Basics of the Dewey Decimal System
08/10/20 11:48 AM
The basic idea is to break down each "field" of human knowledge into ten parts and create a sort of fractal of identification that can allow people to (easily) locate information based on where it is in the System. Here are the ten main classes:

000 CS, information & general works
100 Philosophy & psychology
200 Religion
300 Social sciences
400 Language
500 Science
600 Technology
700 Arts & recreation
800 Literature
900 History & geography

First of all, it may seem strange that CS is lumped in with information and general works, when it could just as easily fit into 500 if not even better fit. However, when you boil it down I think it’s reasonable to say that computers really at their core are machines that deal with information and the organization thereof.

According to this intro manual to the Dewey system, their justification specifically is that the 000 class is "also used for certain specialized disciplines that deal with knowledge and information, e.g., computer science, library and information science, journalism" which is fair in my eyes. Also, the system is not based on subjects, but rather fields. So you could choose any particular subject like "kitchen utensils" and find information about different aspects of spoons from the historical significance of them all the way to a design manual on crafting the perfect spoon for your purposes.

Let's imagine you wanted to read more about Flemish literature for some unsuspicious reason. According to this reference guide, you can first look under 800, which is the Literature field, then look under 830, which is Literatures of Germanic languages (for the uninitiated, Flemish is a Germanic language), and below that you can find 839, which is categorized as "Other Germanic Languages", and further below that you can see that Flemish is 893.1.

So, you can see the breakdown as such:

800 Literature
830 Literatures of Germanic languages
839 Other Germanic literatures
839.3 Dutch, Flemish, Afrikaans

This is a pretty straightforward system, for the most part. Therein lies some fairly clear conflicts when trying to implement a system like this into your own library, institution, or archive. Firstly, how would you categorize a book about, say, Tiger Woods? Would you put it under golf (maybe under 796 Athletic & outdoor sports & games) or biographies (perhaps 921 {individual and autobiography})? Many institutions already have standards for these, but one could see the myriad of potential for argumentation and modification.

In the end, 133 countries use this system to some degree of variance, and to me that goes to show that an idea like this is surely rife with imperfections but can be smoothed out by libraries and institutions bending the original conception to fit their collection. It doesn't really matter that every single archive uses the same system, but that there is internal consistency.

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