Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dewey!

Image from member Eigappleton Some rights reserved
Born on Dec. 10th, 1851 in Adams Center, Jefferson County, New York, Melville Dewey is best known as the inventor of the Dewey Decimal Classification System that bears his name and is used in libraries world wide. Often dubbed the Father of Modern Librarianship, Dewey developed much more than a filing system.

In 1872, as a sophomore at Amherst College, he invented the Dewey Decimal Classification System which was the beginning of many contributions to the field of Library Science. In 1876 he co-founded the American Library Association. In 1887 he established the first professional library school in the United States at Colombia University. He also co-founded and edited Library Journal which is still the major library publication today. Fortunately for the Journal, his passion for simplifying spelling did not catch on with the masses. He did found the Spelling Reform Association in 1886 and changed the spelling of his name from Melville to Melvil.

Keen on the unique equipment needed by libraries, Dewey created the Library Bureau to sell specific products to libraries. Dewey also founded the American Metric Bureau and tried very hard to convert American measurements to the metric system. This company also first sold equipment to libraries, like carts and catalogues, but eventually the Library Bureau took over all library equipment sales.

What many do not know about Dewey is how instrumental he was in bringing the 1932 Winter Olympics to New York. In 1895 Dewey founded the Lake Placid Club, a inexpensive resort for educators. His motto was “Health, strength, and inspiration at a modest cost.” He was quite successful. The first year he had 1500 summer guests and 1200 winter guests, all with “no bar, no cigar, and inspiration at a moderate rate.”(1)

His spelling reform passion carried over to his lodge. A September 1927 menu is headed “’Simpler spelin’ and features dishes like Hadok, Poted beef with noodls, Parsli or Masht potato, Butr, Steamd rys, Letis, and Ys cream. It also advises guests that "All shud see the butiful after-glo on mountains to the east just befor sunset. Fyn vu from Golfhous porch." (2) This type of writing is much more common today with the texting generation.

While in Lake Placid, Melvil Dewey became the Chairman of the New York Winter Olympics Committee. He and his son Dr. Godfrey Dewey, President of the committee, convinced an otherwise unwilling town to host the Winter Olympics in 1932. Melvil Dewey died Dec. 26th, 1931, just a month and a few days shy of the Feb. 4th 1932 kick off of the Olympic Games.


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