In a shocking update, it has come to notice of librarians across the globe that in June, the American Library Association had decided to remove the name of Melvil Dewey from one of its top leadership honors: the Melvil Dewey Medal. Those in the field of Library and Information Science are familiar with the name Melvil Dewey as the man who founded the Dewey classification system which is the classification scheme used in libraries across the world. He is also famous for having founded the first library school in America and also the co-founder of the ALA. But the news of his name being dropped from the covetous award and the reasons behind the decision would be a jolt from the blue for all modern-day librarians.
The thought of removing his name has been talked over the past few years owing to the debased life of Dewey. This might seem outrageous for those who like me are generation X librarians who have come to revere the man for his contribution. But when ALA disclosed the reasons, one cannot hide the revulsion that one feels. Under the magnanimous and noble garb of Dewey, hid a man who was amoral, unscrupulous, a racist and one who was a repeat offender. His lifestyle and offenses were public knowledge during his lifetime. Even after his death in 1931, though librarians kept a hush over the matter it was never completely forgotten.
In today’s time of # MeToo campaign, it only serves to show that ALA strictly adheres to its values of “Equity, diversity, and inclusion”. He was accused of sexual harassment by several women, which is strange in the light that he advocated the participation of women in the profession. Yet at the same time, he belittles them saying that women generally gave up the profession to keep the hearth warm at home. Hence, women should be paid less than their male counterparts, the fact highly criticized even then.
ALA made known the following reasons behind the removal of his name from the award.
- Antisemitic and racist: He was known to have denied permission to Jews and blacks to become members or visitors at a private club he owned on Lake Placid. The club pamphlet also emphasized the same. But when the pamphlet became public, Dewy had to resign from the position he held at the state library. In his defense, he said that as a private club, it has the rights to decide its choice of members. This did not go down well with the public and was a big letdown for his image.
- Controversial classification scheme: The classification scheme designed by Dewey is highly controversial as it is biased and Eurocentric. The DDC scheme favors Christianity and has a whole class 200 devoted to it. Only one section of the class from 290 onwards is focussed on other religions and that too in brief. It is representative of his White man’s superiority wherein he considered himself above all others.
- Sexual offender: Dewey has been accused of sexism. The instances which earlier were silenced came to the forefront when his behavior became unbearable. Many women complained against his unwarranted physical advances, especially towards his subordinates. He would hug, kiss and caress women in public without their consent. He even faced a lawsuit for this but was settled later to avoid tarnishing his name. But the damage was already done.
Another important name that was dropped was Laura Ingalls Wilder for her anti–Native American and anti-black sentiment in her Little House on the Prairie series. (It’s now called the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.) ALA is now reviewing names of other awards named after individuals who don’t meet the ALA’s current values and do not endorse the values of humanity.