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Anyone heard of METIS?

Librarians who LibraryThing

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Oct 18, 2012, 7:34pm Top

A few librarians in a school have ditched the DDC and went with a home-brew system they created in collaboration with their students. They're calling it METIS. Lots of positive articles out there, especially from School Library Journal, but all of them are really from the POV of the librarians who created it (and they seem to have been sponsored or perhaps encouraged by SLJ - that relationship is unclear). Anyone else heard of or seen more about them and their system? I'm curious about it, but all of the articles and info I'm finding are from them, and so I don't know if I can fully trust how awesome and perfect they're saying it is.


Oct 19, 2012, 8:50am Top

Hi RowanTribe,
I am one of those librarians. I can assure you that School Library Journal neither sponsored nor encouraged this endeavor. My colleagues and I wrote the article -- which I guess is why it's positive. ;) We are very pleased with how our system is working and wanted to share our process and results, so we approached SLJ with an article, and they published it! (In the spirit of full disclosure, I will reveal that I am a long-time volunteer reviewer with SLJ, and have written the occasional article for them.) BTW, we are not saying it's "perfect:" no system is perfect: the question is how useful it is for the needs of one's library.

Oct 19, 2012, 11:22am Top

Hello! Good to hear from you! Thanks for answering - I think that poor Dewey is seeing his last days. He did great work and it lasted a long time, but I agree with you that some of the ways he categorized things (I'm thinking of your blog post about Vampires) isn't a good match with how most people think about subjects and concepts.

Yours is the first system I've heard of that has really gone about creating something entirely new. It's really interesting.

I was mainly just curious to see if there was any impact or organizational interest yet from other libraries or children's departments. Dewey has always driven me nuts, but at the same time, I know how very difficult it is to create (or to implement) any new overarching system, and I was interested in the process and the ongoing development process. The article was very positive - and that's not a bad thing at all! I could really feel your enthusiasm and you sparked an interest and a curiousity in me at least, so it worked!

However, I personally always like to hear about warts or speedbumps or roadblocks which were encountered, or things that seemed to work at first, but on reflection or further use didn't go so well.

Thanks again for the response!

Oct 19, 2012, 8:39pm Top

Hi RowanTribe,
Thanks for your interest. We appreciate it. We see it in many ways as an approach rather than a fixed set of classification schedules. Just this evening I replied to someone who is working with our schedules and adapting them to her library's needs. We worked hard on the flexibility aspect. We tailored the system very closely to our users, our collection and the geography of our space (3 interconnected physical spaces), and we don't expect that it will work for other libraries in every single little detail. But we think that by using the core ideas that we used, and the framework, the system could work in a number of different contexts.
We'd be thrilled to get to the place where other people are trying it out and finding issues with it! An example of a wart, perhaps:) : We struggled with the length of some of our call numbers, especially in US history, for instance, and haven't managed to solve it to my satisfaction yet. That section works, but not well enough for me to be satisfied: I see it as a work in progress....
Thanks again for your interest.

Oct 20, 2012, 3:01am Top

Hi sgiffard,

What issue was your article in? I'd love to track it down.

Oct 20, 2012, 5:42pm Top

It was in the October 2012 issue of SLJ.
Here's the link:


Oct 21, 2012, 7:38am Top

Thanks, sgiffard, for posting that.

As an older, now retired librarian, let me say that we've known for a long time that specialized classification systems for libraries with a limited clientele work better (in that environment) than general classification systems. It's a particularly good idea to derive the categories from the users vocabulary. To the extent that the children who helped develop METIS are representative of other children elsewhere, the system should travel quite well.

The difficulties come in maintaining the system. As children's interests change, do you change the system on the fly in a particular library (diverging more and more from other libraries) or do you form committees of all users to make changes, which historically has meant the system lagging behind the vocabulary change? If you go for divergence, then every library has to have a system for keeping track of their own system which is maintained in such a way that a new librarian coming in can pick up where the old classifier left off, even if they have never been trained by the old classifier.

DDC's real problems lie in its attempt to fulfill the needs of a general audience, its long-lag committee system, the inability of most libraries to keep up with reclassification when a topic changes number, its long numbers and its idiosyncratic system of discipline classification rather than topic classification which makes it hard to learn and do correctly. LC, which solved the last two problems (at the expense of a huge schedule), still has the other three problems.

Until we come up with solutions to the first three problems, any generalized classification system is doomed to have the same problems. Social tagging was supposed to help with the first two problems but looking at the arguments going on in the tag combining group here on LT is enough to convince me that that won't help much either.

Oct 21, 2012, 10:05pm Top

Hi aulsmith,
It's interesting to hear you talk about children's libraries as needing or doing well with a "specialized" classification system. That's an argument we arrived at in the middle of the process of figuring this all out.
It's interesting to read your ideas about maintenance and the future, because your perspective is quite broad. I think we have been very focused on our own library, users and collection, while trying to keep half an eye on issues beyond that. On a daily level, we work from printed schedules now, and have already made a few changes and additions. Because of the alphabetical structure of the sub-categories within our main categories/classes, we can easily add or change things. But of course, this is where we have to be very careful to keep things up in our printed and online records.
Seeing it from a broader perspective, I think we devised our system very much for our own collection. For instance, we have a large collection of books on U.S. history, especially the colonial era, because of our 5th grade social studies curriculum. Our system of sub-categories reflects that. On the other hand, we may not have developed other areas as much. Anyone adopting our system might want or need to make changes. In fact, there is another school which is currently engaged in adopting it, and they are adapting the system to make it work for them.
This necessarily means that the different libraries will have systems which diverge a little or a lot, depending on circumstances. Does this matter? Some people feel that it matters a great deal; some even feel that this concern trumps all others. Personally I think that the reality is that, even with Dewey, libraries do very much their own thing in any case, and there isn't the kind of uniformity that people imagine. Our decision to strike out on our own speaks for itself in terms of how we see our priorities.
For our system we don't envisage something like a committee system, but a kind of local flexibility that will enable it to fit the circumstances. We tried to structure it so that it would be friendly to future changes, but only time will tell if that is indeed the case.
I'm not familiar with the LT tagging system: I have to admit that I've spent little time on LT. But the other issue there is that our focus really was with the shelving system. Even though our older students use the online catalog, they depend very much on shelf collocation, rather than subject headings, keywords or tags. We felt that whatever we were able to achieve with tags or keywords, the shelving order was absolutely crucial for our students, and so any kind of tagging wouldn't help our issue.
Thanks for the good conversation!

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