Changes in the Dewey Decimal Classification

The world is constantly changing and the Dewey Decimal Classification has been too. Staying up to date with world events is essential if Dewey is to keep up with the world of publishing.

Since the Dewey Decimal Classification was first compiled, the world inevitably has changed. To keep up with the world of publishing, Dewey has to keep up with these happenings. The last edition of Dewey (edition 22) was published in 2003 and Abridged (edition 14) in 2004.

There have been changing political boundaries, as in the former Yugoslavian states, and changing governments in many states, which can affect period subdivisions. There have been new wars, as in the invasion of Iraq . More detailed geographic subdivisions have occurred, as with Indonesia . There have also been new numbers for topics that have become more widely written about, such as Pilates and Asperger's syndrome.

How Dewey keeps up to date

Larger libraries can afford to exploit the resources of WebDewey (an online version of Dewey in both full and abridged forms) to keep up with such changes. Like any online resource, WebDewey can be easily updated for all users when required. In an online environment, it is a small matter to change the entry ‘Class here administration of Saddam Hussein, 1979–' by changing the date to ‘1979–2003'.

Smaller libraries rely on the print versions of Dewey. It's not so simple for them to have their print version automatically updated. In fact, there is a way to keep up with changes and it is not difficult if you have access to the Internet.

Once a month, Dewey editors publish an update called New and changed entries . This is issued free of charge for reading and/or printing in both Portable Document Format ( PDF) and Microsoft® Word versions. It is available at

The Word version is good for cutting and pasting parts of the documents; the PDF is better for printing out the complete document.

Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) – Dewey services

Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) – Dewey services

If your computer has a R eally S imple S yndication ( RSS) reader installed, you can subscribe at this page to have the monthly updates delivered to your desktop automatically and free of charge. If you do not have an RSS reader installed, there are several such readers available for downloading as freeware.

Note that, while updates are published once a month and are used by cataloguing agencies as soon as they are issued, WebDewey is slightly slower. It is updated every three months. SCIS implements the new or changed numbers as soon as they are available on WebDewey.

The war on terror

One example of change is terrorism and the ‘War on terror'. Shortly after the events of 11 September 2001, President Bush announced a ‘war on terror'.

Dewey, of course, doesn't rush into things, automatically creating numbers in knee-jerk fashion. Rather, it waits to be sure that there is a body of documents (or ‘literary warrant') before it creates new provisions for the concepts concerned.

Terrorism, after all, has been around for a long time. The word has been used since at least the French revolution and the practice has never quite disappeared: think of the Anarchist bombers at the start of the 20th century, or the Red Brigades and other similar groups of the 1960s. Dewey has long had provision for the concept. For several editions past, it has been at 363.32: ‘Control of violence and terrorism', which also included ‘crowd and riot control'.

Given the increased recent media attention on al-Qaeda and other militant groups in the Middle East , it was clear that the general number was no longer adequate. In November 2005 a Dewey update was published which greatly expanded the number. Here is a summary list of the main new numbers and their headings in DC22:

363.32 Social conflict

.321 Aspects of social conflict

.323 Crowds [including riots, demonstrations]

.325 Terrorism

.3251 Aspects of terrorism

.3253 Bioterrorism and chemical terrorism

.3255 Nuclear terrorism

.3259 Specific targets of terrorism

The abridged edition uses only 363.32 and 363.325.

Cataloguers, as always, were still left with decisions. Was this new number necessarily the best place to put works on the ‘War on Terrorism', which seemed to embrace a wider target than small terrorist cells and formed the stated rationale for the invasion of Iraq ?

The Dewey editors took advantage of a new update in November 2007 to address these concerns. This update was a greatly expanded entry in the manual, of both the full and abridged editions, about the classification treatment of wars.

The final section of this manual update was titled Other subjects called ‘wars' . In making a series of general statements, it makes three specific points:

•  The ‘War on crime' goes with crime prevention in 364.4. By extension, the ‘War on drugs' goes in 362.29 (‘Drug abuse').

•  The ‘Cold war' goes in world history of the later 20 th century in 909.825.

•  Finally, and I quote the complete sentence that is relevant here: class the ‘… War on Terrorism (the various military, political, and legal actions taken by the United States and its allies to end international terrorism) with the 2000–2019 period in 909.831'.

Ray Cotsell

SCIS Cataloguer