Dewey Decimal Classification
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The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), or Dewey Decimal System, is a proprietary library classification system first published by Melvil Dewey in 1876. It has been revised and expanded through 23 major editions, the latest issued in 2011. The classification was notable in its time because it introduced the concepts of relative location and relative index. It makes use of three-digit Arabic numerals for main classes, with decimals as expansions for more detail.
A library assigns a Dewey Decimal number that unambiguously locates a particular volume in a position relative to other books in the library. This makes it easy to find any particular book and return it to its proper place on the library shelves. The system is used in 200,000 libraries in at least 135 countries.
Early development (1873–1885)
Dewey developed the ideas for his library classification system in 1873 while working at Amherst College library. He applied the classification to the books in that library, until in 1876 he had a first version of the classification. In 1876 he published the classification in pamphlet form with the title A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library. He used the pamphlet, published in more than one version during the year, to solicit comments from other librarians. His classification system was mentioned in an article in the first issue of the Library Journal and in an article by Dewey in the Department of Education publication "Public Libraries in America" in 1876.
Dewey applied for and received copyright on the first edition in March 1876.
The second edition was published in 1885, with the title Decimal Classification and Relativ Index for arranging, cataloging, and indexing public and private libraries and for pamflets, clippings, notes, scrap books, index rerums, etc. (Note that the title makes use of Dewey's "reformed spelling" in some areas.) Editions 3-14, published between 1888 and 1942, used a variant of this same title.
Dewey modified and expanded his system considerably for the second edition. In an introduction to that edition Dewey states that "nearly 100 persons hav [sic] contributed criticisms and suggestions ..." The first edition was 44 pages in length, with 2,000 index entries, and was printed in 200 copies. The second was 314 pages, with 10,000 index entries; 500 copies were produced.
Period of adoption (1885–1942)
One of the innovations of the Dewey Decimal system was that of positioning books on the shelves in relation to other books on similar topics. At the time the system was introduced, most libraries in the US used fixed positioning: each book was assigned a permanent shelf position based on height and date of acquisition. Library stacks were generally closed to all but the most privileged patrons, so shelf browsing was not considered of importance. The use of the Dewey Decimal system increased as librarians were convinced of the advantages of relative positioning.
New editions were readied as supplies of previously published editions were exhausted, even though some editions provided little change from the previous, as they were primarily needed to fulfill demand. In the next decade, three editions followed closely on: the 3rd (1888), 4th (1891), and 5th (1894). Editions 6 through 11 were published from 1899 to 1922. The 6th edition was published in a record 7,600 copies, although subsequent editions were much lower. During this time, the size of the volume grew, and edition 12 swelled to 1243 pages, an increase of 25% over the previous edition.
In response to the needs of smaller libraries who were finding the expanded classification schedules difficult to use, in 1894 the first abridged edition of the Dewey Decimal system was produced. The abridged edition generally paralleled the full edition, and has been developed for most full editions since that date. By popular request, in 1930 the Library of Congress began to print Dewey Classification numbers on nearly all of its cards, thus making the system immediately available to all libraries making use of the Library of Congress card sets.
Dewey's was not the only library classification available, although it was the most complete. Charles Ammi Cutter's Expansive Classification was its chief rival, but Cutter's classification was not as fully developed as Dewey's.
During this time, Dewey Decimal Classification got its first international attention. The International Institute of Bibliography, led by Paul Otlet, contacted Dewey about the possibility of using his system for bibliographies (as opposed to its use for books in libraries). This would require some changes to the classification, which was under copyright. Dewey gave permission for the creation of a version intended for bibliographies, and also for its translation into French. This version of the classification eventually became the Universal Decimal Classification, still in use today.
According to a study done in 1927, the Dewey system was used in the US in approximately 96% of responding public libraries and 89% of the college libraries. By the 14th edition in 1942, the Dewey Decimal Classification index was over 1,900 pages in length and was published in two volumes.
Forging an identity
With the deaths of Melvil Dewey, May Seymour, and Dorcas Fellows, the Dewey system had lost the people who had worked on it most closely from its early days. Administration of the classification was under the Decimal Classification Committee of the Lake Placid Club Education Foundation, and the editorial body was the Decimal Classification Editorial Policy Committee with participation of the American Library Association, Library of Congress, and Forest Press.
The growth of the classification to date had brought on significant criticism from medium and large libraries who were too large to use the abridged edition but found the full classification overwhelming. It had been Dewey's intention for the classification to be issued in three editions: the library edition, which would be the fullest edition; the bibliographic edition, in English and French, which was to be used for the organization of bibliographies rather than books on the shelf; and the abridged edition. In 1933, the bibliographic edition had become the Universal Decimal Classification, which left the library and abridged versions as the formal Dewey Decimal Classification editions. The 15th edition, edited by Milton Ferguson, implemented the growing concept of the "standard edition," designed for the majority of general libraries but not attempting to satisfy the needs of the very largest or of special libraries. It also reduced the size of the Dewey system by over half, from 1,900 to 700 pages, a revision so radical that Ferguson was removed from the editorship for the next edition. The 16th and 17th editions, under the editorship of the Library of Congress, grew again to two volumes. However, by now the Dewey Decimal system had established itself as a classification for general libraries, with the Library of Congress Classification having gained accepted for large research libraries.
