Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Has Dewey Metis Match?

SLJ1210w FT Dewey Are Dewey’s Days Numbered?: Libraries Nationwide Are Ditching the Old Classification System

image credit: School Library Journal

Recently I received a shock: the Dewey Decimal system might be at death’s door.  Yes, sit down.  I can see the news has hit you just as hard.  My first thought is, “What’s next? Abandoning order in the grocery store? Arranging by content or by color?” Metis is menacing the time-honored and respected DDC system. Then I thought I should be more  opened-minded. Maybe there is a sound reason why Dewey might possibly be ringing the death knell chimes.

After reading the SLJ on-line article my open-mindedness gave way to absolute rejection of the new kid on the block: Metis. The Dewey Decimal Classification system was thoughtfully developed to create order out of chaos.  Before Dewey came along, libraries would willy-nilly shelve their books.  Some methods included alphabetizing, shelf placement, and random subject designation. Then along came Mel.

Melvil Dewey, the designer of DDC, was an amazing guy.  I could write an entire blog post about him, and if you are interested in finding out more about you should link over to this article  to become enlightened to how dedicated he was to libraries.  He even risked his life saving books from a library that was on fire.  That’s my kind of Book Booster.

The SLJ article focused on a real-life library that has changed over to what they call Metis, who was the Greek goddess Athena’s mama. Metis supposedly reigned in the clever department, and the Metis system relies on clever deductive association when searching for a book. The librarians in the Metis library believe the system is much better for kids since it encourages them to associate ideas into reality.  For instance, Johnny the second grader, comes bouncing in and says, “I want to read a mystery story because Dad and I watch Sherlock Holmes and I want to be a detective, too.”  Betsy, our intrepid librarian points to the shiny sign that says, “Scary, ” and says, “That’s where you’ll find it, sweetie.”  Yup, mysteries are scary because they are associated with the unknown, and the unknown is associated with being nervous, and nervous is associated with frightened, and frightened makes leads to thinking of ghosts which are as you know, scary.  This If You Give a Mouse a Cookie logic is not working for me.  A mystery to me is how anyone could think this Metis system is going to fly.  Dewey’s been doing fine all these years.  Why the sudden backlash against shelve and order?

If you aren’t familiar with Dewey, here is a crash course.  It’s divided up into categories and those categories can have subcategories.  It’s quite neat and tidy.  Take a look:


000 General Works (Miscellaneous)

100 Philosophy

200 Religion

300 Social Sciences

400 Languages

500 Pure Sciences

600 Technology (Practical Arts) including medicine, engineering, business accounting, agriculture, salesmanship, etc.

700 Fine Arts (including architecture, painting, photography, music, amusements, etc.)

800 Literature

900 History, Geography, Biography

What is there not to like about this system?  One reason, declares the article, for the reconsideration is because kids don’t even learn their decimals until fourth grade.  Umm, excuse me.  Dewey’s decimals are filing markers and not mathematical.  This associative logic and deductive reasoning could explain why Metis is so appealing to these particular librarians. And what will these students do when they go to their public library and it’s still the DDC?

I’m thinking as I read the article, “One giant leap backward for mankind.” Dewey put order into the system.  Order is a good thing.  Metis is kind of subjective touchy feely nonsense organization that could create unilateral universal chaos.  One person’s science could be another person’s science fiction.

Now, I ask you, are we dumbing down our society even more by taking away Dewey’s decimals and putting up shiny poster board subject signage?  If you want to read up on Dewey, you can find him in the 921 section of your friendly neighborhood library–any library that speaks Dewey.  Or you could get Metisphysical and look for the sign that spouts “People Who Once Were Alive And Are Now Dead.”


English: From left to right: R. R. Bowker, Mrs...

English: From left to right: R. R. Bowker, Mrs. Dewey and Melvil Dewey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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14 thoughts on “Has Dewey Metis Match?

  1. Think I’d rather retain Dewey. He’s been working for me all these years and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  2. Nope, I agree. Why change everything now? Great post, Cricket Muse.

  3. Dewey. Dewey. He’s our man. Put that Metis in the can. Rah Rah Rah

    Let’s hear it for Dewey!

  4. if we just put up pretty signs maybe we can get rid of all the costly librarians too, i mean what good are they? crazy talk.

  5. Sadly, just another step in dumbing down. Also to consider–there are often different associations of a book’s genre as far as where to shelve, depending
    on how “out of the box” you may think. I can just imagine all of the running
    around looking for a book which could be shelved in one of several places.
    And who decides? Why don’t we also change the ruler and the metric system,
    as it may be…um…difficult for some?

  6. rural libraian on said:

    I’m confused! Looked everywhere on the Web to find how this “Metis” system works. What do the spine labels read, how are the cataloged into the system, etc.
    All I find is Metis library shelves. Where do you even get info to see if you want to consider switching.
    Rural Librarian

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