, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal classification
1873–1885: early development
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 the promotion of card systems in libraries and business. He developed the ideas for his library classification system in 1873 while working at Amherst College library. He applied the classification to the books in that library, until in 1876 he had a 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.
He used the pamphlet, published in more than one version during the year, to solicit comments from other librarians. It is not known who received copies or how many commented as only one copy with comments has survived, that of Ernest Cushing Richardson. His classification system was mentioned in an article in the first issue of the Library Journal and in an article by Dewey in the Department of Education publication "Public Libraries in America" in 1876. 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.
1885–1942: period of adoption
1885 - Dewey Decimal Classification
The second edition of the Dewey Decimal system, published in 1885 with the title Decimal Classification and Relativ Index for arranging, cataloging, and indexing public and private libraries and for pamflets, clippings, notes, scrap books, index rerums, etc.,[notes 2] comprised 314 pages, with 10,000 index entries. Five hundred copies were produced. Editions 3–14, published between 1888 and 1942, used a variant of this same title. Dewey modified and expanded his system considerably for the second edition. In an introduction to that edition Dewey states that "nearly 100 persons hav [spelling of 'have' per English-language spelling reform, which Dewey championed] contributed criticisms and suggestions".
One of the innovations of the Dewey Decimal system was that of positioning books on the shelves in relation to other books on similar topics. When the system was first introduced, most libraries in the US used fixed positioning: each book was assigned a permanent shelf position based on the book's height and date of acquisition. Library stacks were generally closed to all but the most privileged patrons, so shelf browsing was not considered of importance. The use of the Dewey Decimal system increased during the early 20th century as librarians were convinced of the advantages of relative positioning and of open shelf access for patrons.
New editions were readied as supplies of previously published editions were exhausted, even though some editions provided little change from the previous, as they were primarily needed to fulfill demand. In the next decade, three editions followed closely on: the 3rd (1888), 4th (1891), and 5th (1894). Editions 6 through 11 were published from 1899 to 1922. The 6th edition was published in a record 7,600 copies, although subsequent editions were much lower. During this time, the size of the volume grew, and edition 12 swelled to 1243 pages, an increase of 25% over the previous edition.
In response to the needs of smaller libraries which were finding the expanded classification schedules difficult to use, in 1894, the first abridged edition of the Dewey Decimal system was produced. The abridged edition generally parallels the full edition, and has been developed for most full editions since that date. By popular request, in 1930, the Library of Congress began to print Dewey Classification numbers on nearly all of its cards, thus making the system immediately available to all libraries making use of the Library of Congress card sets.
Dewey's was not the only library classification available, although it was the most complete. Charles Ammi Cutter published the Expansive Classification in 1882, with initial encouragement from Melvil Dewey. Cutter's system was not adopted by many libraries, with one major exception: it was used as the basis for the Library of Congress Classification system.
In 1895, the International Institute of Bibliography, located in Belgium and led by Paul Otlet, contacted Dewey about the possibility of translating the classification into French, and using the classification system for bibliographies (as opposed to its use for books in libraries). This would have required some changes to the classification, which was under copyright. Dewey gave permission for the creation of a version intended for bibliographies, and also for its translation into French. Dewey did not agree, however, to allow the International Institute of Bibliography to later create an English version of the resulting classification, considering that a violation of their agreement, as well as a violation of Dewey's copyright. Shortly after Dewey's death in 1931, however, an agreement was reached between the committee overseeing the development of the Decimal Classification and the developers of the French Classification Decimal. The English version was published as the Universal Decimal Classification and is still in use today.
According to a study done in 1927, the Dewey system was used in the US in approximately 96% of responding public libraries and 89% of the college libraries. After the death of Melvil Dewey in 1931, administration of the classification was under the Decimal Classification Committee of the Lake Placid Club Education Foundation, and the editorial body was the Decimal Classification Editorial Policy Committee with participation of the American Library Association (ALA), Library of Congress, and Forest Press. By the 14th edition in 1942, the Dewey Decimal Classification index was over 1,900 pages in length and was published in two volumes.
1942–present: forging an identity
Children being taught the top-level categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification system at a library in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in the 1960s
The growth of the classification to date had led to significant criticism from medium and large libraries which were too large to use the abridged edition but found the full classification overwhelming. Dewey had intended issuing the classification in three editions: the library edition, which would be the fullest edition; the bibliographic edition, in English and French, which was to be used for the organization of bibliographies rather than of books on the shelf; and the abridged edition. In 1933, the bibliographic edition became the Universal Decimal Classification, which left the library and abridged versions as the formal Dewey Decimal Classification editions. The 15th edition, edited by Milton Ferguson, implemented the growing concept of the "standard edition", designed for the majority of general libraries but not attempting to satisfy the needs of the very largest or of special libraries. It also reduced the size of the Dewey system by over half, from 1,900 to 700 pages. This revision was so radical that an advisory committee was formed right away for the 16th and 17th editions. The 16th and 17th editions, under the editorship of the Library of Congress, grew again to two volumes. However, by now, the Dewey Decimal system had established itself as a classification for general libraries, with the Library of Congress Classification having gained acceptance for large research libraries.
The first electronic version of "Dewey" was created in 1993. Hard-copy editions continue to be issued at intervals; the online WebDewey and Abridged WebDewey are updated quarterly.