ETL507: Assessment 5: Part B – Classification

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) System is broken. It was constructed by a racist, sexist, antisemite, and the worldview of this despicable man (Ford, 2018) pervades the DDC. Men and women are not given equal treatment in DDC, and women are treated as second-class citizens (O’Hara, n.d.).

Heteronormativity in DDC

Heteronormativity is assumed; the first mentions of anyone ‘deviating’ from this expected norm were placed in “abnormal psychology” (Adler, 2017).  Even as sensibilities changed and being homosexual was no longer seen as deviance, it has been placed in 306.7 under sexual relations (306.76), instead of LGBTQIA people being placed under 305 with “groups of people” (O’Hara, n.d.). It also means that any books relating to LGBTQIA individuals are found in between books on prostitution (306.74) and books on fetishes (306.77/7) and the like (Adler, 2017).

Racism in DDC

Anyone that is not White American or European is considered “other” and relegated to the later sections of the DDC (Higgins, 2016, O’Hara, n.d.). Changes have been made to address some of the racism in the DDC, but it is insufficient because the scheme is based on a core of inherent racism (Furner, 2007).  In the hierarchical structure of the DDC (Hider, 2018), Christianity is given priority over all other religions with the Abrahamic religions occupying the span of 210-289 and all other religions being placed in 290-299 (Higgins, 2016). Racism and religion also collide when examining the DDC for First Nations religions.

Religions and DDC

In most libraries in Australia, and around the world (that use the DDC), First Nations Religions are not classified with the other religions in the 200s.  Instead, they are shelved in the 398 section for “Folklore” (OCLC, n.d.).  Specifically, Aboriginal Dreamtime stories are shelved under “398.2049915 – Aboriginal myths and legends” which is not giving the religion of Indigenous Australians the same degree of respect afforded to other religions (Sentance, 2017). Libraries have access to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library Information and Resource Network (ATSILIRN) protocols designed to help librarians work with Indigenous people and materials with respect, but very few libraries are implementing these protocols (Garwood-Houng, & Blackburn, 2014). Schools Cataloguing and Information Service (SCIS) (Schools Cataloguing and Information Service (SCIS), 2018) makes provision for Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories to be shelved in the 200s, using the retired Dewey number 298.  There is precedent and assistance for treating these materials with respect, but it is not widely practiced.

On my work placement, Aboriginal Dreamtime stories are intershelved with mythology, including books about vampires and urban legends in 398, instead of with religion books in the 200s.  In the picture below, taken on placement, stories on Aliens are shelved right next to Dreamtime stories, as are books of urban legends.  Following this number sequence there are books on zombies, vampires, dragons and nursery rhymes.

Bookshelf in the 398s

Also problematic is the use of book numbers.  As noted in my work placement assignment (Parnell, 2019, unpublished), this library uses the first three letters of the title of the book, rather than the author.  This leads to a lot of books about Aboriginal people having the book number “ABO”, which is offensive.  SCIS has provisions for book numbers that would normally use “ABO”, to use the book number “ABL” instead on books about Aboriginal people (SCIS, 2018).  This is also contradictory to Protocols 5.2 (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library, Information and Resource Network (ATSILIRN), 2012). My work placement library also used outdated subject headings and they have not been updated as DDC was updated. Mythology and legends headings are used rather than religion, when there is an appropriate subject heading available.

As a quick project, I checked the online catalogue of some of the libraries visited on study visits. The Sydney Mechanics School of Arts classified Aboriginal dreamtime books in the 200s (299).  The State Library of NSW uses a mix of numbers in the 290s and 398s, but most of the books fall under the number 398.

Where to now?

My critical look at the Dewey Decimal system began around the same time I started my teacher-librarianship course, in March 2018 at GLAMSLAM, after speaking to Elizabeth Smith about her tattoo (a Dewey number for the Shakespeare play, The Tempest). She expressed her conflicted feelings over the tattoo, since she looks at the Dewey system more critically now.  This started my own journey into critically analysing Dewey.  This theme of critical analysis continued through further professional development at CoGLAMeration 2018 and the Saturday School of Critical Librarianship. I have conducted my own mini-investigations into Library of Congress Subject Headings and Dewey Classifications for books on homosexuality.  I’ve examined SCIS cataloguing decisions with a critical eye and the nuances and idiosyncrasies of Dewey Classfication for a public library. I feel that I am well placed to approach any classification tasks in a school or public library with a critical eye.  However, as my preferred career path is to work in public libraries, I feel that my future work will involve campaigning for a change in classification for books on Aboriginal Dreamtime and a change in book numbers of books on Indigenous Australians that have the book number “ABO”.

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