5 Controversial Facts About Melvil Dewey and the Dewey Decimal System

iStock/TerryJ
iStock/TerryJ

Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System, was born on December 10, 1851. Among other things, Dewey was a self-proclaimed reformer, so when working for the Amherst College library in the 1870s, he began to reclassify the facility’s books and how they were organized.

Though the system has gone through plenty of changes over the years, it’s still in wide use all over the world today and forever changed how libraries categorize their books. It has also caused a handful of controversies. In honor of Dewey Decimal Day, we dug into the organizational system—and its creator’s—dark side.

1. Melvil Dewey co-founded the American Library Association, but was forced out because of offensive behavior.

Melvil Dewey was an extremely problematic figure, even in his time. Though he co-founded the American Library Association (ALA), his often-offensive behavior—particularly toward women—didn’t make him a lot of friends.

In Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey, author Wayne A. Wiegand described Dewey’s “persistent inability to control himself around women” as his “old nemesis.” In 1905, Dewey and several fellow ALA members took a cruise to Alaska following a successful ALA conference, with the purpose of discussing the organization’s future. Four women who were part of the trip ended up publicly accusing Dewey of sexual harassment—a rarity for the time. Within a year, Dewey was forced to step down from his involvement with the organization he helped to create.

2. Dewey required applicants to his School of Library Economy to submit photos.


A History of the Adirondacks, by Alfred Lee Donaldson (1921) // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1887, Dewey founded the School of Library Economy at Columbia College, where 90 percent of his students were female. It was long rumored that in addition to basic information like name, age, and educational background, Dewey required that prospective female students also submit their bust sizes. While this rumor was eventually proven to be false, Dewey did ask women to submit photos, often noting that “You cannot polish a pumpkin.”

3. A Howard University librarian reorganized Dewey's original system because of its racial bias.

Dewey’s personal biases spilled over into his creation, too, and it has taken sincere effort and work to right those wrongs. In the 1930s, Howard University librarian Dorothy Porter helped create a new system to undo the racist way Dewey’s system treated black writers. As Smithsonian reported:

All of the libraries that Porter consulted for guidance relied on the Dewey Decimal Classification. “Now in [that] system, they had one number—326—that meant slavery, and they had one other number—325, as I recall it—that meant colonization,” she explained in her oral history. In many “white libraries,” she continued, “every book, whether it was a book of poems by James Weldon Johnson, who everyone knew was a black poet, went under 325. And that was stupid to me.”

In addition to charges of racism, the DDS has also been accused of being homophobic. Early editions of the system classified books on or regarding LGBT issues under Abnormal Psychology, Perversion, Derangement, as a Social Problem, or even as Medical Disorders.

4. Its 'religion' section is skewed heavily toward Christianity.

The DDS section on religion starts at 200, and no other religion besides Christianity is covered until 290. Given that there are more than 4000 religions in the world, saving a mere 10 numbers for their classification doesn’t leave a lot of room for thorough coverage or exploration. Though some changes have been made as new editions of the system have been introduced, the process of restructuring the entire 200s is a project that has yet to be undertaken.

5. Critics of the system would prefer libraries take the Barnes & Noble approach.

The Dewey Decimal System is the most used library classification system, with the Chicago Tribune estimating that more than 200,000 libraries in 135 countries use it. But it’s far from a perfect system. As such, many libraries are experimenting with other organizational techniques, and many are dropping the DDS altogether.

The main complaint that public libraries have is that the Dewey Decimal System does not make reading exciting, and that there are other ways of categorizing and organizing books that are more like that of general bookstores. By doing away with the numbers (which are hard to remember for general library patrons), some libraries are classifying books simply by category and organizing by author—a system they've begun referring to as "Dewey-lite."

16 Unforgettable Facts About Dumbo

The Walt Disney Co.
The Walt Disney Co.

Even though Dumbo is Disney's shortest feature-length movie, there are still plenty of secrets to share about this little elephant and his escapades. 

1. Like many Disney movies, this one started as a book.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant, written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, started out as a 36-page "Roll-A-Book." The "book" was a series of illustrations on a scroll, and readers would turn a little wheel at the top of the "book" to read the next panel.

2. Dumbo originally had a different sidekick.

Edward Brophy in Dumbo
The Walt Disney Co.

In the original book, Timothy Q. Mouse didn't exist. Instead, Dumbo’s sidekick was Red Robin. By the end of the book, Red and Dumbo have signed a film contract and are headed to Hollywood.

3. The studio had to keep production cheap.

Due to the war efforts, the studio had instructions to keep Dumbo as inexpensive as possible. As a result, backgrounds are noticeably less detailed than in other Disney movies, and the characters are much simpler. By the end of production, Dumbo had cost just $812,000 to make.

4. Dumbo almost landed the cover of Time.

TIME magazine had plans to honor Dumbo as “Mammal of the Year.” But then Pearl Harbor happened and they opted for a more serious cover, though they still called the animated elephant “Mammal of the Year” in an inside feature.

