Jess deCourcy Hinds is the solo librarian at the Bard High School, Early College library in Queens, New York. In 2010, she received a new order of books about the civil rights movement, but Hinds noticed something strange: all of the books had Dewey Decimal numbers in the 300s, meaning they were supposed to be shelved in the social sciences section. She thought that some of the books belonged in the 900s, the history section. Like books on President Obama. Because texts about the 44th President were classified as social science, he would be separated from all the other books about U.S. presidents in her library. It seemed like part of a trend. "When it came to the LGBTQ books, and the women's history books, and books on immigrant history, all of those were in the 300s as well," says Hinds. So she and her students decided to rebel, to put books about President Obama into the history section: "we just started moving them."
The Dewey Decimal Classification System is a method that dates back to 1876 and is used by most libraries around the world. The second most popular system, the Library of Congress Classification System, was published in the early 1900s and based on the organization of Thomas Jefferson's personal library. These systems help patrons find books on the shelves and facilitate resource-sharing between libraries. But they also encode bias into the structure of libraries. To understand what that means for our current collections, On the Media producer Molly Schwartz spoke with Wayne A. Wiegand, a library historian and author of Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey, Caroline Saccucci, former Dewey Program Manager at the Library of Congress, Emily Drabinski interim chief librarian of the Mina Rees Library at CUNY, and Dartmouth librarian Jill Baron from the documentary Change the Subject.
This segment originally aired in our September 3, 2021 program, Organizing Chaos.