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Dewey Decimal System

Introduction to the Dewey Decimal System, Melvil Dewey, and issues in cataloging and organizing books


Articles and Blog Posts

  • Melissa Adler's article "Classification Along the Color Line: Excavating Racism in the Stacks" discusses how late 19th and early 20th century library classification schemes were created to reify white supremacist political and social agendas, performing a historical analysis of classification and organization schemes of library materials on Black people in American history. 
  • Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia's Anti-Racist Description Resources from October 2019 provides metadata considerations and recommendations for archival professionals addressing institutional archival descriptions that are racist and anti-Black.
  • Kathleen Bethel's Culture Keepers: Cataloging the Afrocentric Way suggests that through rethinking cataloging methods, materials about African subjectivities can be more easily conversant with Black Studies and research around the African Diaspora that is reflective of and informed by the colonial histories of the African continent.
  • Jessica J. Colbert Patron-Driven Subject Access: How Librarians can Mitigate that 'Power to Name' studies patron-driven subject access, focusing on the language library patron's use when searching for LGBTQIA materials. Colbert complicates Berman's suggestion that "better" searching language in catalogs helps patrons access materials by historically marginalized groups, calling for catalogers to work with library patrons in developing a colloquial cataloging language.
  • Emily Drabinski's article "Teaching the Radical Catalog" discusses critical cataloging practices and how to use cataloging for social justice aims. Drabinski uses the frame of Queer Theory to further explore critical cataloging in the article "Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction."
  • Marisa Elena Duarte and Miranda Belarde-Lewis's Imagining: Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies problematizes cataloging standardization of materials from Native American and Indigenous peoples, stating that failures to contend with colonial power dynamics have lead to misnaming and miscategorizing Native American and Indigenous materials. Duarte and Belarde-Lewis propose a decolonial information structure that centers Native American and Indigenous approaches to organizing knowledge.
  • Jenna Freedman - blogging on the Lower East Side Librarian and librarian for the Barnard Zine Library - discusses issues with the Library of Congress subheadings, both in her work as a zine librarian and more broadly around the 2016 American Library Association discussion to revise the "Illegal Alien" subject heading.
  • Jonathan Furner's Dewey Deracialized: a Critical Race-Theoretic Perspective uses Critical Race Theory to interrogate Dewey Decimal bibliographic headings, and analyzes Dewey Decimal Classification policy shifts in the early 2000s.
  • Sara A. Howard and Steven A Knowlton's Browsing Through Bias: The Library of Congress Classifications and Subject Headings for African American Studies and LGBTQIA Studies discusses the challenges of conducting library research in academic libraries using the Library of Congress classification. Interdisciplinary fields like African American Studies and LGBTQIA Studies require different research methods made more difficult by the marginalization of research materials through the language of subject headings and classification schemes.
  • Avril Johnson Madison's oral history of Dorothy Porter Wesley, the Howard University librarian who integrated works of Black authors and artists into the Dewey Decimal System instead of segregating works by Black creators. The oral history alone is interesting - and provided by Dorothy Porter Wesley herself - but Madison's bibliography provides a sweeping look mid-century Black intellectual discourse at Howard University and internationally.
  • Article from The Straight Dope blog comparing the Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress, expanding on the creation of the organization system.
  • Amanda Ros's article The Bias Hiding in Your Library is a rigorous but approachable discussion of biases in cataloging - particularly in the Library of Congress system.
  • Molly Schwartz's article and podcast from The Library Bytegeist about Melvil Dewey, the Dewey Decimal System, and the consequences of classifying knowledge.

Reading List

  • Black Excellence LIS Reading List is a growing list of articles and books about critical pedagogy, radical cataloging, biographies, and experiences of Black information professionals by Black information professionals.
  • Disrupting Whiteness in Libraries and Librarianship: A Reading List developed by Karla J. Strand, Gender and Women's Studies Librarian at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Pratt Institute LibGuide about Diversifying the Curriculum: Information Science, providing resources for Library and Information Science students to critically engage with race using critical pedagogies, frameworks, and methods.
  • whiteness in libraries reading list includes articles on the history of segregated libraries in the south, the American Library Association's stances on desegregating libraries, and Black librarianship in the 20th and 21st centuries.


  • Change the Subject, a documentary about students at Dartmouth College teaming up with librarians at Dartmouth to advocate for changes to the "Illegal Alien" subject heading in the Library of Congress organization system. Movie follows the students as they move their activism from campus to Congress. Film is not available for streaming, but screenings can be requested.