The first electronic version of Dewey was created in 1993. Although hard copy editions continue to be issued at intervals, the online WebDewey and Abridged WebDewey are updated continuously.
The Dewey Decimal Classification organizes library materials by discipline or field of study. Main divisions include philosophy, social sciences, science, technology, and history. The scheme is made up of ten classes, each divided into ten divisions, each having ten sections. The system's notation uses Arabic numbers, with three whole numbers making up the main classes and sub-classes and decimals creating further divisions. The classification structure is hierarchical and the notation follows the same hierarchy. Libraries not needing the full level of detail of the classification can trim right-most decimal digits from the class number to obtain a more general classification. For example:
- 500 Natural sciences and mathematics
- 510 Mathematics
- 516 Geometry
- 516.3 Analytic geometries
- 516.37 Metric differential geometries
- 516.375 Finsler Geometry
- 516.37 Metric differential geometries
- 516.3 Analytic geometries
- 516 Geometry
- 510 Mathematics
The classification also uses some aspects of a faceted classification scheme, combining elements from different parts of the structure, to construct a number representing the subject content (often combining two subject elements with linking numbers and geographical and temporal elements) and the form of an item, rather than drawing upon a list containing each class and its meaning. For example, 330 for economics + .9 for geographic treatment + .04 for Europe = 330.94 European economy; 973 for United States + .05 form division for periodicals = 973.05 periodicals concerning the United States generally. These are referred to in system as "mnemonics." 
The Dewey Decimal Classification has a number for all subjects, including fiction, although many libraries create a separate fiction section shelved by alphabetical order of the author's surname. Each assigned number consists of two parts: a class number (from the Dewey system) and a book number, which "prevents confusion of different books on the same subject." 
Some parts of the classification offer options to accommodate different kinds of libraries. An important feature of the scheme is the ability to assign multiple class numbers to a bibliographical item and only use one of them for shelving. The added numbers appear in the classified subject catalog (though this is not the usual practice in North America). For the full benefit of the scheme, the relative index and the tables that form part of every edition must be understood and consulted when required. The structure of the schedules is such that subjects close to each other in a dictionary catalog may be dispersed in the Dewey schedules (for example, architecture of Chicago is quite separate from geography of Chicago).
(From DDC 23)
- 000 – General works, Computer science and Information
- 100 – Philosophy and psychology
- 200 – Religion
- 300 – Social sciences
- 400 – Language
- 500 – Science
- 600 – Technology
- 700 – Arts & recreation
- 800 – Literature
- 900 – History & geography
(From DDC 23)
- T1 Standard Subdivisions
- T2 Geographic Areas, Historical Periods, Biography
- T3 Subdivisions for the Arts, for Individual Literatures, for Specific Literary Forms
- T3A Subdivisions for Works by or about Individual Authors
- T3B Subdivisions for Works by or about More than One Author
- T3C Notation to Be Added Where Instructed in Table 3B, 700.4, 791.4, 808–809
- T4 Subdivisions of Individual Languages and Language Families
- T5 Ethnic and National Groups
- T6 Languages
The "Relativ Index" [sic] was an alphabetical index to the classification, for use both by classifiers but also by library users when seeking books by topic. The index was "relative" because the index entries pointed to the class numbers, not to the page numbers of the printed classification schedule. In this way, the Dewey Decimal Classification itself had the same relative positioning as the library shelf and could be used either as an entry point to the classification, by catalogers, or as an index to the Dewey-classed library itself.
Dewey Decimal Classification numbers formed the basis of the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC), which combines the basic Dewey numbers with selected punctuation marks (comma, colon, parentheses, etc.). Adaptations of the system for specific regions outside the English-speaking world include the Korean Decimal Classification, the New Classification Scheme for Chinese Libraries, and the Nippon Decimal Classification (Japanese).
Administration and publication
Administratively, the very early editions were managed by Dewey and a small editorial staff. Beginning in 1922, administrative affairs were managed by the Lake Placid Club Educational Foundation, a not-for-profit founded by Melvil Dewey. The American Library Association (ALA) created a Special Advisory Committee on the Decimal Classification as part of the Cataloging and Classification division of ALA, in 1952. The previous Decimal Classification Committee was changed to the Decimal Classification Editorial Policy Committee, with participation of the American Library Association Division of Cataloging and Classification, and the Library of Congress.
Melvil Dewey edited the first three editions of the classification system and oversaw the revisions of all editions until his death in 1931. May Seymour became editor in 1891, until her death in 1921. She was followed by Dorcas Fellows, who was editor until her death in 1938. Constantin J. Mazney edited the 14th edition. Milton Ferguson was editor from 1949 to 1951. The 16th edition in 1958 was edited under an agreement between the Library of Congress and Forest Press, with David Haykin as director. Editions 16-19 were edited by Benjamin A. Custer; edition 20 by John P. Comaromi. Joan Mitchell was editor until 2013, covering editions 21-23. The current Editor-in-Chief is Michael Panzer of OCLC.
