The Dewey Decimal System And Simplified Spelling For The Texting Generation

Jun 16, 2017

Summer begins next week, and so we'll be kicking off our Summer Fiction series. That's when New England Public Radio reporters interview local authors -- some of which have written so many books they can't remember how many.

“Honestly, I don’t remember. It’s something in the 20’s, right?” Roland Merullo told us, “I don’t count them, but there’s something like that. Yeah.”

The Williamsburg, Massachusetts, author could visit his local library and count up how many of his books are on the shelf. To find the right shelf, Merullo would need to understand how books are organized.

For many libraries, fiction is alphabetical by the author's last name -- and for non-fiction, it could be the Dewey Decimal System, created by Melville Dewey (who later spelled his name Melvil Dui).

Dewey proposed his new way to arrange books while a student at Amherst College in 1873. Mike Kelly, the college's head of archives and special collections, spoke with us about Dewey's master plan -- and his rather original way of strategizing about language.

A handwritten letter from Melvil Dui, part of a collection held at Amherst College.
Credit Carrie Healy / NEPR