Here in Michigan, and particularly in Ann Arbor, the national headquarters of Borders and the home of the first Borders, back when it was a single independent bookstore, are melancholy if you mention “the bookstore model.”
We watched huge numbers of Borders stores close this winter and have heard rumors from our friends and friends of friends that the end of Borders might be nigh. Now they’re liquidating and closing them all down, starting tomorrow. Our friends work at the corporate office of Borders and staff the stacks downtown. (Oy – it’s Ann Arbor Art Fair this weekend. Let us say a prayer for those poor souls working the flagship store smack in the middle of Art Fair as people throng to the store for a cool break from the heat surge and the lure of discounted books.)
Many of us remember the “old Borders” in its original location back when it was staffed by hungry PhD students with voracious interest in and deep knowledge of the content areas they served. Special orders? No charge. Just need a quiet place to sit for a few hours? No charge. And so our department’s informal listserv has been full of memories that revolve around Borders that go back to the 1980s. Instead of CDs, they sold music scores. Instead of wrapping paper, art posters. More Kafka than coffee.
So it’s a bit weird, at first glance, to hear about converting libraries to bookstores given our particular hyperlocal context. (Not to mention that when Borders moved from a more classic bookstore shelving system to a “grocery store” shelving model, I had one heck of a time finding anything by their categories in the children’s section.)
But take a look at what is happening at Red Hawk Elementary in the article below, and it seems to make perfect sense to abandon Dewey and to classify books by topic instead. In fact, I always harbored a suspicion that part of the reason why non-fiction circulation was so high, K-5, was that kids liked to go and find “all the cat books” in a single place.
I have heard, anecdotally, that secondary school libraries that sort their fiction according to genre see an enormous jump in circulation. Take a look at the article below, and ask yourself: especially with our youngest learners, does Dewey work? Or would this unconventional model meet learners where they are? (LOVE LOVE LOVE those big signs in the photo!) Which “sacred cows” are worth saving? Which are worth experimenting with? Which systems support librarians more than users? Which systems are essential in order for a library to be able to function with what is likely to be a reduced staff?
I love the bold action taken below, even though I might have been too much of a scaredy cat to try it myself. And I love the idea that if you abandon Dewey, you can also shed a whole bunch of lessons about Dewey, searching for titles, etc., which opens up room for other kinds of instruction. What do you think?