Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Dewey Devastation

By the time I was in my teens, I owned 700 books.   They no longer fit in my bedroom, so my father built me a “library” in the basement, a little alcove whose walls were built out of tall bookcases run together.  I had a recliner, lamp, rug, and a gate across the opening to keep the siblings at bay.  It was definitely my primary “happy place.”

Our public library used the marvelous Dewey Decimal classification system, which I had admired for many years, but it wasn’t until all of my books were gathered together on real bookcases in my own “library” that I hit upon the happy plan of cataloging them.   Soon I had committed major portions of my beloved Dewey Decimal System to heart, and the next thing you know, I was busy creating book spine labels with the proper number for each of my own books.  My little library was a thing of beauty.

But then I graduated high school and went off to college – where naturally one of the first things I did was to visit its library with the intention of seeing what they had in my favorite sections (900 -  history!  500 – natural sciences!).  I had a great shock when I saw letters on the spines, followed by numbers – what on earth was this “BL2033” and “PR9986”?????!???  Whatever it was, it wasn’t the divine Dewey!  Why, I couldn’t find anything!  The horror!

I soon discovered that every university library used the Library of Congress cataloging system.  I was devastated.  I had to learn where things were all over again, and my personal library suddenly seemed quaintly out of date.    Over the ensuing years, as I got rid of old books and acquired new ones, the labels no longer got made, and now the only books on my shelves with Dewey Decimal labels are the ones I bought at library books sales.   Sigh. 

My bird-related bookshelf (click on photos for bigger views)

Now I keep track of the books I own in a database, listing title, author, subject, and date read.  Once in a while a nostalgic temptation steals over me – couldn’t I add a field for the Dewey Decimal number?  Wouldn’t that be keen?   Then again, maybe what’s gone is gone.  But it was certainly fun while it lasted.

One of my Natural History bookcases -- there are two

I do still keep my books arranged by subject matter, though not as strictly as Dewey would have liked. 


  1. I'm annoyed. This is the 3rd time I've typed my comment, but it's user error so not to worry.

    I have no idea what order is LOL. I just got the old black bookcase from The Mother's basement delivered yesterday. I plan on using part of my 3-day holiday filling that sucker up with no apparent rhyme or reason. I've always been a big fan of randomness. Should be fun. Have a great 4th! GO TEAM!!!!!

    1. Are you sure we're related? Order and systems rule!!
      The black bookcases were the ones that made up my "library" -- have fun filling it up and yeah, GO MARINERS!!!

  2. Back in the mists of time, the books were arranged by author, fiction or non, regardless of language. Over time the order was not respected, and when the last shelving exchange took place, the books were placed by size. In a way that works, because I can identify my most recent books by touch.