restricted access Chapter 6. Institutional Technology Transfer
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6 Institutional Technology Transfer Yet incessantly and annoyingly, the perpetuum mobile of business rattles and clatters amidst the cataloging and shelving work, which requires silence and concentration. —Alois Jesinger, Kataloge und Aufstellung der Wiener Universitätsbibliothek in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung Reformation: Dewey’s Three Blessings for America On October 6, 1876, a 25-year-old assistant librarian signs the corporate charter of the American Library Association thus: “Number One, Melvil Dewey.”1 On Dewey’s initiative, America’s most famous librarians have assembled in order to found an association with the aim of promoting “the best reading for the greatest number, at the least cost.”2 Despite his youth, the initiator assumes the position of secretary, and from then on devotes himself to the development of American librarianship through the association. From age sixteen, Dewey, who comes from a modest background and has been brought up strictly in the evangelical mind-set of white AngloSaxon Protestantism, is bent on reforming America in three ways. Already as a student, he rallies against alcohol and tobacco consumption, and for introducing the European metric system for weights and measures. Dissatisfied as a student, he declares the education system in New York State a failure: he feels it would be possible to learn double the amount in the same time, above all by simplifying English orthography.3 Dewey begins by reforming his own name, first eliminating the superfluous letters “l” and “e” from his first name in 1875, and, four years later, by spelling his last name as well as everything else in phonetic transcription: “Dui, Melvil.”4 88 Chapter 6 In his quest for national reforms, Melvil Dewey is inspired by Edward Edwards’s Memoirs of Libraries, an influential library history of his time. A struggle for “free libraries for every soul” becomes the third aim of his reform plan.5 Within the scope of his service as an assistant librarian at Amherst College, Dewey has the chance to outline a more efficient organization of the library’s routines and to optimize the library’s management. Faithful to his motto, “My heart is open to anything that’s either decimal or about libraries,”6 he seizes the opportunity to combine two of his preoccupations , securing for himself a place in library history, and from 1930 onward a mark on every index card of the Library of Congress: the Dewey decimal classification system.7 The design provides a hierarchy of fields of knowledge that, by means of a numerical code, can be differentiated again and again. The first decimal divides knowledge into classes from 0 to 9. Every further decimal serves to specify divisions of the preceding class (see also figures 7.1 and 7.2): “Select the main classes, not to exceed nine and represent each class by one of the (ten digits) nine significant verbatims. Subdivide each of these main heads into not more than nine subordinate classes, and represent each sub class by a digit in the first, or ten’s, decimal place.”8 Once introduced to libraries worldwide, this system would grant unfailing and language-independent access to books,9 an unambiguously composed numerical address thus leading directly to the desired text. “Lunar eclipse,” for instance, is found at the fifth decimal place (0.52338) under natural sciences and mathematics (5), astronomy (52), descriptive astronomy (523), moon (5233). Furthermore, the classification satisfies four basic requirements for an ideal system as recorded in 1911 by another organization aiming for comprehensive access to world knowledge, propagated in Dewey’s name; but more on this later. Dewey’s decimal classification system also lays claim to features such as boundless extensibility, general intelligibility, and clarity to a rather unusual degree (“It must claim as little energy in use as possible”10 ). It partitions every field of knowledge down to the level of the individual component. “Thus, for instance, every lunar crater can be named unambiguously by further division of the number 52334.”11 Given his preference for the decimal system, Dewey naturally starts a new job in Boston on April 10, 1876. He leaves Amherst College with three goals in mind: “adoption of the metric system, acceptance of simpli fied spelling, and the efficient operation of free public libraries properly Institutional Technology Transfer 89 stocked with good reading.”12 The recent graduate and passionate librarian embarks on his career as an educational reformer by founding three companies within one year: the American Metric Bureau...