Spanish Researcher Returns to SOIS
Unlike some of his fellow librarians, Daniel Martínez-Ávila doesn’t get too caught up in the nostalgia of the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system. He acknowledges that it’s quite old – more than 100 years old, to be precise – but he’s also pragmatic about its usage: if it still works, there shouldn’t be any reason to replace it.
There are many in the library science field who would like to do exactly that: replace the DDC. In the last few years, several libraries around the United States and abroad have switched to a classification system known as BISAC. Developed by the Book Industry Study Group, a publishing trade association, the BISAC – which stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications – classification is the preferred organizational system of commercial book stores around the country.
In 2007, the Perry Branch Library in the Maricopa County Library District, Arizona became the first library in the United States to trade in DDC for BISAC.
Should libraries be more like book stores in adopting such an organization scheme? This is the question Martínez-Ávila is asking. He, along with Hope A. Olson, SOIS dean and Margaret Kipp, SOIS professor, are studying the critical perspectives of both the DDC and BISAC systems.
For Martínez-Ávila, the project represents an interest kindled here in Milwaukee, but one that he expects to play out on an international level. In his second year of doctoral study at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Madrid, Spain, he returns to Milwaukee this summer after a year of being away.
Originally arriving in August 2009, Martínez-Ávila spent the fall semester developing the earliest stages of the project in which he, Olson and Kipp began examining the political discourse behind the BISAC-DDC divide. The reactions from bookstores, editors, publishers, and librarians, were the main focus of what the team referred to as “Stage I” of the project.
After returning to Spain in December, Martínez-Ávila and crew are tackling Stage II, which involves going deeper into what the DDC and BISAC really do for patrons. One of the questions the team is asking is whether BISAC treats materials in manner more suited for diverse communities. “It our responsibility as researchers to explore the social role of these schemes,” he explained.
Much of the research Martínez-Ávila is attempting to deal with derives from Olson’s original work on subject representation and social groups. In fact, Olson’s work is what brought him to Milwaukee in the first place.
Before coming to Milwaukee in 2009, Martínez-Ávila had mostly studied the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC), a system of classification widely used in Europe. The former bookstore employee developed an interest in classification after completing a project in information organization and technology in Spain.
Familiarizing himself with Olson’s work, he eventually decided that the DDC – the dominant form of classification around the world – would be best to study. He chose to come to Milwaukee to learn from Olson. “Her work in examining the bias in information organization is critical in the field.” Martínez-Ávila hailed the entire Information Organization Research Group (IOrg) as a distinguished group with which to work. “It’s an honor to participate in such a legacy,” he said.
He plans on spending the fall “technically mapping the [DDC and BISAC] schemes.” He sees the goal of the project to justify a decision: DDC versus BISAC. “If libraries want to switch to BISAC it should be done for a good reason, not just because people don’t want to learn DDC,” he said.
Martínez-Ávila will stay in Milwaukee until December when he returns back to Madrid. He hopes that the research he completes at SOIS will ultimately help inform his dissertation, which will deal with larger issues in library systems and information organization. For the meantime, he’s content to be back near Lake Michigan, a place that’s become more a second home for him.
“It’s good to be back,” he said.