Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC)

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system, devised by Melvil Dewey in the 1870s and first published in 1876, was published in its 22nd edition (DDC 22) in four volumes in 2003 (also available in a Web version). The DDC is the world’s most widely used library classification system. The system is published in a full version as well as an abridged version. Dewey abridged 14th edition was released in 2004 and is designed for small public libraries and individual school libraries. DDC is probably the system which has meant most for the institutionalization and ideology of LIS. 


Figure from Politt & Tinker (2003)


The DDC is an enumerative system classification system (although facetted properties is visible in the example above).


As examples of the DDC's continuously success can be mentioned that The State Library in Århus, Denmark, adapted the DDC from 2001 (replacing a system termed "Bendtsen" developed by the library itself) and that the National Library of Norway and the Norwegian Directorate for Public Libraries completed an abridged translation of Edition 21 in August 2002. (Before 2001 DDC was only applied by one library in Denmark: The Amager department of The Royal Library). The bibliographical records from Library of Congress and British Library have DDC-codes, why the system may be useful for searching also in libraries that do not use DDC if they are made searchable (as they are in, for example, The Royal Library).


DDC is mostly used by public libraries, while research libraries tend to use other systems such as UDC, LCC or special classifications


Despite its status as the worlds most used bibliographical classification system and its frequent revision, DDC is widely considered theoretically inferior to other modern systems such as the Bliss Bibliographic Classification, second edition (BBC2), just as it has a much lower specificity than, for example, the UDC.




"Cultural bias of the DDC.

DDC is commonly used in public and school libraries throughout the world. The schedule contains marked geographical biases derived from its 19th century origins: Northern Africa for instance occupies all of 961–965, the rest of the continent only 966–969. It is still more biased towards Christianity against other religions, the former covering all of 220–289, while all others get only 292–299 to share. Recent versions permit another religion to be placed in 220–289, with Christianity relegated to 298, but this is mainly used by libraries operated by non-Christian religious groups, especially Jewish ones. The DDC has also been criticized for its treatment of literature (800). Because primacy is given to language, national literatures get scattered. For example, Canadian literature in English is classed under English & Old English (820) literatures while Canadian literature in French is classed under French literatures (840). The only exception is for American literature (810); a reflection of the Anglo-American bias inherent in the system" (Wikipedia, 2005).


Perhaps the DDC (and systems like it, e.g. DK5) should be seen as the dream of the library administrator rather than the dream of the library user. It is not designed for any specific collection and must be seen as a compromise between different collections and corresponding scholarly interests. The user does not get a detailed, realistic view about relations between disciplines and fields of knowledge, but the library administrator gets a system in which most of the books are already classified by other libraries or agencies and which is used for both shelf arrangement and catalog searching. The library administrator may hire people from library schools, who know the system and may apply this knowledge in all the libraries using DDC. The system is thus also supporting professional interests. It probably represents a rationalization of library work more than anything else. Its main quality may be that it represents a standard not a system optimized for browsing or retrieval for any particular interest. This may also explain why systems designed on the basis of more modern principles have extremely difficulties being used in libraries. (It should be added that what is today called Library and Information Science, LIS, was termed library economy in 1876 when the system was first published, which is also an indication of the administrative rather than the academic goals of the system).


Ragnar Audunson writes:


 "During the late seventies and early eighties British librarians began to criticize the traditional way of organizing library holdings. In most libraries, holdings are arranged according to subject-oriented classification schemes. The Dewey Decimal System is the dominant scheme. If you are interested, for example, in the Second World War, you must go to the social science area to find sociological analyses, to the technology area to find literature on weapons technology, to the biography area if you are interested in Churchill or Quisling as individuals, and so on. The alternative proposed by the critics of this system is to organize literature according to categories of reader interest. Under this system, literature from all these areas will be grouped together under the category "Second World War", no matter which subject they belong to in the academic sense of the term (Donbroski, 1980). The idea developed among British librarians. During the eighties, it has spread internationally. The public library of Budapest adopted this standard in 1985. I Norway, the system being tried in four or five medium-sized libraries. It can be regarded as a fashion and the Dewey system remains the dominant super-standard" (Audunson, 1996, p. 151). He continues:

"The rigid and hierarchical Dewey decimal classification system developed more than one hundred years ago. The hierarchy and rule­boundedness of the system corresponds to bureaucratic norms and values. The reader interest system of categorization loosens rules and subject hierarchies. Books belonging to widely different subject categories can be grouped together if they correspond to specific needs and interests in the library constituency. Libraries in differing constituencies will have to develop different categories and these categories will have to be continuously revised to be in harmony with changing user needs. This system was developed in the seventies. It can be interpreted as a response to the criticism of bureaucratic tendencies and management by objectives. These issues came to the front during the wider administrative and political debates of the era" (Audunson, 1996, p. 155).


