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Dewey Dudes help patrons navigate library with fun

Posted Sunday, March 12, 2006

Quick! If you wanted a book on photography from the library, where would you look amid all those mysteriously numbered shelves?

While you’re checking out books at the Geneva Public Library, check out the Dewey Dudes — specifically the Holiday Photo “dude” — in the upstairs display case. The Holiday Photo dude is checking out a slide and is wrapped in 35mm film. And his display label mentions an appropriate number in  the Dewey Decimal System.

From now through April 15 (hmmm, wonder where tax code books are, Dewey-wise), patrons can enjoy the library’s “Dewey on Parade” promotion. The point? To highlight — with humor and whimsy — the various reference tools available at the library. Foremost among those tools are the reference librarians themselves as well as the Dewey Decimal System, which categorizes library collections. (And library employees used a touch of humor and whimsy in cataloguing the dudes, by the way.)

Besides the mannequins, patrons also may participate in the trivia contest, with 10 new questions and a Sudoko number puzzle posted every week. Along with each question is the same basic hint: to find the answer, ask a librarian. The process, and the fun involved in getting the answer, is the point, more than the correct answer itself.

“We’ve had patrons sit down and do all 10 in an afternoon,” a library employee said. Weekly and grand prizes will be awarded.

This is a communitywide parade, much as Chicago’s “Cows on Parade” celebration was. The 12-inch mannequins were decorated not only by library staff but also by every Geneva school and many local businesses.

The small mannequins were the brainchild of library graphic artist Cathi Bartels, during a brainstorming session on the promotion. “Employees had already come up with the idea of the larger figures and were having fun trying to decide how to dress them. They thought it would be fun if there were smaller figures for schoolchildren to create.

“I saw in my mind the artist’s mannequin on my drawing table,” Bartels said.

Everybody loved the “Cows on Parade,” she said. “We said, ‘let’s take this mannequin, call him ‘Dewey’ and have businesses and schools decorate them. Then we’ll assign fun Dewey classifications to them,’ “Bartels said the staff members thought.

They figured a few businesses would want to participate. But the parade kept growing, with more and more merchants seeking a Dewey of their own. “It’s wonderful,” Bartels said. “I can’t believe how creative this community is.”

The Deweys do have to be seen to be believed. There’s the library administrative staff mannequin, juggling many hats. Ace Hardware’s “Helpful Hardware Man” is there, tool belt at the ready. A tie-dyed mannequin promotes Wild Roots, while the Giesche Shoes mannequin is surrounded by an attractive array of fashion foot gear.

Imagination is much on display. Michaelangelo’s is a sandwich shop, but the mannequin is a work of art, as befits the namesake of the famed Italian painter. The mannequin holds a palette not of paints, but of deli fixings. Propped on the easel is a finished sandwich. The mannequin for AG Edwards is holding a literal nest egg, while girls of all ages will love the boa-bedecked figure from It’s a Girl Thing. Mannequins from Cocoa Bean, Graham’s Chocolate and Olive Mill all involve appropriate culinary themes, while the figure from Geneva Care Center leans on a walker. Wool & Co.’s dudette is dressed in knitted finery, with tiny balls of yard and little needles adding a realistic touch. There’s even a little lamb. The Kris Kringle House mannequin wears a Christmas ornament as a purse, while the Irish Sisters keep warm in Irish sweaters.

Western Avenue School’s mannequin includes its trademark ducks and the figure is even painted to resemble one of the school’s feathered friends. Mill Creek Elementary School’s entry is a fun-loving “Disco Dewey,” with wild glasses and glitter platform shoes.

Each dude offers a Dewey number. And it might not be the number you’d think of first. For example, the AG Edwards number isn’t for finances, as one might assume for an investment firm. No, with Dewey carrying that all-important nest egg, he’s classified as ... an egg. Librarians want to help patrons learn about the system plus, for those already in the know, to ask questions about why dudes were classified as they were, Bartels said.

Two life-sized dudes — one on each level — are attracting attention as well. The big dudes will wear new duds each week, to go along with the week’s trivia theme. (“Famous People” ends today, to be followed by “Sports” from Monday through March 19.) Ron Pauli of the reference department promised that the second-floor dude would be sporting all manner of game paraphernalia. “It’ll be a pretty interesting outfit,” he said.

The display and parade put a face to a system not well understand by many. “It makes it so much fun,” said children’s librarian Ellen Rivers.

And those mannequins? The schools will get theirs back. But if you’ve taken a shine to a special Dewey, he or she can be yours. The dudes will be auctioned off on April 20, with proceeds benefiting the library’s new foundation.

In the meantime, questions await. For example, I still need to find out what the E.B. in EB White’s name stands for. I know, I know ... ask a librarian.

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