Andrews library staff does away with iconic classification system

Andrews-Dallas Township Public Library Director Nancy Disbro explains the new WordWise classification system the library has adopted in order to make searching for non-fiction books and materials easier. The library is replacing the old Dewey decimal numbered system with a word-based system.
Andrews-Dallas Township Public Library Director Nancy Disbro explains the new WordWise classification system the library has adopted in order to make searching for non-fiction books and materials easier. The library is replacing the old Dewey decimal numbered system with a word-based system. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Sept. 12, 2016.

The staff at Andrews-Dallas Township Public Library has done away with an iconic 140-year-old system and replaced it with a classification system that they say will result in easier searches of its non-fiction books and materials.

The Dewey decimal classification system – developed in 1876 by Melville Dewey, a contributor and supporter of libraries – determined how books were shelved based on a numerical system.

Dewey’s system standardized how both fiction and non-fiction book categories were shelved in libraries throughout the nation.  

But ADTPL Library Director Nancy Disbro says the new system, called WordWise, classifies books according to category names and is gaining popularity as more libraries let go of the outdated “sacred cow” number system. Disbro says the goal of the new word-based system is user friendliness.

“I think it’s more the way people want to find things, because it’s more in line with what we do when we’re searching,” Disbro adds.

“We’re so used to doing Google key word searches, and we’re having so much key word searching online, and that’s the concept behind this.”

Disbro explains that WordWise was developed first by the Wells County Public Library, which changed to the new system earlier this summer.

“When they developed that, they looked at other models from other libraries in the country,” she says. “And then they have made it available to other libraries.”

Disbro learned about the migration toward a word-based system at a library conference she attended. She brought the idea back to the library board, which quickly gave her the go-ahead.

Assistant Librarian Dee Kochensparger spent most of the spring and summer getting down to the nitty-gritty of the project, refining the WordWise system to customize it to Andrews library. She often put on her detective hat to figure out the category in which to place the book.
 
Kochensparger re-labeled the spines of around 2,500 books in the adult non-fiction collection and moved each book to its new location, finally finishing up on Sept. 1. Her next task will be to re-categorize ADTPL’s children’s section.

“I thought it would be a lot easier for people to find what they’re looking for, instead of trying to look up a number,” Kochensparger says.

“The idea is that we want people to be able to find what they’re looking for, and a lot of people don’t always like to ask for help,” Disbro adds. “They want to be able to browse.”

Categories are located alphabetically. Signs will soon be placed on top of the bookcases to help patrons easily find the sections they are looking for.

About 40 basic categories include Animals, Biography, Computers, Cooking, Education, Farm, Health, Parenting, Religion, Self-Help, Study Aids, Technology and Travel. There are also subcategories under each division.

“We sort of added a few subcategories that the Wells County system didn’t have,” Disbro says. “We just found, in our collection, we have a lot of parenting books that have specific activities for kids, so we have parenting activities; we have parenting character development; parenting teen; so we have some different subcategories.”

For instance, if a patron wanted to check out a book about Greece, they might check the history section as well as the travel section, depending on the purpose of their search.

“Sometimes a book could go in two different categories, and then we’d have to say, ‘Are people going to look more for it in this category when they come and ask for that, or in this (other) category?’ Kochensparger says.

The WordWise system does not impact the library’s fiction section; exempt from the Dewey system, fiction books are shelved according to the author’s last name and that will not change, Disbro says.

The change to WordWise has been well received by ADTPL’s patrons. Disbro says even though the system is no longer standardized for each library, it still allows for easier browsing. She says patrons may even discover some books they didn’t know they were looking for.

“I think with the key word ‘categories,’ they’re more likely to see that, and stumble upon something,” she says. “We think, with having those words around, that they’re more likely to notice something that they’re interested in.”

The children’s non-fiction books are expected to be changed over to the new WordWise  system in a few weeks.