Wild and crazy guy Melvil Dewey was born on December 10, 1851. It’s pretty well known that librarians are party animals, and Melvil was a librarian at no less a place than Amherst College. It was there that he made a name for himself and had his groupies screaming in the aisles.
Back in the Dewey day, ordinary people visiting the library weren’t allowed to go rummaging willy-nilly through the stacks – that’s library lingo for the shelves of books. So your librarians could do pretty much what they wanted to do back there in the stacks, and rumor has it they wanted to do quite a lot.
Melvil was a pretty popular guy back there in the stacks. He had invented this neat numbering system for library books which allowed them to be found without an exhaustive search through the stacks. Book searches could last days (even without fooling around). “I think I last saw Moby Dick down at that end across from the Dictionary of Republican Ideas Unabridged.” Under Dewey’s system each book was cataloged by its subject matter, first with a general number and then additional numbers after the decimal to get more specific – a place for every book, every book in its place. The more places after the decimal, the more important the book, or so authors were led to believe.
Well, when Dewey showed his system to groups of librarians they just got all excited and swooned right there on the spot – we all know how sexy decimals are. Dewey’s reputation grew and pretty soon everyone wanted to wander the stacks with Melvil the Hunk. He just had to whisper “shhh” (the mating call of the wild librarian) and unsuspecting librarians would follow him anywhere, even down to 613.9, and we know what goes on down there.
Dewey was also into spelling reform; that’s why he changed his name from the usual “Melville” to “Melvil,” eliminating redundant letters. For a while, he even changed his surname to “Dui.” Was there no limit to this guy’s depth?