Thursday, August 17, 2006

The importance of re-organizing

In this story in today's New York Times we learn that even the reference librarians don't know how to use the classification system in the main reading room. Using a categorization system developed by the Library's director from 1896-1913, today's librarians have developed all sorts of workarounds, including maps, to help them find something among the room's 25,000 resources. The general public is on their own - although frequent users claim to have memorized where things are (not much use for a first timer).

The library staff has decided to do something about it and they've started a major effort to reclassify the books and materials so anyone - librarian or member of the public - can find what they need. Quite a concept for a library.

Questions raised by the story (for me): how many systems do we stick with, because that's the way its always been? How many workarounds have we grown so accustomed to we don't even "see" them anymore? And what would it take to make the systems work, rather than workaround the systems?

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