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Dewey Decimal System gets check

Gwen Titley | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Ann Reitz, a volunteer at the Brentwood Library, reshelves books on August 7, 2012. The library has been moving away from the Dewey Decimal System for its special collections to one that people are more likely to see in a bookstore.

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By Adam Wagner
Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
 

The Dewey Decimal System has been around for more than a century, but now some libraries are beginning to switch to less traditional formats to organize their collections.

“I don't think any of us have ever gone into a bookstore and browsed and said, ‘Darn, I wish they had the Dewey Decimal System here,' ” said Dennis Luther, director of the Brentwood Library. “It always seems comfortable to walk around a bookstore.”

To reach that comfort level, Brentwood a year ago began displaying some special collections, on basic living, gardening, small business and weddings, as a bookstore would.

“We think it's a better system for the customers and easier to browse, specifically for a medium-size library,” Luther said.

Luther uses an organizational system called Book Industry Standards and Communications, or BISAC, as a guide when he decides to highlight a collection. BISAC, by the Book Industry Study Group, organizes material based on topical content.

Carnegie Library in Oakland in 2004 created a similar system on its first floor, where material is presented to resemble a bookstore more than a traditional library.

Some strategies the library uses include facing the covers of books outward to catch browsers' eyes and creating seating areas near books.

Brentwood and Carnegie still organize their main stacks under the Dewey Decimal System, which uses a standard set of numbers and letters to organize shelves.

“Besides people who work at a library, not a lot of people understand (the Dewey) system,” said Dustin Shilling, director of Northern Tier Regional Library.

Some branches of the Carnegie Library could adopt BISAC permanently by next year, said Sheila Jackson, assistant director of main library services.

“It would work best with smaller collections,” Jackson said. “When you have a lot of materials, you need to find those things. That's what distinguishes a library: Being able to identify and find something.”

Green Tree Library, with about 32,000 books, organizes its children's collection by popular characters such as Dora the Explorer and Thomas the Tank Engine and by authors such as Dr. Seuss.

“Kids have a unique experience. They're looking for their favorites; they're not browsing for something new,” said Shannon McNeill, a librarian at Green Tree.

McNeill said circulation has increased by an average of 1,517 items a month over 2011 since January, when Green Tree began organizing its children's collection by subject. Much of that usage occurred in the children's collection.

Part of the reason for switching to BISAC is to let patrons find materials without assistance, Luther said.

“People are used to finding info a lot faster and on their own. When they walk in, they don't necessarily want to browse up and down an aisle of books and figure out what numbers mean,” Luther said. “They just want to be able to go right to what they're looking for.”

Adam Wagner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7956 or adamwagner@tribweb.com.

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