We’re going down to Alphabet City

Hello again, friends!

It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? Maybe two?

But it’s April 1st, the rain has finally cleared so we can see the sun, and it’s time for another April Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

I’m in need of a good writing challenge this year. In case you have been wondering what I’ve been up to, I basically changed careers during the pandemic and began working at the library. I started part-time in 2021, got promoted to full-time in 2022, and have been immersing myself as much as possible in this new world.

So, in honor of this new path, I thought I’d express my gratitude and joy with a 2023 theme of…

Library Love!

Today, let’s kick things off with the letter A, which stands for Alphabet.

If you’ve ever been inside a library, you may have noticed that things tend to be placed on shelves in alphabetical order. But things may not always be shelved simply from A to Z, as we do here in the A to Z Challenge. Why?

You can likely blame a dude named Melvil Dewey for the weird shelving system at your local library. (Or, if you’re at an academic library in the United States or Canada, you can probably blame the Library of Congress, which I will discuss in another post.)

See, Melvil Dewey thought he had a better system than the simple A to Z sorting the average person might use to put away their own, personal books on a shelf. As Wikipedia puts it:

Immediately after receiving his undergraduate degree he was hired to manage Amherst’s library and reclassify its collections. Dewey worked out a new scheme that superimposed a system of decimal numbers on a structure of knowledge first outlined by Sir Francis Bacon.

Wikipedia entry on Melvil Dewey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melvil_Dewey)

Dewey, being a recent college graduate and assuming he was the greatest thinker ever to exist, went on to “invent” a system of shelving and sorting library materials that is still used to this day. Not that folks don’t have lots and lots of problems with that. (He’s a pretty polarizing figure amongst library staff, and if you are any type of Other [i.e. not a straight white male land owner living in North America or Europe], his system throws major shade at the fact that you can even read and write, let alone get your book into his majestic catalog of white supremacy. But we’ll talk more about that in my D post…)

Anyway, to make a long story short (TOO LATE!), Dewey is the dude that basically told the alphabet to take a long walk off a short pier because HE had a better way.

And that, my friends, is the strange story of why books in libraries tend to be sorted alphabetically by author only in the Fiction section, and placed under some inscrutable code numbers in the Nonfiction section.

In case you’re wondering what those coded numbers mean, here is a link to a Dewey Decimal System Cheat Sheet.

These are the main Classes that Dewey came up with:

  • 000 – General Works
  • 100 – Philosophy & Psychology
  • 200 – Religion
  • 300 – Social Sciences
  • 400 – Language
  • 500 – Science & Math
  • 600 – Technology
  • 700 – The Arts
  • 800 – Literature & Rhetoric
  • 900 – History & Geography

Why these Classes or categories? You’ll have to check back on my D post on April 5th to find out!

Thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to sharing more library trivia, tips and tricks for getting the most out of your local library — using all their awesome and often unpublicized free resources — throughout the month of April.