What is the Dewey Decimal System?

The Dewey decimal system is a common method for classifying books and publications in libraries. Use figures ranging from 000 to 999 to highlight different fields of knowledge. Different fields of knowledge fall into different subdivisions, characterized by decimals and numbers.

Origin of the system

Dewey’s classification is the work of Melvil Dewey, an American librarian of 1873. The classification system takes its name from its inventor. The Amherst College Library was the initial user of the classification system. The initial publication of Dewey Decimal System was in 1876. Best versions of the system developed over time, with 23 rd edition released in 2011. Dewey’s classification system applies to non-fiction books, but is also applicable to fiction books.


The first edition of Dewey Decimal System was under the management and administration of Dewey, along with a small group of editors. The Lake Placid Club Educational Foundation, founded by Dewey, took over the administration of the Dewey system from 1922. Melvil checked and revised the first three editions of the system. From 1891 to 1921, May Seymour worked as an editor of the system. Many editors have managed the system over time. Melvis retained copyright in editions 1-6. The Library Bureau held the copyright for editions 7-10. Upon the death of publisher Seymour, the copyright of the system went to the Lake Placid Club educational center in 1922. In 1988, the online computer library center owned the copyright of the system.


Under the Dewey classification system, different numbers portray special topics. For example, the number used to represent sciences is different from that used to represent history. All knowledge is in ten groups. Each of the ten groups has further classifications assigned to one hundred numbers. The various knowledge groups include: History, Biography and Geography, 900-999; Rhetoric and literature, 800-899; Arts, 700-799; Technology, 600-699; Mathematics and natural sciences, 500-599; Lingua, 400-499; Social sciences, 300-399; Religious Studies, 200-299, and Philosophy and Psychology, 100-199.

Knowledge groups 10 are divided into even smaller groups. For example, in the field of geography, the geography of a location falls into a subgroup different from that of another location. The subgroup of American geography will have a different number than that of European geography. Additional classifications occur by extending to decimal numbers. For example, the number 942 represents the history of England. This is further divided into specific categories with decimal points. For example, 942.063 represents the history of the English Commonwealth.


The Dewey decimal system is suitable for libraries of all sizes. It is easy to adopt because it comes complete with a user guide that illustrates the entire classification. Smaller bookcases can adopt the reduced version of the Dewey classification system. This version adapts to libraries with titles 20,000 or less. The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) currently manages the classification system. OCLC is a non-profit organization that offers services to libraries. Initially, most libraries have classified and stored books on permanent shelves. However, it is now possible to add new books to a library based on the topic. This is due to the introduction of concepts related to the relative index and relative position.

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