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American Library Assn. strips name of Dewey Decimal System creator from annual award

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The ALA council made the decision on Sunday approving a resolution that urged the award be renamed because Melvil Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System, had a history of anti-Semitism, racism against African Americans and sexual harassment of women.
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The governing body of the American Library Assn. voted to remove the name of Melvil Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System, from one of its annual awards.

The ALA council made the decision on Sunday, reports Publisher’s Weekly, approving a resolution that urged the award be renamed because of Dewey’s history of anti-Semitism, racism against African Americans and sexual harassment of women. The initial resolution was advanced by ALA members during the organization’s annual conference. The resolution argued that the Melvil Dewey Medal be renamed because “Dewey did not permit Jewish people, African Americans, or other minorities admittance to the resort owned by Dewey and his wife,” which led to his censure by the New York State Board of Regents.

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Additionally, the resolution states, “Dewey made numerous inappropriate physical advances toward women he worked with and wielded professional power over,” and his behavior led him to be"ostracized from the organization for decades."Dewey was one of the co-founders of the ALA, and served as the organization’s president from 1890 to 1891, and again from 1892 to 1893. He’s most famous for inventing the Dewey Decimal Classification system, which is still widely used in libraries around the world. He was also the founder of the Lake Placid Club, a social club for educators which refused entry to Jewish people and people of color. Objections to the club’s policies led to Dewey resigning his post as New York State Librarian in 1899. Dewey was also frequently accused of sexual harassment.

In a 2014 article for American Libraries Magazine, Wayne A. Wiegand writes that Dewey “made unwelcome advances on four prominent librarians” at an ALA event, which led to his ostracization from the group.

The Melvil Dewey Medal is awarded annually by the ALA to a person who displays “creative leadership of high order, particularly in those fields in which Melvil Dewey was actively interested: library management, library training, cataloging and classification, and the tools and techniques of librarianship,” according to the organization’s website.

Past winners of the award include Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, who was given the prize in 2017.

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Emily Drabinski, a New York City librarian who attended the ALA meeting on Sunday, said the council passed the resolution to change the name of the award “overwhelmingly with no debate.”

This is the second time in a year that the ALA has decided to strip the name of a controversial figure from one of its awards. Last June, the organization changed the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. That change came after members raised concerns about the “Little House on the Prairie” author’s “stereotypical attitudes” toward African Americans and Native Americans.

Publishers Weekly reports that the ALA has not decided what to rename the Melvil Dewey Medal.


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