In 1876, Melville Dewey designed a system to categorize the subjects in his library. Almost 140 years later, the Dewey Decimal System is used around the world to organize library books. As Celia Emmelhainz, a librarian with a Masters degree in Anthropology, notes, the system is now outdated in many ways. Categories exist for since disproven theories, like phrenology, the idea that there is a relationship between a person’s personality and the physical morphology of their skull. Also, the system shows a bias towards Western, Christian cultures.
“And libraries around the world still rely on “fixed” versions of Dewey’s classification of knowledge, even though it’s outdated by a hundred years and vast swaths of social change. How we organize knowledge says a lot about what we value in the world, and so it’s important for the world’s languages, religions, and cultures not to just be a footnote in the American system of knowledge” – Celia Emmelhainz.
Many librarians agree that an updated system is necessary, but the trouble is finding a universally logical system. What sort of system would be intuitive for every library patron? In any given community, there will be people from all different backgrounds. Just as Dewey’s culture influenced his original system, the cultures we are from likely influence how we think knowledge should be categorized. The problem is complicated, as a new library system would need to be flexible, and accommodating to people from all cultures.