a lot longer.

The only other system that I know of is the system most major bookstores use - which has a name but I don't remember what it is. The idea is that everything has a major heading and a sub-heading. For example "Cookbooks, general" or "cookbooks, italian" and within that, everything is alphabetized by author. (With a few exceptions, except in kids, where we have all kinds of exceptions.) Which has it's own advantages and disadvantages. It works best if you can keep the sub groups between about 25 to 500 (? - about half a bay) titles - the exception to this being fiction, which can go on forever. Anything less and it's not worth the effort, anything more and stuff doesn't ever stay in order. In this sense Dewey does have some flexibility though, you can always just keep creating subcategories by adding more decimals. This is the system Dewey-less libraries are using, and they are all small libraries from what I understand.

The problem is, non-fiction books are really hard to keep in order: you have to keep on top of it, bookstores don't get to label their books, authors aren't always clear, etc. So it's not always true that it's easier to browse bookstores. The medical section especially is always a mess because - unlike cookbooks - you can't always tell if something is nursing, pharmacy, clinical, etc. just by looking at it. So we booksellers tend to trash the section as much as customers do.

There are some suggestions that libraries adopt bookstore style signage, but still use Dewey for classification. I think that is the best solution, so long as you don't insist on keeping everything in perfect Dewey order - it's really useful to pull out the parenting and child-care books and out them near the children's section, for example.

I think, in the end, the best solution is to come up with a Dewey-like system that

1) lumps art. literature, etc. all together under "communication/media" (understanding that actual libraries will often pull out and divide such sections by medium)

2) allows for easy classification by genre within "communications/media" (which is already mostly true, but isn't widely practiced outside of fiction prose)

3) gives guidelines for signage for popular categories to facilitate browsing

4) is easier to revise. I think part of the trick with that is to think of the new dewey as more like a digital filing system than a physical filing system. Simply allowing for the adding of more decimals will break up the numbers and make them easier to memorize, understand and revise without having to completely reclassify things.

So, The Amazing Spiderman moves to the 800's and has a number that looks like: 8XX.XXX.XXX instead of 741.5973. Adding decimals will also help the numbers fit on spines (logical break) and therefore make shelving and locating easier as well.

I know I so need to find I way to go to the annual ALA conference and find a way to suggest this at a workshop and then get everyone wanting to hire me.

Mickle said...

gah! bad typos!

last sentence: "so now I need...."

And, thinking more about it, something like "media/fiction" would be more accurate than "communications/media". "Communication" would likely be confused with a lot of the stuff in the generalities.

Speaking of which, I find the fact that "computers" is in "generalities" to be very not logical and annoying. They totally just put it there bc Dewey saved some numbers there for new subjects. It belongs with applied science/technology. And if we could make easy to follow subcategories to our hearts delight, it would already be there.

Lyle said...

Thanks for explaining all that.

Overall, I think what I like about DDS is its category:subcategory nature (and ability to be split into further subcategories neatly) so adding ono-DDS labels might work there. To some degree, I find that nature gives it a bit of brows-ability, since related items end up together (which wasn't my impression of LoC) and if you keep walking down the aisle you're likely to go from a book that's close but not what you're looking for to the book you're looking for.

(Then again the catchall nature of the 600s make it not very browsable since you go from a book on repairing your Chrystler to The Joy of Baking.... and then, IIRC, to the Dr Phil books and copies of SYBILL)

I think one thing out there to consider, too, is that some libraries will take a subject out of the DDS. Both of the libraries I worked in had a separate biography section, partly because the section was large enough that it made browsing the 900s inconvenient but it also let them move the subject to a more-high traffic area of the building.

One thing I realize is that Spider-Man might be a hard title to classify, since at the time of DDS there wasn't a lot of corporate-owned fiction. The 800s are broken down by geography (which carries a Western bias to it since Asian, African and Eastern European countries get put together) which would bring up the question of what a Spider-Man comic written by Mark Millar and drawn by Ale Garza would fall under.

Then again, the 800s would probably be better off if "flipped" so that the first sub-category were medium, with each divided by geography.

bellatrys said...

wait, aren't plays in the 800s under lit? Or have those sectors of the old brain gone corrupt?

(FWIW, here is no Platonic Ideal of categorization, btw, no One True & Right Way that will solve all the dilemmas. LoC has its own muddles, imo, and I haven't been able to come up with a solution to the problem of "q" either...)

Mickle said...

You are correct! Which is still stupid, imo. I suppose it's at least consistent.

I suppose it would help if bothered to learn Dewey. Which isn't going to happen until I take a class on it, because I suck at memorization.