Re: Aristotle, "Everything is Miscellaneous", and the lib's "educative function" [was: Prof. Burke's wish list]

From: Michael Fitzgerald <mike_at_nyob>
Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2007 01:12:24 -0400
At 10:37 PM 6/4/2007, Tim Spalding wrote:
>1. The organization into tens is arbitrary and limiting. The "tree of
>knowledge" (if there is a tree) is on no better terms with ten than
>time is with twelve. These are arbitrary; Dewey uses tens to make
>numbers shorter and nothing else.

Huh? Arbitrary? Only if you consider the whole decimal system of
counting to be just "arbitrary".

Without the tens, would you still have the decimal aspect where the
subdivisions have logical recurring similarities, i.e, 73 for USA?

Basic Dewey numbers "make sense" (which is more than can be said for
LC for the most part) and because of this they are fairly easy to
remember. That's two big pluses.

Maybe you would rather have base 8 - we already know how to teach that:

Now instead of four in the eights place
You've got three,
'Cause you added one,
That is to say, eight, to the two,
But you can't take seven from three,
So you look at the sixty-fours. [Sixty-fours?...]

But actually, I assume that you would prefer to have more classes
rather than fewer - so you would prefer base 13? base 15? Shall we
use Hex? Oh, that will be so pleasant to explain..... Ten doesn't
seem so arbitrary anymore, does it?

Our friends at Amazon have a mind-boggling 35 "subjects" -

But where is the logic and consistency that is vital to any
classification system? As far as I can tell, fiction books might end
up in any of the following: Children's Books; Christian Books; Gay &
Lesbian; Horror; Literature & Fiction; Mystery & Thrillers; Romance;
Science Fiction & Fantasy; Teen; Women's Fiction. Or Espanol. Not to
mention Bargain Books. Or Audio Downloads. Or Audiocassettes. Or e-Books.

(I'm glad to know that they have redefined "nonfiction" to mean:
Politics, Current Events, Social Sciences, Law.)

When you are totally flummoxed, do bookstores even have public
terminals where you can search by author or title to find the subject
area or do you have to ask at the info desk? If this is the case, is
the bookstore model really any improvement on the self-serve
Dewey-classed library?

When I think of browsing problems, I remember video stores with
largely pointless categories:

Oh right - Comedy Drama - filed both under Comedy and under Drama.
Maybe they shelve differently in alternate weeks. (Yet Comedy
Performance filed only under Performance, not under Comedy.) This is
getting like Crayola - is Red-Orange darker than Orange-Red?

The snickers about what gets squeezed in and what gets squeezed out
of Dewey tables are old hat. But if biased, at least Dewey is
consistent, which is better than Amazon or Blockbuster. If you've
been marginalized, you still know where you stand. And apparently the
Dewey folks haven't forgotten that there are problems that need addressing:

And heavens! Even cutting-edge Amazon has got an entire subject just
for.......Christian Books!!!! And then just a SINGLE section for
Religion & Spirituality, which means, I suppose, everything *but*


P.S. - Perhaps to avoid some of the biases you'd like to investigate
Universal Decimal instead.

mike at
Received on Tue Jun 05 2007 - 00:16:01 EDT