Dewey Decimal System

The decimal number classification introduced the concepts of relative location and relative index.

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), colloquially known as the Dewey Decimal System, is a proprietary library classification system that allows new books to be added to a library in their appropriate location based on the subject. The system is based on the division of all knowledge into 10 groups, with each group assigned 100 numbers.

  • 000 Computer Science, Information & General Works (includes encyclopedias and almanacs)
  • 100 Philosophy & Psychology
  • 200 Religion
  • 300 Social Sciences
  • 400 Language (including dictionaries)
  • 500 Natural Sciences & Mathematics
  • 600 Applied Sciences and Technology (Medicine, Gardening, Home Economics, Cooking)
  • 700 Arts and Recreation (Music, Sports)
  • 800 Literature & Rhetoric
  • 900 History, Geography, and Biography

Melvil Dewey (1851–1931) was an American librarian and self-declared reformer. He was a founding member of the American Library Association and can be credited with promoting card systems in libraries and businesses. He developed his library classification system ideas in 1873 while working at the Amherst College library.

He applied the classification to the books in that library until 1876 he had the first version of the classification. In 1876, he published the classification in pamphlet form with the title “A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library”. In March 1876, he applied for and received, copyright on the first edition of the index.

The edition was 44 pages in length, with 2,000 index entries, and was printed in 200 copies. The Dewey system’s numerical classification provides a shorthand identification and location tool. The notation lends itself to memory through the constant repetition of a standard pattern (area arrangement, different numbers for particular languages), through parallel subject developments (each book of the Bible given the same development as the Bible as a whole), and through patterned repetition of standard subdivisions (theory, study, and teaching, history, geography, etc.).

To distinguish works within a group and to expedite retrieval, many libraries add a book number created from the Cutter, or Cutter-Sanborn, Tables[1], which provide further specifications for author and genre. Despite its widespread use, the classification has been criticized for its complexity and its limited capability for amendment. In particular, the arrangement of subheadings has been described as archaic and biased towards an Anglo-American worldview.

  1. The Cutter number, or Cutter, is a combination of letters and numbers that follows the class number and is preceded by a decimal point.  This is not to be confused with the decimal number that may form part of the class number (such as QK477.2).  The Cutter number is most frequently based on the first word of the main entry, usually the author’s surname. [Back]



Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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