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Cornell University Librarian Declares Dewey Decimal System is Racist

Cornell University Librarian Declares Dewey Decimal System is Racist

“Libraries are predominantly white fields, and Cornell is no exception in this regard.”

Perhaps progressives could save the rest of us some time and just tell us what isn’t racist.

The Hill reports:

Ivy League librarian says libraries reinforce white supremacy

Many American students learned about the Dewey Decimal system in grade school, but not all of them were taught about the man who created it: Melvil Dewey.

More than a century after Dewey first published the proprietary library classification system in 1876, the librarian and educator’s influence has been overshadowed by his racism, antisemitism and sexual harassment. But the Dewey Decimal system isn’t the only example of white supremacy in libraries, according to a Cornell University librarian who spoke during a virtual teach-in on anti-Asian racism.

“As a librarian, I see the ways in which my profession has the capacity to confront bias and misinformation in ways we approach and teach information and digital literacy,” said Reanna Esmail, outreach and engagement librarian at Olin Library, according to the Cornell Daily Sun.

Esmail went on to say that, “Libraries are predominantly white fields, and Cornell is no exception in this regard. Libraries themselves also have a fraught history of being complicit in racism, and in some cases, upholding and disseminating racist ideas.”

In 2019, the American Library Association acknowledged Dewey’s history of racism, antisemitism and sexual harassment and removed his name from their top professional honor, the Melvil Dewey Medal.


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surfcitylawyer | May 14, 2021 at 12:35 pm

Does anyone really care who came up with the system. I just want to easily. find the book I need. Also, most college and research libraries use the Library of Congress system (e.g. QC980 is where you find books on climatology), not Dewey Decimal.

Reading is racist!

The Friendly Grizzly | May 14, 2021 at 12:50 pm

She should quit her job.

Libraries are predominantly white fields
Well, the pages are white. The ink is usually black.

healthguyfsu | May 14, 2021 at 2:18 pm

Finding a book in objective fashion is racist.

This will be replaced by a new system that contains neon lights, free fried chicken, and rap music highlighting the entire path to a POC section and the other 99% of books covered with honey and bees.

“Libraries are predominantly white fields”

What does that even mean? Libraries are repositories of knowledge.

Statements like this which try to cast everything in terms of racially antipathy are enemies of knowledge and learning.

The Friendly Grizzly | May 14, 2021 at 5:16 pm

Fine. Dewey was a racist. He invented a good system for libraries. Why not use it?

Opposing it is like condemning the music of Richard Wagner for his anti-Semitism. Sorry, but… I will still listen to piano trasncriptions of Siegfried Idyll and enjoy the mental journey on which it takes me.

“Libraries themselves also have a fraught history of being complicit in racism, and in some cases, upholding and disseminating racist ideas.”

I guess the real purpose of libraries should be to censor nonapproved thought, if necessary by burning books.

Albigensian | May 14, 2021 at 9:18 pm

Libraries are predominantly Woke fields.

Woke librarians seem to be working as hard at destroying the value of libraries (to all but librarians) as Woke academics have largely destroyed the value of universities (to all but academicians).

Then again, librarians are overwhelmingly white and female, a demographic which, in the aggregate, seems to be the Wokest in America. So, perhaps Woke libraries are to be expected.

    alohahola in reply to Albigensian. | May 14, 2021 at 9:36 pm

    Penn Libraries had an awesome Vice Provost and then he retired–or was asked to retire? Because look who they have now.

I have catalogued my books using both the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal systems. I find the LOC system to be more logical. For instance, I have three books on World War II warships by the same author. Under the LOC system, they would all be on the same shelf in the “V” category. Under Dewey, two are listed under the 359 heading, while the third is listed under 940. Go figure.
I got the Dewey numbers from the OCLC Web site.

    henrybowman in reply to Dean V. | May 15, 2021 at 4:52 am

    But the Library of Congress is racist because (fill in the blank).

    markm in reply to Dean V. | May 16, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    Putting books on obsolete warships under “social science” (300) rather than “history” (900) sounds like misclassification. There’s probably a technology category that they could go in, but NO classification system will be perfect, because nearly all books could fit several categories.

There are a number of false ideas being promoted here:
1) The fact that some individuals working in an institution in the past are “racist” makes the institution itself “racist” is lazy. If an individual was influential in a field and his ideas became generally accepted, the burden is on the advocate to explain how specific ideas have the effect of promoting one race over another.
2) “Guilt by association” has its limits. If someone belonged to a country club that excluded Jews and Black members, one could still conduct his professional life and make judgments that were race-neutral. Putting the shoe on the other foot, Black leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. belonged to an all-Black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, but that does not mean that all of his ideas should be rejected as “black supremacy.”
3) Some ideas are racially neutral. For example, the invention of the telegraph and the creation of Morse Code did a lot to improve communication. A historian could probably prove that Black people did not have as much access to sending personal telegrams as did more affluent white people. Also, many messages that were sent probably expressed racist or anti-Semitic ideas. However, that does not justify giving a lecture that the Morse Code itself had a racial bias. The Dewey Decimal system categorized books without saying that some books were better than others. The idea of a standardized way of classifying and cataloging books was very powerful apart from any disparate impact it may have on how books about race relations were viewed by librarians and users.
4) Melvil Dewey was the founder of the field of library science and created and lead an influential librarian training program at Columbia University. He was the Director of the New York State Library and the secretary and executive officer of the University of the State of New York (better known as the Board of Regents). He established a system of traveling libraries. One can celebrate the achievements of Melvil Dewey and thereby celebrate the leadership of New York State in the field of library science and the achievements of library science without endorsing Dewey’s personal flaws or membership policies of his country club.
5) What is this librarian selling? Is her argument that because Dewey was a racist or otherwise a bad person, the entire field of library science is evil and the remedy is discriminating against white people when hiring librarians in the future? Since a lot of Ivy League affirmative action adversely affects the selection of Asian Americans, this is an odd argument to make at a teach-in on “anti-Asian racism.”

If Dewey Decimal is racist, what does the esteemed Esmail suggest we replace it with?

texansamurai | May 15, 2021 at 10:28 pm

guess you’d have to give a damn what some ivy league librarian has to say–libraries are repositories of knowledge, resources for study, archives of known history, recorded flights of man’s imagination and many other things–they are not and have never been “racist”