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01 June 2015

Dewey Decimal Project

This year, I've decided start my own little reading challenge. Yes, on top of the other challenges I've signed up for already. I'm doing something long-term, with no end date. I'm calling it the Dewey Decimal Project.

(Yes, I know there are other reading challenges out there that are already using this name. I don't care. Shut up.)

Goal: Take advantage of the facts that (a) I work in a freakin' library, temple of knowledge and storehouse of information, and (b) I actually enjoy reading nonfiction and learning new stuff on the reg.

Objectives: Make an effort to read extensively from one Dewey Decimal category in the library's nonfiction stacks for X amount of time. Track which books I've read from which category. Read the true classics and most up-to-date, interesting, or controversial stuff when available. Become all-knowing goddess of the nonfiction stacks.

We recently got new carpet in the stacks.
It was a bit of a mess.

Well, that's the summary of it. I'll be posting updates on this page. Want more details? Hit the cut below.

Why would you actually want to do this?

Every time I take a patron back to the stacks to find something... every time I fill a virtual shopping cart with the latest nonfiction bestsellers... every time I have to discard a book that's been so overused it's falling to pieces... I wonder: What if I actually had the time to read all this stuff?

Obviously, no human being is granted infinity time for reading, or for anything else for that matter. But I hate feeling like I'm missing out because I'm facing a giant stack of review copies + other books I "should" be reading. I should be able to read whatever looks interesting, whether or not it's a shiny new release or an essential classic or book club pick or whatever.

So this challenge is my way of relieving some of that guilt. Who cares if it's some random backlist title on a topic no one else cares about? It counts toward my self-imposed goal!!!

Time frame?

Nope. I know the experts recommend giving yourself measurable, time-sensitive finishing lines to aim for, but in this case I think that's just more stress and it defeats the purpose of this challenge. I'm committed to being a life-long learner, OK?

So... what are the categories?

Here's where the REAL fun begins.

The public library where I currently work shelves its nonfiction books by Dewey Decimal call numbers. There are 10 main umbrella subjects for nonfiction with this system. The thing is, not every category is equal in terms of scope or physical number of items. In my library, there are about 16,130 books cataloged with a 9XX call number, compared to about 230 with a 4XX call number. In other words, there are at least 12 stacks (big rows) of books on History/Geography and only about 5 shelves of books on Language.

I've decided to break some of the umbrella subject headings down to specifics for my own sanity. Sections are broken down in a way that reflects (a) my interests and (b) the actual number of books cataloged in that section. I'm also going to preemptively forgive myself for skipping certain sections if I just don't see anything appealing on the shelf. Sorry, but I just don't need to read very many (or any) books on, say... woodworking or concrete construction. I just don't care.

000 Computing and information or knowledge
This is what I think of as the "meta" section... information about information, essentially.

There are a relatively small number of books in this section, so I'm not dividing it.

100 Philosophy and psychology
And I think of this as the near-meta section... information about thinking about information. If you want to know how the human brain works, start here.

I've divided this umbrella into 2 sections:
  • Philosophy and ethics
  • Psychology and parapsychology

200 Religion
This section both irritates and fascinates me for many reasons, so this should be a particularly interesting experience.

I've divided this umbrella into 2 sections:
  • Theology and non-Christian religions or mythologies
  • Christianity

300 Social sciences or culture
Covers quite a bit, including but not limited to law, economics, politics, and folklore.

I've divided this umbrella into 4 sections:
  • Social sciences and statistics
  • Politics, economics, law, and commerce
  • Social services, education, and the military
  • Customs and folklore

400 Languages
Self-explanatory. Want to learn a new language or figure out some obscure grammar rules? This is the place.

There are a relatively small number of books in this section, so I'm not dividing it.

500 Sciences
Everything from basic science methodology to theoretical physics to ecological studies of specific areas. One of my favorite sections!

I've divided this umbrella into 2 sections:
  • Science philosophy, math, physics, chemistry, and earth sciences
  • Biology

600 Technologies
This is one of the broadest categories, encompassing everything from medical topics to cooking to advertising. Kind of an insane umbrella, TBH.

I've divided this umbrella into 6 sections:
  • Medicine and health
  • Engineering, manufacturing, and construction
  • Agriculture
  • Housekeeping and childcare
  • Cooking, sewing, and entertaining 
  • Management and marketing
I'm skipping the cookbooks in this section. Books about food and cooking in general? Fine. But non-narrative cookbooks won't count for this challenge. The same applies to other practical application books, like collections of sewing patterns and the like. I'm looking for something to read, not do, if that makes sense.

700 Arts and recreation
What it says on the tin. If it's artsy or sportsy, you'll find it here.

I've divided this umbrella into 7 sections:
  • Arts
  • Architecture and landscaping
  • 3-D arts and photography
  • 2-D and decorative arts
  • Music
  • Performance arts and indoor recreation
  • Sports and outdoor recreation

800 Literature
Oh, lawd. This can be a confusing category for patrons. We've got literary criticism, prose, poetry, etc. divided by region and time period.

I've divided this umbrella into 7 sections:

  • General literature and poetry
  • American literature, drama, and speeches
  • American poetry
  • American essays, letters, journals, and humor
  • English literature and poetry
  • World literature and poetry
  • Classical Greco-Roman literature and poetry

900 History and geography
Yeah, this is a big'un. Includes biographies/memoirs in our library as well as travel books.

I've divided this umbrella into 24 sections:
  • General history and geography
  • General and historical geography and travel
  • European geography and travel
  • Asian, African, South American, and other geography and travel
  • North American geography and travel
  • Groups of people
  • Genealogy and families
  • Ancient history
  • General European history
  • British Isles history
  • Central European history
  • Other European history
  • Asian history
  • African, South American, and other history
  • General North American, Canadian, and Mexican history
  • General US history
  • Eastern US history
  • South Central (i.e. Texas) US history
  • Other US history
  • Biographies A-D
  • Biographies E-K
  • Biographies L-R
  • Biographies S-T
  • Biographies U-Z

Don't you believe in RULES?

Just to be clear, I am NOT going to pretend like I'm trying to read every nonfiction book in the library. No. That is stupid.

What I'm trying to do with the above categories is break the stacks down into manageable chunks of possibility. Hence, these rules:

1. One or two sections at a time. Avoid getting overwhelmed.

2. I might give myself some random goal, either a certain number of books or a certain amount of time, per section, depending on the section. I might not.

3. New books are the exception to the above rules. If a new release falls into a category that I've already covered, I can still count it.

4. Books should primarily be obtained from a public library. Some exceptions may be made for review copies of upcoming releases, gifts, thrift store finds, etc.

5. Reviews are NOT required for this challenge. I will, however, be keeping track of what I read on Goodreads. And if I like something and want to share it here, well, that can happen too.

6. Quitting individual books is 100% OK. Bad books, or even just boring ones, are not to be burdensome.

7. Quitting entire sections might happen, but only after a really good try at them.

8. Most importantly, the above is more what I'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.

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