tisdag 25 juni 2013

The Swedish Dewey Project - short comment on its final report

During the last five years the National Library of Sweden (KB) has been running a project to prepare the Swedish library sector for the use of Dewey Decimal Classification, DDC. Now the final report of this project has arrived, and it is an interesting read.
The overall aim of the ”Swedish Dewey Project” was to develop the tools to make it possible for libraries in Sweden to introduce DDC. The decision to actually do has, however, been left to each library.  As of today, some 30 libraries has left the Swedish SAB-system and introduced DDC in their classification practice and/or shelving. Almost all of them are research libraries, only two public libraries have yet taken the step.
The reasons for the proposed transformation of Swedish classification practice has been threefold: the international character of bibliographic practice, rationalisation – to reduce double classification in parallel systems, and increased quality in classification practice. The argumentation is simple, but relevant: most of the literature in research libraries are already classified in DDC when bought; the DDC is the the most widely spread classification system in the world, today used in more than 135 countries and translated into some 30 languages; it is well kept and frequently updated.
The change to DDC is singularly the most significant change in Swedish library life during the last century, at least if we look at collection manangement and the organization of stock. We know from experience that such changes are not easy to accomplish, nor is it easy to make everyone happy. When KB decided in 2008 to change into DDC, there was a lot of uncertainty regarding the aim and consequences of this decision. The public libraries in particular, felt left in a situation that they neither had asked for, nor knew how to handle – the need for DDC was expressed exclusively from primarily large research libraries. Reading the now published report has really nothing to add to this uncertainty – are the public libraries expected to use DDC or not? However, that is not a question to be answered in this report.
The project can be said to have focussed on two primary targets – (1) translation into a Swedish version of DDC, and the development of system requirements for it to work in a Swedish environment, and (2) education of librarians. On both these issues, the project seems to have been rather successful. The problems described concerning translation and conversion of codes appear quite forseeable, and the educational efforts have been constructed in a dialogue with both the library sector and representatives from the Library and Information Science educational departments. One practical detail which should not be undersestimated is the translation of the textbook Dewey Decimal Classification: Principles and Application by Lois Mai Chan and Joan S. Mitchell – this book is now being used in the basic training in classification i Swedish LIS educations, preparing new librarians in DDC from the very start of their professional life.
One thing that is worth noting in the felt shortcomings of the project is how they mostly seem to come from lack of resourses and short sighted planning horizons from the National Library. Parts of the project simply seem to have been carried through in spite of, and not because of, the National Library Management. For that, huge credit must be given to Magdalena Svanberg and her colleagues who have lead the project through to its end with admirable dedication, determination and skill.
Now that the final report of the Swdish Dewey Project is ready, we can see that it also triggers questions. What now? Will KB strategically uphold the development of the Swedish DDC? Will further initiatives be taken to argue for the benefits of DDC to an evidently reluctant public library sector? Are there any such benefits?

The final report of the Swedish Dewey Project is here, (in Swedish).

The picture below is a snapshot taken as I was given the opportunity to welcome Magdalena Svanberg to the LIS department at Linnaeus University in march 2011 for a lecture and discussion, as part of the educational programme of the Swedish Dewey Project - an occasion much appreciated by our students.

Joacim Hansson, LNU and Magdalena Svanberg, KB

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