Looking Back @ Understanding Dewey 900s Countries

Looking Back @ Understanding Dewey 900s Countries - The arrangement of countries in the Dewey decimal system are assigned geographically rather than politically because a location's political affiliation may change but it's place on the Earth doesn't. Read more to understand how country numbers are assigned...Many school librarians are confused about the way the countries in 940-990 are organized, as indicated by some LM_NET posts I’ve read. Between studying Dewey Abridged 14 and my Social Studies background, I’ve discerned a pattern to the number assignments and I hope this blog post can make it a bit more understandable—although some of it is a complete mystery to everyone but folks at OCLC!

First, each continent and country has a specific number in DDC Table 2, and both 910 Geography & Travel and 940-999 History use those Dewey numbers. (Most school libraries have books in just the 940-990 History numbers, because our country books are used for social studies research that includes both history and geography.) The arrangement of these country numbers may seem confusing, especially in 940-999, because we think of History in terms of political timelines, but Dewey numbers in Table 2 are assigned geographically rather than politically because a location’s political affiliation may change but it’s place on the Earth doesn’t.

We accept that DDC is Anglocentric, so it’s not surprising we begin with the continent of Europe at 940, then move to 950 Asia, 960 Africa, 970 North America, 980 South America, and 990 Australia & Oceania. Dewey 900 numbers for individual countries within the continents seem to be assigned geographically from North to South based along latitudinal lines and between West and East along longitudinal lines. The N→S pattern is more consistent on a continent than the W→E, beginning from a NW or NE coastal country, moving south along coasts, and then covering inland central continental locations.

(It seems to me that many number assignments are based on Anglocentric exploration/discovery and conquest/trade of water-accessible locations rather than true geography.)

continent EuropeEurope begins with the British Isles—Scotland & Ireland—at 941, moves SE to England & Wales at 942, confirming the Anglocentric leaning, then jumps E into central Europe with 943. We jump back SW to France with 944, move E to the Italian peninsula at 945, then jump back SW again to the Iberian peninsula at 946. Breaking the pattern, we jump NE to Eastern Europe, including Russia, at 947, and then break pattern again by jumping NW to Scandinavia. The 949 numbers are an odd mish-mash, moving from Iceland SE to the oddly missed English Channel countries and Switzerland, then to Greece and the Balkan countries.

continent AsiaAsia starts on the Pacific Ocean with 951 China & Korea and 952 Japan, then jumps SW to the Arabian peninsula at 953, and over to India at 954. From there we move back W to 955 Iran, further W to the Mediterranean and Middle East at 956, then inland and NE to 957 Siberia and 958 Central Asia. The continent finishes, oddly, with Southeast Asia at 959. (I surmise it’s because those European colonies didn’t achieve recognition as separate countries until later and they couldn’t fit the numbers in anywhere else!)

continent AfricaAfrica follows another Anglocentric geo-historical water-access exploration/conquest pattern beginning with 961 for the north-central countries on the Mediterranean coast, then moving E along the coast for 962 and S along the Red Sea for 963. We jump across the African continent to NW coastal nations for 964 & 965, moving S then E along the coast for 966. The 967 numbers cover central (sub-Saharan) Africa, moving W to E. Numbers move into Southern Africa with 968, starting with South Africa and moving inland N to countries along its borders, from W to E. Fittingly, 969 is the island of Madagascar, along with other southern Indian Ocean islands.

continent North AmericaFor North America, it’s easy to understand why 971 Canada is first, but, against all geographical reason, 972 Middle America—Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean—is next (I surmise because either they were geographically explored earlier or OCLC just wanted the U.S. last). The rest of 970 is the United States, with numbers moving more historically from E to W from 973 to 979. Interestingly, Alaska is included as a U.S. state instead of geographically with Canada, but Hawaii isn’t included at all. (See below.)

continent South AmericaSouth America begins on the east coast with 981 Brazil, and follows the coast S to Argentina, then around W to Chili at 983. Succeeding numbers move N along the Pacific coast to Columbia at 986, then back E along the northern coast to complete the circle. Historical latecomers Paraguay & Uruguay finish at 989.

continent Australia & OceaniaThe 990s are very strange. There is no 991 or 992; 993-996 is for Australasia (tectonic term for the continent) beginning with 993 for New Zealand, then moving W to Australia for 994. Pacific Islands-Melanesia, Micronesia, PolynesiaThe north→south/east→west pattern is abandoned as numbers move into the 3 geographic-cultural areas of the Pacific Ocean islands—also referred to as Oceania—first N into Melanesia, then E into Polynesia, then back NW into Micronesia.

Curiously, 996.9 is for the Hawaiian Islands, and while it is in the middle of the north Pacific, this makes no sense for 3 reasons:

  1. It’s culturally part of Polynesia, not Micronesia.
  2. Dewey Numbers for other offshore islands are included geographically with their continent, like the Azores with Europe, the Philippines with Asia, and Madagascar with Africa; even Bermuda is included with North America.
  3. As mentioned above, our U.S. state Alaska is geographically part of Canada, but is included with U.S. Dewey numbers at 979.8. (If you have a large U.S. States section, you may want to take advantage of the open number after Alaska and redo all your Hawaii books with 979.9 just to keep all the U.S. States books together!)

As I said, the 990s are weird, and there is no easy way to understand the last 3 number assignments:

  • 997 is Atlantic Ocean islands which includes The Falklands off the coast of South America, but it also includes St. Helena off the coast of Africa, which is closer to that continental coast than Europe’s Azores are to its coast—go figure.
  • continent Antarctica998 is for both Arctic islands, including Greenland, and Antarctica, even though they are geographically at opposite ends of the Earth!
  • 999, wonder of all wonders, is Extraterrestrial worlds, clearly having no geographical/historical affiliation to the Earth whatever! These are books that relate to extraterrestrial intelligence or civilizations, as opposed to mere extraterrestrial life at 576.8 or to controversial UFOs and aliens at 001.94. I can only guess the DDC folks want to include all possible areas of historical human conquest within the 900s, no matter where they might be!

I’d love to hear from OCLC about some of the confusing number assignments. I did offer my input on their contact form about changing Hawaii, but so far haven’t heard back.

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

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