When I was in 1st grade we had a wonderful school librarian. His name was Mr. Ashton. He read us stories from a book called Diamond Fairy Tales and told us a story about the large chunk of papery honeycomb stored on the top of one of the bookshelves. By the time I hit 3rd grade, Mr. Ashton had retired, school officials had torn out our lovely fire-trap of a library bookloft, and our new librarian was making us memorize the Dewey Decimal System.
In retrospect, the old bookloft was a horrible fire risk, especially for little children, but we loved it and were very sorry to see it go. It was a balcony over the door to the library, with a window on one side, a small bookshelf, plenty of pillows and cushions, and ladder by which to gain access. I believe it was the height and the single ladder that did it in, fire-code wise. The school itself was a beautiful, old building, maybe three or four stories tall, built in 1900, at a time when the importance of architectural detail was still taken very seriously. It’s gone now. A few years ago it was torn down and replaced with a modern, one-storey structure on the same lot. I miss it.
Anyway, our new librarian (whom we all disliked) made us memorize the Dewey Decimal System. She had a rhyme that started like this:
“One, thumb, philosophy,
Two, shoe, religion, . . .”
I don’t remember the rest, although three presumably came next. “Thumb” was our link to remember that the 100s were philosophy, because it (sort of) rhymed with “one” and we were supposed to picture Rodin’s “Thinker” using his thumb to think (about philosophy). I forget what “shoe” had to do with “religion.” I can think of some more obscure passages in the Bible (wiping the dust from one’s feet, etc.) but those strike me as being over the heads of 8-year-olds.
I don’t remember exactly why we disliked our new librarian. I know that I disliked both her and the Dewey Decimal System, but I don’t know which was cause and which effect. It has only just occurred to me, in writing this, that perhaps all third graders were required to learn the DDS. Perhaps it was not some abstract torture invented by the hated Mrs. Whatever-her-name-was – perhaps our beloved Mr. Ashton would have done the same. I have to think that if Mr. Ashton had introduced me to the DDS, my life might have been very different. I would have liked the DDS, I would be able to remember the entire rhyme, and I might even be . . . a librarian? (Hmm. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered so much, after all.)
For whatever reasons, the DDS and I got off on the wrong foot. I don’t remember ever using it at that elementary school, and I rarely used the library at my next school, either. Probably I got to know the DDS a bit at the Provo Public Library – I vaguely recall that the 400s were about foreign languages – but most of the books I checked out were fiction and the PPL (like many public libraries) had a separate “fiction” section that was not classed by the DDS.
And then I went to college and really learned how to use a library but BYU (like most academic libraries) is on Library of Congress. So now I’m here in Illinois, and I’m working as a copy cataloger in a library that’s still on Dewey. Which means I have a lot of catching up to do.
I play games with WebDewey (the online Dewey system). I take a random number, like my telephone number or my zip code, and I see if it “means” anything in the DDS. I quiz myself to see if I can remember the main classes, and then I click on the links to check. (I do OK with the 10 main classes. I ought to be able to do at least the first 100, but I’m not anywhere near that except for in literature and history.)
So . . .
314.15 (the first 5 digits of pi) stands for “Statistics – Ireland.”
377 (the beginning of my parents’ telephone number) stands for “Religious education.”
618.01 (my zip code) stands for “Philosophy and theory of gynecology and obstetrics.”
836 (the beginning of my telephone number) stands for “German letters”
666 stands for “Ceramic and allied technologies.” (Which don’t seem devilish, but I guess you never know . . . )
The title of this entry, by the way, is a Dewey number which means “library staff workers / technicians in Champaign County, Illinois.” (Just to be clear, I didn’t stumble across that one by accident. I went and looked for it.)