“What the heck is the ‘Dewey Decimal System’ anyway?” she said.
My daughter has been reading a book at school that she’s really enjoying. Of course as a parent, I think this is a great thing because reading is so important. For this reason, I was thrilled when she told me that she wanted to take the book out of the library to reread the chapters that were covered in class.
“No problem,” I said. “Let’s look it up online and see if there’s a copy available at our local library.”
In the course of the discussion, and while quickly surfing to acquire the information, I asked my daughter a simple question:
“Do you know what the Dewey Decimal System is?”
“No,” she replied.
I can’t say that I was surprised; after all – we are living in a technological age where digital is the norm; everything else is considered substandard or worse, suspect.
I pressed on.
“When I was a kid and I wanted a book, I marched down to the library and looked it up using the Dewey Decimal System. That meant going through stacks of cardboard index cards filled with numbers to find the treasured book.”
She looked at me blankly.
I continued on and explained how the system worked; how part of the thrill of finding that special book was in the hunt. It’s always better when you seek and then find. It’s through the process of doing so that we savour the moment so much more when we do get our hands on that special item, in this case a book.
My daughter wasn’t having any of it.
Continuing to gaze at me blankly, she said “Oh. So you didn’t just go online and find the book by Googling it?”
Quickly realizing that this was a “Teachable Moment,” I harkened back to my youth and extolled the virtues of the now-archaic seeming system.
They were all part and parcel of the experience which made the final acquisition of our desired object so much sweeter. The Dewey Decimal System was a big part of the experience. And yet so many kids these days have no idea about what the system is all about. Ask any child aged five through teens and I’d bet you that the majority of them have never heard of the system either, or if they have, their understanding is vague and incomplete, to say the least.
“Is your refrigerator running?”joke was how kids had fun before the digital age. Prank phone calls were all the rage before digital technology changed everything Click. Sound familiar? If you , like I, grew up in a time that predated call display and other buzz kills, you know this conversation intimately well.
I remember as a child, going to the library, pulling out the cardboard index cards and venturing into the stacks to find my books. There was no online resource to find out if the book was available. No, just quaint cardboard cards that held the riddle of the sphinx and more within a mere 3 x 5 space.
The Dewey Decimal System was what led me to learn about World Wars I and II, Anne Frank, the fate of Icarus and the Space Race. By trolling through the index cards, I discovered the reason why penguins cannot fly and why insects have compound eyes. The diversity of my questions and curiosity was only matched by the volume of information to be found at the library – through the assistance of the Dewey Decimal System, of course.
“The Dewey Decimal System was what led me to learn about World Wars I and II, Anne Frank, the fate of Icarus and The Space Race”
As much as the system was a practical solution to finding books, it taught us so many other skills as well. Simple filing skills, research techniques, knowing where and how to find a particular item through a deductive method and process: these are just some of the aspects of the system that have been lost with its decline.
For those of us who grew up with no other option than to consult the index file cards then march through the stacks in search of a book, the newer methodology seems lacking in ways. The thrill of the hunt has effectively disappeared due to the ease and lightening speed of Google. The adage “good things come to those who wait” was much easier to believe before the invention of high-speed, broadband Internet. Growing up in the digital age has indeed afforded our children so many more options in terms of access to information and the ability to quickly acquire data and knowledge almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, life as a child today also means that the library experience consists of a quick online search to find a book with little thought given to the process of acquiring the desired item.
Patience is a virtue…
Is the book any less enjoyable because it was effortlessly found? I would argue “yes” as there is something about the anticipation, the wait, the search and the find that positively adds to the overall experience of reading a particular book. Children today are missing out on what was one of the most gratifying parts of the library experience. Sure – it was “work” and kids had to earn their reward of finding a book by using a set of skills that were finely honed, if they were of a particularly bookish nature. But “work” in this instance lead to something valuable, something enjoyable and something much desired, perhaps more so because of the effort involved.
Kids today really don’t know what they’re missing. The experience of going to the library these days is just not what it used to be. In some ways, it’s certainly more engaging, with computers and interactive learning a large part of most modern library systems. That said, the quaint efficacy provided by the Dewey Decimal System through simple index cards cannot be replaced. Accordingly, while technology has opened up many new doors for our children, another world – equally enjoyable – has been lost.
It was a certainly a different time, a simpler time, devoid of the constant activity that is part and parcel of life in our increasingly rushed, hurried, 24/7 digital age. With the rapid changes to technology and how we communicate with each other, simple, good-old-fashioned fun seems to have been left in the past.
The set of encyclopedias within the family home was a sight to behold for those of us who grew up in the pre-Wikipedia, pre-Google days. When “the Internet” was just a futuristic fantasy, us kids and many adults had to consult with what now seems incredibly archaic: a set of books with static information inside that provided us with what was then the most “up to date” information on a subject or item.