He attended and worked at Amherst College, where he was
dismayed at the way books were arranged. At the time,
Amherst had 30,000 books, and users had to look in many
places to find books on the same subject.
The problems at Amherst were typical of the era.
Before Dewey, some libraries organized books by color, size or the order they were received, while others organized the books broadly by general subject.
For example, Thomas Jefferson’s system, used by the Library of Congress and many other libraries, was based on Bacon’s system, which organized all knowledge into just three large divisions: history, poetry, and philosophy.
Dewey saw the need to create a detailed standard
He created the Dewy Decimal Classification
system at Amherst between 1874 and 1877.
Dewey went on to become librarian of Columbia College, and founded the Columbia School of Library Economy, the first institution for the instruction of librarians ever organized.
From 1888 to 1906 he was director of the New York State Library which he made one of the most efficient in America.
In 1890 he helped to found the first state library association - the New York Library Association (NYLA) - and he was its first president, from 1890-1892.
How the Dewey Decimal System Works
The Dewey Decimal System• Is a hierarchical
system in which the arrangement of books on the shelves moves from the general to the specific
Dewey was man of his time. Based on the limited information he was exposed to he could only build upon what he had access to. The latest in medical standards and technology wasn’t an issue because it did not exist …yet.
He was also particular about what he considered to be ‘worthy knowledge’ in a library.
Interesting Facts about the DDC
“Dewey's contribution to classification was joining together the strong points of systems developed by others, not creating anything new.”
Interesting Facts Continued• 1873 Dewey discussed the matter with Charles A.
Cutter, director of the Boston Athenaeum. Cutter had developed a classification scheme that Dewey liked.
• A few weeks later, Dewey "blundered on" a pamphlet printed in 1856 by Nathaniel Shurtleff that suggested a decimal arrangement for libraries. But he disliked Shurtleff's approach, which he felt was inefficient.
• Another influence was William F. Poole of the Cincinnati Library, who dared to suggest that fiction was important and needed to be arranged for use.
• Dewey found all these systems had strengths and weaknesses.
• Dewey's innovation was to combine a numbering system (like at the British Museum) with classification by topic. The numbers didn't indicate a shelf but rather a field of knowledge.
Interesting Fact number 2
• DDC has been translated into more than 30 languages.