So Long, Dewey

Alumnus Helps Library Transition to BISAC

Madison, Ohio, is ready to imagine a world without Dewey.

Madison Public Library has transitioned its collections from the Dewey Decimal System to Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC), with the help of Kent State University School of Library and Information Science alumnus Shawn Walsh.

Walsh is the emerging services and technologies librarian and maintains the IT infrastructure of the library. He graduated in December 2015 with a Master of Library and Information Science degree.

Walsh said his coursework in the M.L.I.S. program has helped him and his colleagues make the transition to BISAC smoothly. The Organization of Information class, in particular, provided critical background information that Walsh found very helpful.

“My specific role [in the transition] was to work with a vendor to design and implement color-coded spine labels which provide visual cues in shelving and locating materials,” Walsh said.

More Space, Fewer Shelves

BISAC is the classification system used in bookstores, which involves organizing books and other materials by topic, with words instead of numbers on the labels.

“Dewey is a linear classification, and BISAC is not,” Walsh said. “This [change to BISAC] allowed us to create more usable space for our patrons.”

BISAC allows libraries to group like materials together and arrange shelves in new ways that are not typical rows of shelves, Walsh said. This creates a more functional space for library users, providing more seating and small work areas, for example.

BISAC also allows for subject area groupings of library materials, arranging them by words instead of numbers with decimals, which are harder for most people to understand. Madison Public Library hopes the change will make the collections easier for everyone to search.

“In theory, with the proper signage, a person unfamiliar with typical library arrangements can look at the signage and navigate to the desired topic,” Walsh said.

Walsh was also responsible for developing a relational database to keep track of the BISAC classifications, which included a “see also” database for synonyms.

A Growing Trend

The Madison Public Library started the transition to BISAC in the fall of 2013, earlier than many other libraries, but Walsh said several libraries in Ohio are making the change as well. He noted that transitioning to BISAC is a slow-spreading trend in public libraries.

Perry Library in Maricopa, Ariz., for example, has also started to use BISAC. The classification was so successful there that they opened every branch library using the same system.

Some libraries are implementing Dewey Lite, a hybrid of Dewey and BISAC, he said, and several of these are closer to Madison than Arizona. Libraries such as Williams County Libraries, Way Public Library and Milan Library are all using this system.

Walsh suggests patrons are nervous when they go into a library because many schools are phasing out teaching the Dewey Decimal system, and people may not understand it.

“People are used to systems that are intuitive and can be navigated without reading instructions first,” Walsh said. “BISAC is a more intuitive arrangement of materials.”

Walsh expects the Madison library to be completely finished with the transition to BISAC by February 2016, at the latest.

Learning & Sharing

In addition to his work with the library, Walsh published several professional articles in Children & Libraries, Public Libraries Online, chapters in three books and several other places — all before even completing his M.L.I.S. degree.

“Being published is humbling. It’s humbling to see that other people are interested in the topics that I explore with my writing partner [Madison Public Library co-worker, Melanie Lyttle],” Walsh said. “This is especially so when I find something I have written is reprinted in other state associations’ publications or even translated for international library groups.”

Walsh is currently working on a manuscript in collaboration with Lyttle for their first book with McFarland Publishing focusing on library services for tweens.


Latisha Ellison
POSTED: Friday, January 8, 2016 05:23 PM
UPDATED: Thursday, December 08, 2022 03:55 PM