Melvil Dewey: A Biography

Born in New York, USA on December 10, 1851, Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey later shortened his first name to Melvil and changed the spelling of his family name to Dui.

Dewey was from a poor family and worked as a student assistant in a college library to help pay for his education. It was while here, aged 21, that he invented the system that is now used to classify books and other items including internet resources, in libraries around the world. Known as the Dewey Decimal Classification system it organises information into 10 main subject areas. The system changed the way libraries organised their books and other items. Librarianship became a respected profession.

Before Dewey's system became widely used, each library had its own way of organising items and often it was the librarian only who knew where each item was shelved. This made it difficult for people to find things in libraries.

Dewey helped establish the American Library Association (ALA) in 1876 and was the secretary of ALA and later its president. He edited a library journal that helped to promote library standards and a company that he formed sold library supplies.

In 1883, Dewey became the librarian of Columbia University in New York City. He founded the first ever library school at the university on January 1, 1887.

Dewey suffered a stroke and died in Florida, USA, on December 26, 1931.

Photograph of Melvil Dewey "Used by permission of The Book & The Computer Online Journal."

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updated march 2006