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HIST 491C / LAS 450/ AMS 490 / Africana 406: Race and Racism in the Americas (Spring 2024)

Libraries, Organization of Knowledge, and Race

Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), created 1876. Still used by many public and school libraries, but largely abandoned by academic libraries in the late 20th century.

Guide to Dewey Decimal Classification System covering every subject from 000 "general works" to 999 History of the Antarctic Regions

So what's the problem?

Roots of Dewey

Image of original 1876 Dewey Classification Table

A deep look

  • On page 15 of the publication (24/57 of the PDF) 

Other Issues

  • 290 is "other" religions.
    • Germanic religions (ex. Paganism, Norse) get 293
    • All "Indic religions" (ex Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism) share 294
    • Hinduism is 294.5
    • Zoroastrianism is 295
    • 299.6 is “religions originating among Black Africans and people of Black African descent.”
  • Many white American biographies are listed between 930-990 in Modern History, while most African or African American writers are listed under 325 (Slavery) or 326 (Colonization).
  • Similarly, histories of political leaders who are white are usually in the 900s (History) while Black people and immigrants are in the 300s (Social Sciences)


Improvements are made over time, but....

Disclaimer: Library of Congress

For these reasons, most academic and large public libraries use the Library of Congress Subject Headings and Call numbers, which is much better and progress is slow

It Still isn't perfect: librarians had to fight hard to change "slaves" to "enslaved persons" (2022)  and "illegal alien" to "Noncitizens" and "Unauthorized immigration" (2016) and "Tulsa Race Riot" to "tulsa Race Massacre" (2021).


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Anderson, Jane and Kimberly Christensen. "Decolonizing attribution: Traditions of exclusion. Journal of Radical Librarianship, vol. 5, 2019, pp. 113-152. 

Change the Subject. Directed by Sawyer Broadley and Jill Baron, Dartmouth College, 2019.

Drabinski, Emily. "Teaching the radical catalog." Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front, edited by K. R. Roberto, McFarland & Company, Inc., 2015, pp. 198-205.

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Idrees, Haroon. “Organization of Islamic Knowledge in Libraries: The Role of Classification Systems.” Library Philosophy and Practice, vol. 63, no. 3, May 2013, pp. 98-117.

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