Interview with Joan Mitchell: an inside peek at the DDC 23 release
OCLC Coop Blog Team: Why update Dewey?
Joan Mitchell: The short answer is, to keep pace with knowledge that evolves every day. That can mean everything from representing developments in fast-changing technical areas such as computer science to expanding and updating historical periods and geographic areas to reflect political and geographic changes. We also update the DDC to reflect shifts in viewpoints and terminology. In addition, we make structural changes to the system motivated by requirements for machine display and retrieval, and to support user convenience.
Blog Team: How often is Dewey updated?
Joan: It depends on what you mean by "updated." The underlying database is updated daily, and we push those changes out to users at the same time in WebDewey 2.0. Every month, we feature one of the changes on the Dewey Web site. The DDC is also extended virtually through mapping controlled vocabularies, and through the large amount of categorized content associated with the system. In recent times, we have published a new print edition every 7-8 years. DDC 22 was published in 2003; the print version of DDC 23 will be available in North America starting May 1. The new print version of DDC 23 is a snapshot of the underlying DDC 23 database. Right now, we're on a six-week hiatus for issuing updates in WebDewey 2.0 as we prepare to make the switch from the DDC 22 database to the DDC 23 database. Once we make that switch, updates to DDC 23 will begin to appear in WebDewey 2.0 starting in May.
Blog Team: Who does the editing? How many people are involved?
Joan: The DDC is continuously developed and updated by the Dewey editorial team: the editor-in-chief (me) and four assistant editors: Giles Martin and Michael Panzer, both based at OCLC in Dublin; and Rebecca Green and Julianne Beall, both based in the Dewey editorial office at the Library of Congress (LC). The Dewey editorial office has been headquartered at LC since 1923, and is physically located in LC's Dewey Section. Classifiers in the Dewey Section are the primary assigners of Dewey numbers to LC bibliographic records. Having our office in close proximity to this key user group assists us in monitoring emerging topics and shifts in viewpoints and terminology.
Blog Team: What is the process for a major update like this?
Joan: We use a variety of approaches. We study the distribution of topics in WorldCat, we monitor the literature in subject areas, we look at discipline-based knowledge organization tools, and we read newspapers and news feeds. We are in close contact with DDC translations teams around the world and receive many useful suggestions from them. We also get suggestions and advice from our users. Our editorial rules specify thresholds based on literary warrant (the existence of a certain level of literature on a topic) for introducing new topics or classes to the DDC. All proposed changes to the schedules and tables are reviewed and approved by the Decimal Classification Editorial Policy Committee (EPC), a ten-member international advisory board whose main function is to advise the DDC editors and OCLC on matters relating to the development of the DDC and strategic directions for the system.
Blog Team: We heard that this edition is being dedicated to the users of Dewey... can you give us some details about that?
Joan: As I mentioned earlier, we get a lot of suggestions and advice from our users. At last count, the worldwide Dewey community spans 138 countries. The fact that the DDC continues to flourish as a knowledge organization system is in no small part due to the contributions of the Dewey community. First and foremost, EPC brings the voice of the user to the table. The proposals that we send to EPC for advice and recommended action are distributed simultaneously for comment to representatives of our active translation teams plus national libraries around the world. Several national library associations have committees that review DDC proposals; we also have an active user group in Europe (the European DDC Users' Group) that has several working groups involved in the development and review of proposals for changes to the DDC from a European perspective. We have also solicited feedback on proposals from subject experts in computer and information sciences, religion, sociology, linguistics, criminology, medicine, fashion design and graphic arts.
Blog Team: In what ways has Dewey fundamentally changed since "the beginning"?
Joan: If Melvil Dewey purchased a copy of DDC 23, he'd recognize the general outline of his system at the top level and the structure of the Relative Index, but he'd be really surprised to see how his system has expanded. It's been translated into over 30 languages since its introduction, has been mapped to numerous controlled vocabularies, and has been associated with metadata for millions of works in physical and digital collections. I think he'd be delighted by WebDewey 2.0, dewey.info (our prototype linked data effort), and OCLC Research's DeweyBrowser and Classify. He would probably be intrigued by our MARCXML and SKOS representations of DDC data.
Blog Team: Any particularly interesting changes since the last edition?
Joan: That's a difficult question to pose to an editor, because I think just about everything we add to the system is interesting! You can watch a sneak preview of DDC 23 from a webinar earlier this month in which I highlighted major changes in the schedules, including those in religion, law and education; new numbers ranging from cloud computing to the end of the Mubarak administration; and the major overhaul of the representation of groups of people in DDC 23.
Blog Team: Thanks so much for chatting with us about the roll-out of DDC 23. We appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule during this busy period.
Joan: My pleasure!
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