Arizona Library Shuns Dewey System

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When a public library in Gilbert, Ariz., opened this month, the books had no Dewey decimals on their spines. The library is organized like a bookstore. Library official Marshall Shore explains why.


In 1876, Melvil Dewey published a uniform system for organizing library books and the Dewey Decimal System was born. Today, 95 percent of all public libraries in the United States are Dewey users. But the new library in Gilbert, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, isn't one of them. The library's books are organized more along the lines of Barnes & Noble than Dewey.

Marshall Shore is the adult services coordinator for the Maricopa County Library District. He's been the driving force behind creating a new kind of library, and he joins us from member station KJZZ in Tempe, Arizona.

Welcome, Mr. Shore.

Mr. MARSHALL SHORE (Adult Services Coordinator, Maricopa County Library District): Thank you.

YDSTIE: So tell us about the plan you'll be using to organize the Gilbert library and how it differs from the Dewey Decimal System.

Mr. SHORE: There's been an overwhelming amount of information lately that libraries need to change. So we had an opportunity to try something new and really wanted to make it something that our customers already know. And since bookstores are so pervasive in their lives, it's like let's go after that taxonomy. And so when you walk into the building, you'll see signage that says gardening, house repair, technology, computers.

YDSTIE: Now, how would the Dewey Decimal System be different? Is there no technology designation in Dewey Decimal? Is there no gardening designation?

Mr. SHORE: A lot of times, things can be split up. If you take a look at resume books, there is two different areas where you have to go look. And that happens all the time throughout Dewey. So basically, what we're about to do now is condense that so the public can just come in and find exactly what they're looking for.

YDSTIE: So you're trying to sort of emulate the bookstore vibe.

Mr. SHORE: People wanted libraries to be more convenient. When you walk in the front doors of the library, you can actually see the entire collection from the front door. So there's all these low shelving at the front - then towards the back, it gets taller.

YDSTIE: Now, are you going to have librarians sort of wandering around like folks in the bookstore, helping patrons?

Mr. SHORE: Well, we do a one-desk. So that way, basically, you come to one desk in the building for all your circulation questions as well as your reference questions than having to figure out which desk do you go to, to ask this or that. And then we'll also have staff with handheld laptops roaming around, helping people as well.

YDSTIE: You know, a lot of people talk these days as if libraries are probably just going to way of - I don't know - the spinning wheel; we don't really need them anymore. We've got the Internet. We've got Barnes & Noble.

Mr. SHORE: And that's why we're doing this. It's because libraries are extremely relevant, I mean, we are everywhere. We are helping to break that digital divide. I mean, we are for the masses. And that's what we're trying to do is promote the best service we can for the public.

YDSTIE: Marshall Shore is adult services coordinator for the Maricopa County Library District. He joined us from member station KJZZ in Tempe, Arizona. Thanks very much, Mr. Shore.

Mr. SHORE: Thank you.

YDSTIE: This is NPR News.

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