Mini Book Review: Irrepressible Reformer by Wayne A. Wiegand

Happy Friday! This is going to be a somewhat strange weekend for me, as I am off work today, do work tomorrow, and then have Sunday off like normal plus Monday for Memorial Day. I hope to get some last-minute reading and planning done, as my summer classes start on Tuesday.

Today I’m sharing a mini-review of a book I read during the Spring semester about Melvil Dewey – the inventor of the Dewey Decimal Classification scheme. It was required reading for a class, but it’s much more than a textbook. Not quite written as a narrative, Irrepressible Reformer goes through Dewey’s life in great detail, bringing to light many of the roots of modern librarianship along the way.

About the Book

Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey

Title: Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey

Author: Wayne A. Wiegand

Synopsis: Drawing from rare archival materials researched over a period of 15 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 ingenious enterprise as a library innovator, New York State education official, and business and resort operator—as well as those aspects many found arrogant, manipulative, immoral and bigoted.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(A Few of) My Thoughts

This is neither a light nor entirely fun read, but as someone studying library science it did hold my attention well and share a lot of interesting information about Melvil Dewey. For instance, I didn’t know that his obsession with efficiency led him to change the spelling of his name multiple times. At birth he was named Melville, but as an adult be dropped the last “le”, and at one point he wanted his last name to be spelled Dui.

Any time you take a close look at a historical figure, you’re going to find something that you don’t like. Dewey’s character unraveled a bit over his lifetime. Or, perhaps his true character became more apparent as he aged. Either way, through this biography we watch the energetic and well-meaning change agent grow into an unreasonable and somewhat hateful has-been. Dewey definitely led an interesting life, so there is a lot to glean from a close study of his achievements and failures. The impact he had on the way American libraries are run and organized is astounding when you realize the extent – and it’s far beyond the Dewey Decimal Classification scheme.

The Verdict

Overall, this is an interesting, if dense, book. It’s worth the read if you are deeply researching Dewey or have a strong interest in library science, and I found it to be a good fit with the Organization of Information class I read it in. Just don’t expect a leisurely read; as he expected much from his employees, much is required of the reader to keep up with all of the acronyms, dates, and different endeavors Dewey juggled.

I don’t usually expect much enjoyment from required reading for school, even in a library program. Perhaps surprisingly, I think this mindset helped me to get more out of reading this biography than I might have otherwise.

What was the last required reading book that you enjoyed?

Until the next chapter,


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