5. An animator’s strike was parodied in the movie.

There was an extremely heated animator’s strike during production. It's said that Disney mocked his striking workers by putting a scene in where a group of clowns decide to "hit the big boss for a raise." See for yourself:

6. The movie is only 64 minutes long.

At just over an hour, Dumbo is the shortest feature-length Disney movie. Walt was advised to extend the storyline, but he resisted, saying, "You can stretch a story just so far and after that it won't hold together."

7. Harry Truman refused to try the Dumbo ride at Disneyland.

When Harry S. Truman visited Disneyland in 1957, he refused to ride the popular attraction based on the Dumbo movie. It wasn't a fear of heights that stopped him, though; Truman, a Democrat, didn't want to be seen riding in a symbol of the Republican party.

8. Dumbo was Walt Disney’s personal favorite movie.

A scene from 'Dumbo' (1941)
The Walt Disney Co.

When the movie later aired on the Disneyland TV show, Disney admitted to the audience that Dumbo held a special place in his heart. “From the very start, Dumbo was a happy picture," he said. "We weren’t restricted by any set storyline so we could give our imaginations full play. In other words, if a good idea came to us, we’d put it in the story. It was really a happy picture from beginning to end.”

9. Dumbo II almost happened.

After being named chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios in 2006, one of John Lasseter’s first acts was to quash a proposed sequel that was in the works. The premise: Dumbo and his circus buddies have to figure their way out of the big city after the circus train accidentally leaves them there.

10. A live-action remake is in the works.

Though it was originally announced in 2015, bringing a live-action version of Dumbo to the big screen took a little longer than anticipated. The Tim Burton-directed movie won't be out until later this month, and film execs have hinted that the story will take viewers beyond the original tale. 

11. Cels from Dumbo are extremely valuable.

Not knowing that original animation cels would someday be worth a lot of money, artists weren’t too careful with preserving their art. In fact, it was just the opposite: while animators were working on movies like Fantasia and Dumbo, they’d take the finished slippery cels and use them to skate down hallways. Between that and the fact that the earth-toned paints used in the Dumbo color palette were particularly prone to flaking, any remaining cels from the film are among the most valuable of any Disney movie.

12. The song “Baby Mine” was nominated for an Academy Award.

Get your hankies out! The heartbreaking tune, sung while Jumbo the elephant uses her trunk to rock baby Dumbo through the bars of her cage, was nominated for an Oscar but lost to “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from Lady Be Good. The film did win an Oscar for Best Score, however.

13. The “Pink Elephants on Parade” segment is a bit controversial.

Of course it is! It features candy-colored pachyderm hallucinations that are the result of an underage drinker imbibing too much champagne. Though the scene passed muster in 1941, it doesn’t always today. When Dumbo is reformatted for publication, the “Pink Elephant” scene is often replaced with Dumbo dreaming of flying.

14. Dumbo has an octopus named after him.

Thanks to the ear-like fins that protrude from the sides of their heads, these Grimpoteuthis octopods have been dubbed the “Dumbo” octopus. The fins help them swim, of course, not fly.

15. Dumbo did speak—eventually.

Dumbo didn’t utter a single word during the 1941 movie, but by the 1980s the little elephant had grown up and found his voice. When the live-action show Dumbo’s Circus debuted on The Disney Channel more than 40 years after the original movie, Dumbo was suddenly pretty chatty.

16. A tune called "Sing a Song of Cheese" was cut from the film.

Timothy Q. Mouse was once slated to sing an ode to his favorite dairy product. It was axed from the final film, presumably because it didn't actually have anything to do with the plot of the movie.

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2015.

The 10 Most Popular Puppy Names of 2019

iStock.com/Lakshmi3
iStock.com/Lakshmi3

If you brought home a new dog or puppy recently and named it Luna, you’re far from the only one. The name, which means moon in Latin, is the most popular puppy name for 2019.

This analysis of cute canine monikers comes from Trupanion, a provider of medical insurance for pets. The company looked at its database of 500,000 dogs and crunched the numbers to identify the names that are currently having a moment. (Although some of the names that cracked the top 10 list, like Daisy and Max, have been around for quite some time.)

Interestingly, Luna wasn’t always popular. As Trupanion points out, “Looking back 10 years, Luna was barely a blip on the name game chart … not even cracking the list of top 20 names.” Nor did it appear on ​Banfield Pet Hospital's list of the 10 most popular dog names of 2018.

Often, there's some overlap between popular pet names and baby names. Luna was the 31st most popular baby name for girls in 2018. This is perhaps linked to the popularity of the Harry Potter character Luna Lovegood, as well as the publicity the name has received in recent years from celebrities like John Legend and Chrissy Teigen and Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, as both couples named their daughters Luna.

Second on the list of popular puppy names is Bella (its longer form, Isabella, was the fifth most popular baby name for girls last year). Check out the top 10 list below to see if your pooch’s name is trending right now.

1. Luna
2. Bella
3. Charlie
4. Bailey
5. Lucy
6. Cooper
7. Max
8. Daisy
9. Bear
10. Oliver

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