A cataloging listserv I subscribe to brought the Darwin Day Petition to my attention.
Barbara Shaw, a graduate student at Portland State University, is drafting a petition requesting that books on creationism and intelligent design be moved in bookstores and libraries from the science section to the religion section.
Ms. Shaw presents the idea that the placing of intelligent design texts in the science section comes not out of malice, but out of misinformation. She writes, "Categorizing books is both a science and an art. We respect the enormous task they have, and our efforts are to support them, not in any way to undermine them."
Ms. Shaw places the blame squarely on the shoulders of scientists. She argues that they must do a better job of teaching the public "what science is, and what science is not."
As someone who classifies library materials as part of her job, Shaw's petition shows a weakness in the process. For both Dewey Decimal Classification and LC Classification, the classifier has to use his or her best judgment when assigning a class number. If a book is about one topic and it is mis-classified, it's an error on the catalogers part. If, though, the book is about two topics, the classifier must decide what the book is more "about."
For instance, if a book "about" both intelligent design and evolution, the classifier has to decide which topic the book is more "about." He or she must often look beyond the title page to get the information needed, like the author's background or argument.
As Ms. Shaw states, it's both an art and a science. And sometimes we get it wrong.
I think it's neat that Ms. Shaw and her colleagues feel so strongly about the situation that they are willing to work for change. I respect that.
It is a reminder for me, as a cataloger, to always be vigilant when making decisions.