Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey

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Winner of the 1997 G. K. Hall Award for Library Literature.

Drawing from rare archival materials researched over a period of fifteen years, preeminent Dewey historian Wayne Wiegand has produced the first frank and comprehensive biography of the man behind the Dewey Decimal Classification System and scores of other enduring achievements. Tracing Dewey's life and influences that shaped it, Irrepressible Reformer explores Dewey's ingenius enterprise as a library innovator, educational official, and business operator. It probes his personality, which may be found arrogant, manipulative, immoral, and bigoted.

The library world's most famous figure, Dewey (1851–1931) copyrighted his Decimal Classification System in 1876. After many editions, it is used today in more than 100,000 libraries worldwide. An organizer and first executive director of ALA, he is considered the father of library education and of librarianship as a profession. In his myriad activities in education, spelling and metric reform, state politics, and hostelry, Dewey crossed paths with Andrew Carnegie, Teddy Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, and other giants of his era.

Irrepressible Reformer suffers none of the restraints of previous "kinder, gentler" biographical treatments, as it reveals the enigmatic Dewey, warts and all. Even so, Wiegand provides richer background on Dewey's positive achievements than any work to date. A profound character study that reads like a novel, Irrepressible Reformer will long serve students and researchers in librarianship, education, New York state history, and American reform movements.

    List of Illustrations
    Part One

      Launching a "World Work," 1851–1876
      • Child of the Burned-Over District
      • "R" on a Cufflink: Early Years
      • "Filling the Vessel": Amherst College
      • "In Proper Order": Assistant Librarian, Amherst College

      Creating Bureaus and Organizations 1987–1879
      "Dui" in Business for Himself 1879–1883

      • The Readers and Writers Economy Company
      • The Library Bureau

      "To Ride a Fast or Frisky Horse" Columbia College 1883–1888

      • Librarian-in-Chief
      • A Bootleg Operation: The School of Library Economy
      • An Opposition Forms

      Other Interests 1883–1888

    Part Two

      The Albany Years 1889–1906
      • Jockeying for Position: Regents’ Secretary
      • Entering a Glass House with a Plan
      • Moving to Implement an Agenda

      Moving the University "Out of Innocuous Desuetude," 1892–1899

      • The University Law of 1892 and Its Impact
      • Challenges to Dewey’s Power

      Overplaying Politics 1898–1899

      • Pressure to Unify
      • Dewey’s Resignation as Regents’ Secretary

      Attending to Library Matters 1889–1904

      • Managing the New York State Library
      • The New York State Library School
      • Unification
      • Working with the American Library Association

      Other Interests 1889–1910

      • The Library Bureau
      • Metric and Spelling Reform
      • The Lake Placid Club

      "Jew Attack," 1905
      Disgraced and Banished for His Sins: Dewey’s Downfall 1905–1906

      • Resignation
      • "The Fairchild-Lord Plot"

    Part Three

      The Lake Placid Years 1906–1931
      Building an Efficient WASP’s Nest 1906–1925
      • "Wheels within Wheels": Expanding the Physical Plant and Debt
      • Club Successes and the Lake Placid Club Education
      • Foundation

      Trouble in Paradise 1926–1931

      • Lake Placid Club North v. South
      • "Fyt to the Limit": The Battle between North and South Continues

    Epilogue Legacy of Hero and a Villain
    Journals, Documents, and Manuscript Collections Cited in Footnotes

Wayne A. Wiegand

Author Wayne A. Wiegand's writings on Dewey over the years have built his reputation as the leading Dewey historian. A professor at the School of Library and Information Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Weigand is the author of four books and more than fifty articles. Among his many honors are two G. K. Hall Awards for outstanding books in the library field.

"Of particular interest to technical services librarians is how Wiegand traces the evolution of Dewey's work in classification and cataloging from its inception at Amherst to its successful implementation at Columbia."
—Technical Services Quarterly

"Finally, Melvil Dewey fully revealed, in entertaining prose, built on rigorous and deep historical scholarship. This is the definitive biography we've missed for so long."
—Library Journal

"The long-awaited definitive biography of our profession's major figure. Dewey emerges as both hero and villian.... Superb scholarship, occasional drama, and readable prose—all of which we have come to expect from the most distinguished library historian working today."
—Ed Holley, W. R. Kenan Jr. Professor, School of Information Library Science, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

"A most impressive work of scholarship and a masterly delineation of Dewey's character and personality."
—Phyllis Dain, Professor Emerita of Library Service, Columbia University

"This volume accords Dewey the biography he deserves—grounded on thorough research, clearly written, critical though appreciative, and enlightened by a sound sense of the cultural issues involved in its subject's career. It will interest students of not only library history but also general cultural developments at the end of the nineteeth century."
—College & Research Libraries