Duke is converting from Dewey to LC, a humongous, expensive, time consuming, and multi-year project. Someone recently found in Duke’s archives a 1937 letter from Duke’s then-University Librarian J.P. Breedlove to a Dr. Branscomb, who Deborah Jakubs (the current University Librarian) thinks was the head of the library council or some such committee. Breedlove basically implores the committee not to go forward with a Dewey to LC conversion at that time.

Yvonne told me about this letter last week. Apparently Jakubs did a dramatic reading of the letter at an all-Perkins meeting. I’d love to have seen that.

This really is amazing and amusing reading. Some of my favorite passages:

“…we begun to classify and catalogue our books in February 1903, and we have never caught up with this work.”

Nice to know that librarians have always been overworked & it’s not just a modern phenomenon. BTW, 100 years later, they’re still not caught up.

“…to estimate that we could change… from the Dewey to the Library of Congress system for $25,000 seems to me to be only a wild guess.”

Breedlove then goes on to estimate that a conversion will cost on the order of $50,000. I don’t know how much the conversion is costing Duke now, but I’ll wager it’s a hell of a lot more than that, even adjusting for 1937 dollars.

“I know little about the Library of Congress system. I have read a good deal about it, but I have not used it and I have had little opportunity to observe the use of it.”

I’m sure I learned the history of LC back at Simmons, but (sorry, Sheila) I’ve forgotten it. We tend to think of LC as this monolithic thing, but it wasn’t always so.

“Books are not written to fit a scheme of classification. The classification scheme has to do the best it can with the books that are written.”

Too right.

“…in the next 25 years another scheme may come into vogue and will have its sponsors.”

Indeed. But if everyone applied that logic, we’d all still be using Cutter to this day. Or whatever system they used in Alexandria to shelve scrolls.