Copyright in editions 1-6 (1876–1919) was held by Dewey himself. Editions 7-10 were held by the publisher, The Library Bureau. On the death of May Seymour, Dewey conveyed the "copyryts and control of all editions" to the Lake Placid Club Educational Foundation, a non-profit chartered in 1922. The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) of Dublin, Ohio, United States, acquired the trademark and copyrights associated with the Dewey Decimal Classification system when it bought Forest Press in 1988. In 2003 Dewey came to national attention when OCLC sued the Library Hotel for trademark infringement. The case was settled shortly thereafter.
Currently OCLC maintains the classification system and publishes new editions of the system. The editorial staff responsible for updates is based partly at the Library of Congress and partly at OCLC. Their work is reviewed by the Decimal Classification Editorial Policy Committee, which is a ten-member international board that meets twice each year. The four-volume unabridged edition is published approximately every six years, the most recent edition (DDC 23) in mid-2011. The web edition is updated on an ongoing basis, with changes announced each month. An experimental version of Dewey in RDF is available at dewey.info. This includes access to the top three levels of the classification system in 14 languages.
In addition to the full version, a single volume abridged edition designed for libraries with 20,000 titles or fewer has been made available since 1895. "Abridged 15" was published in early 2012.
- Dewey, Melvil (1876), Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library (Project Gutenberg eBook), retrieved 31 July 2012
- DDC 23 Print Edition
- Lois Mai Chan (2007), Cataloging and classification (Third edition ed.), The Scarecrow Press, Inc., p. 321, ISBN 978-0-8108-5944-9, 0810859440
- Consider as an example a book on the network protocol IPv6. It will be located at 004.62, after general networking books at 004.6. The shelf location is thus defined.
- "Dewey Services". Online Computer Library Center. 2009. Retrieved November 4, 2009. "Offers library users familiarity and consistency of a time-honored classification system used in 200,000 libraries worldwid"
- "Countries with libraries that use the DDC". Online Computer Library Center. 2009. Retrieved November 4, 2009. "Libraries in more than 135 countries use the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system to organize their collections for their users. [135 countries are listed.]"
- Melvil Dewey (1876), A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a .., [s.n.], OCLC 78870163
- United States. Bureau of Education. (1876), Public libraries in the United States of America, Washington: Govt. Print. Off.
- Comaromi, p. 88
- Comaromi (1976), p. 171
- John P. Comaromi (1976), The eighteen editions of the Dewey Decimal Classification, Albany, N.Y: Forest Press Division, Lake Placid Education Foundation, p. 155, ISBN 0-910608-17-2, 0-910608-17-2
- Lois Mai Chan (2007), Cataloging and classification (Cataloging and Classification ed.), The Scarecrow Press, Inc., p. 321, ISBN 978-0-8108-5944-9, 0810859440
- Comaromi (1976) p. 218
- Comaromi (1976) p. 315
- "A legacy of helping libraries". OCLC.
- Comaromi (1976), 297-313
- Comaromi (1976), 321
- Comaromi (1976), 376
- Comaromi (1976) p. 381
- Comaromi (1976) p. 345
- Chan (2007), p. 321–323
- Chan (2007) p. 326–331
- Chan (2007) p. 331
- OCLC, Introduction to the Dewey Decimal Classification
- United States. Office of Education. (1876), Public libraries in the United States of America, Washington: Govt. print. off., p. 628
- "A Brief Introduction to the Dewey Decimal Classification". OCLC. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
- Taylor, Insup; Wang Guizhi. "Library Systems in East Asia". McLuhan Studies. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
- Comaromi (1976) p. 416
- OCLC. A legacy of helping libraries
- Chan (2007) p. 323
- Mitchell, Joan (24 January 2013). "Michael Panzer named Editor-in-Chief of the Dewey Decimal Classification system". OCLC Press Release. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
- Melvil Dewey (1922). Decimal classification and relative index for libraries and personal use ... Lake Placid Club, N.Y: Forest press. p. 2. OCLC 1367992.
- Comaromi (1976), p 286
- Luo, Michael (September 23, 2003). "Where Did Dewey File Those Law Books?". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
- "OCLC and The Library Hotel settle trademark complaint". October 24, 2003.
- Latest versions – OCLC – Dewey Services
- Updates – OCLC – Dewey Services
- Dewey Summaries as Linked Data
- "Abridged". Online Computer Library Center. 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
Comaromi, John Philip. The eighteen editions of the Dewey Decimal Classification. Albany, Forest Press Division, 1976. ISBN 978-0-910608-17-6
- OCLC's Dewey Decimal website
- OCLC's Dewey Decimal browser
- Dewey Summaries as Linked Data
- Full text of A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library (Dewey Decimal Classification) (1876) from Project Gutenberg
- "What's so great about the Dewey Decimal System?" at The Straight Dope, January 31, 2006
- 025.431: The Dewey blog: Everything you always wanted to know about the Dewey Decimal Classification system but were afraid to ask ...