Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dewey or don't we? or What ARE those numbers for?

Beautiful centuries-old volumes at Oxford University

I can think of fewer things more dull than waxing poetic about the virtues of the Dewey Decimal System.  However, when a junior approached me and said, “I’ve never understood what these numbers are for”, I realized that he was, in all likelihood, not alone.  So, boys and girls, this will be a brief description to satisfy your need for logic and stability in a turbulent world!

Think of the numbers on the book spine as their address.  It’s where they live on the shelves.  Book nerds memorize them unintentionally:  we know that the Civil War is 973.7 (973 is U.S. History & the .7 indicates the years 1861-1865), British poets are in the 821 section, and cookbooks are in the 641s.  There truly IS logic here:  if you’re looking for Military History, you’ll look in the 355s (300s are Social Sciences/Social History), weapons are found in the 623s (600s are Technology), but the specific history of World War II is in the 940.53 or .54 sections (940s are European History).  Don’t snicker…somebody needs to be the keeper of such information, just as someone needs to know advanced calculus (and that is definitely not me!).

When you’re researching your topic in the library, find books in the library catalog, note their Dewey #, and search the shelves, using the handy little guides on the inside edges of the stacks.  They’re in numerical order, so they’re easy to locate.  If you’re looking for a particular title about Korea, look around in the 951.9 section; there will be several other titles on the same, or closely-related, topic.  This method works for whatever topic you have—look around the same call number to find similar information. 

And there you have it—another tool to craft the quintessential research paper!   So, Dewey?  Sure we do!

Mrs. Hodge

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