Wednesday 10 December 2014

'Melvil' Dewey, Piece of Work

'To my thinking, a great librarian must have a clear head, a strong hand, and, above all, a great heart. And when I look into the future, I am inclined to think that most of the men who achieve this greatness will be women.'
 As a one-time librarian, I cannot let pass the birthday (in 1851) of Melvil Dewey (a most unlikely Sagittarian), who originated that bane and blessing, the Dewey Decimal Classification. Dewey, it seems from all the evidence, was a piece of work, a man with a highly developed gift (not uncommon among librarians) for putting backs up and making enemies. 'Although he did not lack friends,' wrote a biographer, 'they were weary of coming to his defence, so endless a process it had become.' He also, apparently, suffered from 'a persistent inability to control himself around women' (a malady perhaps less incident to librarians in general). Indeed, on one ten-day trip to Alaska, he was reported to have made unwanted advances to no fewer than 'four prominent librarians'.
 In addition to his career in librarianship and Academe, Dewey established the Lake Placid Club as a health resort and winter sports centre - though here too he ran into trouble, over the club's policy of excluding Jews and other minorities. A man of many parts, he was also, like G.B. Shaw, a keen proponent of simplified spelling - a sure sign of the irredeemable crank. (His given name was Melville, not Melvil.) There is still an 'Adirondac Loj' near Lake Placid, and menus at the resort in Dewey's day featured such items as 'Hadok', 'Letys' and 'Ys cream'. Enough said.


  1. What else would you expect from someone who tried to submit all human experience to scientific category?
    Clearly deranged.

  2. Indeed - the DDC was doomed from the start, tho it still has its uses.