23. An Innovative Educator
Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey (1851 – 1931) was born and raised in New York. As a young man, he advocated for the reform and simplification of the English language, which entailed getting rid of redundant letters. By way of personal example, he changed his first name’s spelling from the Melville to Melvil, and his last name from Dewey to Dui. Melvil stuck, but Dui did not. He got a bachelor’s degree from Amherst in 1874, and was then immediately hired to manage its library and reclassify its collections. He built upon a decimal structure first outlined by Sir Francis Bacon centuries earlier, and copyrighted the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), now commonly known as the Dewey Decimal System, in 1876.
That year, while a graduate university student, he also founded the Library Bureau, a business to provide equipment and supplies to libraries. Its chief products were high quality index cards that established the standard for library catalog cards, and filing cabinets. In 1876, he also helped found the American Library Association (ALA), the world’s oldest and largest library association, with over 57,000 members today. In 1883, he became Columbia University’s chief librarian, and in 1888, he was made director of New York’s State Library. In 1895, he founded the Lake Placid Club, a recreation spot for educators to visit in pursuit of health and inspiration, at a low cost. Unfortunately, the man’s many positive contributions were marred by an awful side.