• The Cynic

How Libraries Might Make You A Racist Jerk

Do you want to gain priceless knowledge through reading?

Or maybe you just want to get a book out because it’l make you look sophisticated on the bus ride home.

Well, you’re not fooling anyone dummy. We can see your thumbs twirling on your phone in-between the pages…

Either way, you should consider that you’re supporting a system of oppression if you visit a library and borrow a book.

“How is borrowing a book harming the disenfranchised?” You’re probably muttering to yourself under your Hitler moustache.

It’s simple.

Ever heard of the Dewey decimal system?

If you haven’t… Jesus, kid. Read a book or something

Classism Built In To The System

The Dewey decimal system is used by many libraries to categorize and order their books by their subject matter.

“So, what? They put the black books at the back of the library? They slap the dust off pink covers with the back of their hands? They throw the smart, business-savy ones in a pile out the back?”

Nah, nothing that dire.

It’s not even the libraries themselves that are at fault. It’s this Dewey Decimal fella.

You see, Melvil “Decimal” Dewey, the inventor of the decimal system, was a “white guy” from America.

And, you know the kinda bad rep white guys get these days, right? So you can just imagine the kinda rep white guys had back in the 1800’s, around the time he was alive.

Suffice to say, he wasn’t big on much anybody other than fellow white men.

Not even fellow white women. Not even fellow white Jews!

Dewey designed the system with some supposedly intended oversights…

Homosexuality – A Guide to Mental Derangement

Books that covered topics of homosexuality weren’t inducted into the system until 1932. When they were finally included, they were categorized under “Mental Derangements” and “Abnormal Psychology”.

Those crazy gays, amiright?

The books got a flattering upgrade in 1952 when they were reclassified as “Sociology – the study of the sexes”, dismissing homosexuality as a natural disposition. But they have since been updated to be less ridiculously offensive.

Certain books still remain on shelves alongside books on pornography and other books pertaining to ‘controversies related to public morals and customs’, under the category of “Social Problems”.

Beats “Mental Derangement”, I guess?

Islam – The Religion Of Segment #297.

In the Dewey Decimal System, each hundred-digit range is dedicated to a topic, with further segmentation.

For example 200-299.9 represents “Religion”

Within Religion, 200 to 289.9 are all dedicated solely to Christianity.

Within those segments are a wide variety of topics grouped every 10 numbers, and within each 10 you can have even more segments from single digits to decimals, for instance…

Christian Theology (230) – God (231) – Relation of God to the world (231.7)

It’s great. You can study the intricacies of Christianity and easily navigate the whereabouts of each book based on their specific topic.

Islam, on the other hand, and the most practiced religion in the world, represents just 1 digit in the 100 digit range.

No further segmentations. No subcategories. They are all lumped into #297.

The Jew’s caught a small break at least (Thanks bro). We got #296 with segments from 296.1 to 296.8.

Hinduism has to cram whatever book in existence covering the topic into a single DECIMAL (294.5)

The moral of the story? Hinduism sucks.

No... Christianity is hugely over-represented in the system.

Can you get mad?


It made sense back in the 18 to 1900’s, when America was predominantly Christian. But times change… Unless of course you live in the midwest.

Women – The Pumpkins Of The Patch

The system itself aside, Dewey was crude at best in interactions with people who didn’t have some sort of power, sway, or personal interest to him.

Women were frequently harassed by Mr. Dewey. An autobiographer insists women were often met with “unwelcome hugging, unwelcome touching, certainly unwelcome kissing” during their interactions.

And to take it a step further, when women applied for jobs at the School of Library Economy of which Dewey was the director, he requested photos from applicants because "you cannot polish a pumpkin"

Well, you can carve a pumpkin, too, Dewey. But, I guess that doesn’t translate well for this analogy.

Lake Placid – A Winter Wonderland For All (Except the Blacks, Jews and Gays)

In 1895, Dewey formed a social and recreation club in Lake Placid, New York. It was renowned for being an active centre for skiers.

Well, dark skin sticks out like a sore thumb in the snow, apparently...

And so do big noses, and stereotypically flamboyant gay men.

No one of any socially stigmatized group or racial minority was permitted into the club up until 1976.

I think Dewey low-key had a soft-spot for the socially esteemed of any creed though, as he once stated he can’t let Jews or anyone else in despite maybe having “unusual personal qualifications”.

You’re a sweetheart Dewey. Thanks for recognizing peoples personal merits, just not their race, religion or sexual orientation.

“So, am I actually a racist, sexist jerk just for going to the library?”


Catchy headline though, isn't it?

Melvil Dewey, on the other hand, totally was. And that bigotry spilled off into his decimal system, and daily life.

The silver lining is that with each revision of the system, it improves and more accurately represents the people that use it.

Just like any bureaucratic process in America, though, things move slow, if at all.

And if there was any saving grace from all of this, the American Library Association removed Melvil Dewey's name from the medal for their top honor, renaming it the "ALA Medal Of Excellence", instead.

So, there's that.

Guess we're square now, chief.



© 2020 by Ori Amir

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