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Hierarchy vs. Conviviality
The Dewey Decimal System: Still Useable
I had an experience with the Dewey Decimal System: it took place in the Barnard College Library where I had taken a part-time job to help finance FLEX (not to mention my family or my continual treading of water before taking my doctoral orals). I was organizing shelves in the English section and discovered that George Eliot’s Middlemarch was slightly misplaced. I also noticed that the Dewey code taped onto the base of the book’s spine had an “L” in the place that codes the author’s surname. Now George Eliot was the pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans. Either way you’d think the code letter would have been “E.” I pondered. I formulated a dreadful hypothesis. George Eliot lived with G. H. Lewes. They were definitely not married. Had the school-marmish librarians decided that a single female author had to have the protection of a male’s initials? Why not, if women are officially non-persons to librarians, use her father’s initial? What did they do for Emily Dickinson?
This was in 1970, perhaps 1971. Women’s liberation was making a bigger wave than usual. At Barnard it was a tidal wave: scores of women marching around dressed in boots and fatigues, that is to say, dressed like Che (which is to say dressed like Jackie Kennedy marching on Tiffanies). The next day I mentioned my discovery, not my hypothesis, to a female librarian who presented every appearance of riding the crest of that wave. She explained something very like my hypothesis: the initial was for Lewes. “But they weren’t married. Lewes was never her name.” “Well, that’s how they did it.”
She seemed to just want to get back to work and not delve into the implications. If an author were black, would the Dewey system code him as “B” for boy?
2014 08 11 How about assigning the black author the initial of his owner?!
Get On Up, the biopic on James Brown, shows Brown as a boy engaged in a battle royale: a dozen boys are put in a fight “ring.” Each boy’s left hand is bound behind his back. Each boy is blindfolded. Each has a boxing glove on his right hand. They all flail away blindly till only two remain standing, then the blindfold are removed and they fight till only one is standing. And that slave’s owner was awarded some trivial prize. After the civil was the $2 prize money was given to the ex-slave himself! How’s that for progress?
How about the black author getting his owner’s initial in his Dewey Decimal number?