"Dewey explained in the introductory section that he regretted making so many changes and that to ease the problem of accommodating them, a conversion table listing all such changes had been supplied. He also explained by way of justification that he had been careful to make only those changes which were absolutely necessary. As a way to alleviate suspicions that this might become a regular practice in future editions, he assured his readers that henceforth he would adhere to a strict policy of not changing the basic meanings of notations unless it was absolutely critical to do so. This, of course, was his policy of "integrity of numbers" which was to become so important in later years." Miksa (1998, p. 9).


Such a policy is clearly a policy that favors administrative matters more than scholarly or intellectual interests. A system that chooses to be consistent with itself rather than reflecting the progress in knowledge and in the external society looses something. It makes library administration more simple, but it do not allow the users the same "atlas of science" as do other kinds of systems. In other words, it limits the possibilities for functions as information retrieval system out-side the context of small and middle-sized libraries. The same dilemma exist with all kinds of systems that aim to function as a standard.


Saeed & Chaudry (2001) is an examination of DDC as a tool for organizing information on the Internet.





Audunson, R. (1996). Comparing Change Processes in Public Libraries: An Institutional Perspective. IN: Olaisen, Johan; Erland Munch-Petersen and Patrick Wilson (eds.): Information Science. From the Development of the Discipline to Social Interaction. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press. (Pp. 135-167).

Comaromi, J. P. (1976). The Eighteen Editions of the Dewey Decimal Classification. Albany, N.Y.: Forest Press.


Dewey, M. (1876). A classification and subject index for cataloguing and arranging the books and pamphlets of a library. Amherst, Massachusetts. Available at:


Donbroski, L. (1980). Life without Dewey. Catalog and Index, 57, 3-6.


Frohmann, B. (1994). The Social Construction of Knowledge Organization: The Case of Melvil Dewey. Advances in Knowledge Organization, 4, 109-117.


Graziano, E. E. (1955). The Philosophy of Hegel as Basis for the Dewey Decimal Classification Schedule’’ (Master’s thesis, University of Oklahoma.


Graziano, E. E. (1959).  Hegel’s Philosophy as Basis for the Dewey Classification Schedule. Libri 9(1), 45–52.


Hansson, J. (1997). Why public libraries in Sweden did not choose Dewey.  Knowledge Organization, 24(3), 145-153. Abstract:

Lovitt, J. & Myers, G. (2003).
An Examination and Comparison of the Dewey Decimal Classification and the Universal Decimal Classification Systems.


Maass, J. (1972). Who Invented Dewey’s Classification?’’ Wilson Library Bulletin, 47(December), 335–342.


Miksa, F. (1998). The DDC, the Universe of Knowledge, and the Post-Modern Library. Albany, NY: Forest Press.


Mitchell, J. (2001). Relationships in the Dewey Decimal Classification System. IN: Bean, C. A. & Green, R. (Eds.). (2001). Relationships in the organization of knowledge. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. (Pp. 211-226).


Politt, S. & Tinker, A. J. (2003). View based subject searching. Presentation at: Information in Action. July, 3.-5., 2003, Umist, Manchester. CILIP: Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. (Visited July 11., 2005).


Rainie, Lee (2007). 28% of online Americans have used the Internet to tag content: forget Dewey and his decimals, internet users are revolutionizing the way we classify information-and make sense of it. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved 2007-11-12 from


Saeed, H. & Chaudry, A. S. (2001). Potential of bibliographic tools to organize knowledge on the Internet: The use of Dewey Decimal Classification scheme for organizing Web-based information resources. Knowledge Organization, 28(1), 17-26.


Stevenson, G. & Kramer-Greene, J.  (eds.). (1983). Melvil Dewey: The Man and the Classification. Albany, NY: Forest Press.


Wiegand, W. A. (1998). The "Amherst method". The origins of the Dewey Decimal Classification System. Libraries & Culture, 33(2), 175-194. Available at:




DDC 1 (1876) in full text from Project Gutenberg:


DDC 22, Introduction:


DDC 22, Summaries:


OCLC about DDC:




WebDewey:   (password required).



Wikipedia about DDC [2005]:


Furner, J. (Ed.). (2005-). 025.431: The Dewey blog. Everything you always wanted to know about the Dewey Decimal Classification® system but were afraid to ask ...



See also: Business- or management like approaches to KO






Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 05-11-2008