Dewey, Melvil (1851-1931)

American library pioneer. Founder of Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), first editor of Library Journal (1876), an essential force in American Library Association (ALA), in standardization, in the development of a coherent system of libraries, in library education and library professionalization.

Dewey vas a child of the same Zeitgeist that also fostered Taylorism (assembly lines). He was a library technician more than a mediator of culture.  In the first edition of DDC (1976) what was later termed library science was termed library economy (class 19), which is remarkably revealing of his way of thinking. Dewey preferred uniformity rather than difference (universal models).

Wiegand (1998) found that Dewey did not acknowledge his debt to those persons on which ideas the DDC was  based. Also, his "legacy . . . is mixed. On the one hand the scheme has over the decades saved millions of dollars and countless hours of time. Because it has become so widely accepted throughout the world it has permitted one person to classify one title for the hundreds of thousands of libraries using the decimal system. In addition, the system itself has become familiar to millions of people who can feel relatively confident that their knowledge of the system used in one library will serve them well in another. On the other hand the doctrine of Anglo-Saxonism Dewey wove so tightly into his system has over the years resisted the introduction of new threads with more culturally pluralistic origins."


Another strong criticism of Dewey's way of thinking and acting comes from Bernd Frohmann (1994) who also point out the DDC is an empty semiotic shell and that the system discourages a dialog ´with different discourses.






Frohmann, B. (1994). The Social Construction of Knowledge Organization: The Case of Melvil Dewey. Advances in Knowledge Organization, vol. 4, 109-117.


Miksa, F. (1983a): Melvil Dewey and the Corporate Ideal. Pp. 49-100 IN: Melvil Dewey: The Man and the Classification. Ed. by G. Stevenson & J. Kramer-Greene. Albany, NY: Forest Press.


Stevenson, G. & Kramer-Greene, J. (1983). Melvil Dewey: The Man and the Classification. Albany, New York: Forest Press.

Wiegand, W. A. (1998). The "Amherst method". The origins of the Dewey Decimal Classification System. Libraries & Culture, 33(2), 175-194. Available at:


Generic group: Information science, biography



Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 04-11-2008