Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dewey-less in Arizona

When I first heard that the Maricopa county (AZ) library was abandoning the Dewey Decimal system (DDC), I was appalled. How could anyone find specific nonfiction books without a DDC address on the spine?
No call numbers
Then I attended an Infopeople webinar on the Dewey-less library in Gilbert, AZ, and suddenly became intrigued. The presenter, Marshall Shore, insisted that patrons didn’t miss Dewey numbers and, in fact, found what they wanted just as easily without them. I decided I had to see this for myself, and so that evening announced to my non-librarian husband Tim that we needed to add a day to the trip we had already planned to Arizona (to see baseball spring training), so I could visit the Perry library in Gilbert.

We pulled into the branch parking lot at about 4PM. Although the library is located on the Perry High School campus, the place was deserted. “Could this be a sign that kids don’t like Dewey-less collections?” I secretly thought to myself. But, no, we had arrived in the middle of the school’s two-week spring break and no one was around. We parked and walked up to the front door.
Neon wall and "staff picks"
My eye was immediately drawn to a blue neon wall as soon as we entered. Turns out this is where staff display their recommended “picks.” Across from the neon was a bank of self-checkout machines and beyond them two tables stacked high with new books. The rest of the space was open and bright, with the clearest sight-lines I’ve ever seen.
Clear sight-lines
“Wow! This looks just like a bookstore,” Tim exclaimed, while I looked around in wonder. If libraries could talk, this one definitely would have had me at “Hello!”
Book displays
We approached a trio of staffed desks, where I identified myself and asked if we could take photos. A friendly young woman said she’d get the branch manager. The head librarian, Jennifer, emerged from a back room and told us we could (of course!) take pictures. She then took us on a short tour. She explained that the branch has a “browsing collection” arranged by broad Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) (i.e., bookstore) categories instead of Dewey, which are further refined by subcategories (e.g., Travel - U.S.). DVDs, CDs and fiction are shelved separately, but all adult, teen and kids’ nonfiction is interfiled. We saw several freestanding book displays (e.g., “Oprah Reads”), attractively organized on shelves that could easily be wheeled anywhere inside the library.
Shelf end-panels
Signage was large and clean, but (to my eye) brutal. Shelf end-panels were softened by generic photos of people smiling and reading. Tim and I were both surprised to see LGBT fiction shelved next to westerns, which were both shelved near the religious books. Tim was disappointed by the puny magazine collection. But he did like the comfortable armchairs, each outfitted with a small table for folks equipped with laptops. These, too, had wheels so users could move them as needed.

Easy chairs on wheels and with desks
Because the facility is part of the high school, students have exclusive access to the branch every school-day morning before it opens to the public. Their entrance, located on the west side of the building, opens onto an extensive row of computers and a teen room. Vending machines, filled with various waters and “healthy” snacks (e.g., SunChips, granola bars), are clearly visible from throughout the library. Food and drink are allowed.
Teen room signage
Vending machines
We left after about half-an-hour, duly impressed by the library layout and service philosophy. The materials seemed to be logically arranged, as well, even without Dewey. I actually could see myself working in Gilbert, if I didn’t live 400 miles away! Next year we’ll visit the other Maricopa county branches that recently converted to BISAC to see if they’re just as successful. In the meantime, I’m going to ponder how other libraries might look if they adopted the Perry branch model.

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