Melvil Dewey- Image used by permission of The Book and Computer Online Journal

Melvil Dewey- Image used by permission of The Book and Computer Online Journal

Melvil Dewey was born in New York in the United States of America on December 10, 1851.  

He was given the names Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey but later he dropped two of the middle names and shortened his first name to Melvil. He even changed the spelling of his family name to Dui. This was because he was interested in making spelling easier and thought the extra letters weren't needed. 

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 organise books, and other items including internet resources, in libraries around the world. 

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, and each time they went to a new library they had to find out how to use a different system.

Dewey Decimal Classification System

Dewey's system, known as the Dewey Decimal Classification System, organises information into 10 main subject areas using a number from 000 - 900.  His system changed the way libraries organised their books and other items. Once people knew these main subject numbers they could find books in any library using Dewey numbers.  

Other Dewey achievements

  • He 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. It is said that Dewey was the inventor of the vertical office file.
  • In 1883, Dewey became the librarian of Columbia University in New York City. He founded the first ever library school there on January 1, 1887. 
  • Dewey suffered a stroke and died in Florida, USA, on December 26, 1931. 


Read the kidcyber page:

The Dewey Decimal System