Most of the books and magazines in our collections, and those in many other libraries – particularly for non-fiction – are arranged by the Dewey Decimal Classification system. First published in 1876, this numerical system for organising knowledge has been republished 23 times. Ongoing revisions continue and OCLC, the organisation that manages Dewey, are inviting contributions to make Dewey more global and inclusive in the way it classifies material in library collections.

As staff working with the collections, we are very fortunate to spend time in the stacks, browsing the shelves. It can be difficult to imagine from a catalogue record what may arrive when you submit a request for a book. As you can see from the examples below – it varies greatly!

In the lead up to International Women’s Day this year1, I went poking around 305.42 (classified as ‘Women, role in society, status’) to see what I could find.

What do the numbers mean?

Dewey is organized in steps or ‘classes’ that are sequentially subdivided into smaller subject areas. The 300s are classed as Social Sciences, narrowed down into 305: Groups of people. After the decimal we start to break down the subject heading into more specific areas. 305.4 is therefore Women, and 305.42 is ‘Women: role in society, status‘. This will then be broken down even further based on the specificity of the work. LibraryThing’s Melvil Dewey System (MDS) webpage illustrates this very simply.

This means that general works on women’s role in society appear at the start of the range, and books with a more specific focus appear further along, after a few additional decimal points.

Exploring 305.42

To start my deep-dive into our Dewey number, I headed to the ‘S’ series, which is our overflow for the Redmond Barry Reading Room‘s general collection. The very first book we have in this general stack collection is the aptly named Women and Social Class at S 305.42 Ab2W.

Photograph of several books arranged vertically along a metal bookshelf, all with titles relating to "Women".
The start of the S 305.42 range, beginning with Women and Social Class at S 305.42 Ab2W

There are some classic works at the start of the range too. For instance, feminist author Naomi Wolf’s seminal work The Beauty Myth sits at S 305.42 W83B:

Photo of hand holding a copy of The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf in front of two rows of metal bookshelving.
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf at S 305.42 W83B

If you’ve ever wanted to up your feminist trivia game with answers to questions such as, ‘What was the title of the first novel in the world and who wrote it?’,2 a copy of Susan Hawthorne’s Spinifex Book of Women’s Answers at S 305.42 H31S may be just what you’re looking for. The updated 1993 version is also housed here.

Women around the world

Our Dewey number can be further subdivided by geographic treatment. Our stacks collection includes studies on women’s lives around the world – many from Europe, but also a notable collection from Asia, the Middle East, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and of course, Australia.

Here at S 305.42095 we see a shelf of books dedicated to the subject of women’s role in society in Asia:

Photograph of a section of books arranged vertically along a metal bookshelf, all with titles relating to "Women in Asia".
A selection of the works found at S 305.42095

This one shelf includes books such as:

Other shelves nearby hold titles including:

plus much, much more.

Just a little to the left we have S 305.42092, the subject of which is ‘Women’s role in society, biographies‘:

Photograph of a section of books arranged vertically along a metal bookshelf, all with titles relating to well-known women
A selection of the works found at S 305.42092

Here I found biographies of notable female feminists, writers, and figures from across the globe, including Sylvia Pankhurst: a Life in Radical Politics at S 305.42092 P19D and The Life and Work of Germany’s Founding Feminist, Louise Otto-Peters (1819-1895) at S 305.42092 OT8D. My eyes were drawn to an unassuming little book written in the Cyrillic alphabet, which turned out to be a biography of Draga Gavrilović, a Serbian writer and campaigner for women’s rights whom I had never heard of before. Finding this little book by browsing our collection made me inspired to learn more about her in the future:

Women in Australia

After a rummage through the ‘S’ series, it was time to check out the ‘SLT’ series. This is the overflow sequence for ‘LT’ – the main sequence of books found in the La Trobe Reading Room (‘the Dome’), and the home of our Australiana collection. Here we’ll find many more books about women, but with a definitive Australian focus.

Here I found a selection of newer, glossier books by names that I recognised from Australian TV and print media, including Kaz Cooke, Virgina Trioli, Geraldine Doogue, Mia Freedman and Jane Caro.

A stack of four books written by notable Australian female writers.
A few books from SLT 305.42

Kaz Cooke’s satirical You’re Doing It Wrong: a History of Bad & Bonkers Advice to Women at SLT 305.42 C7729Y proved an amusing yet maddening momentary distraction from Dewey-hunting, with chapters such as ‘Sit down and shoosh’, ‘Your health is hysterical’, ‘Work harder, get paid less’, and ‘Be a perfect mother, which is impossible’. Bad advice it may be, but almost certainly the kind of unwelcome advice that many women would have received at some point!

There are older Australian texts here too, including a copy of the original 2000 edition of Talkin’ up to the White Woman: Aboriginal Women and Feminism by Aileen Moreton-Robinson (SLT 305.420994 M18T), Australian Women: Feminist Perspectives at SLT 305.420994 AU7G, and several copies and editions of Zelda: the Becoming of a Woman by Australian feminist icon and equal-pay campaigner Zelda D’Aprano (SLT 305.42092 D1D):

Photograph of a metal bookshelf with several books arranged vertically. Four of the books are copies of Zelda by Zelda D'Aprano, with one copy pulled forward to show its front cover.
Zelda: the Becoming of a Woman at SLT 305.42092 D1D

My attention was once again diverted to two little books hidden away in the stacks, a copy of Australian Women at War (SLT 305.420994 AU7B), which features some rather fabulous war-time photography, and a tiny boxed copy of the 1976 edition of The Real Matilda: Woman and Identity in Australia, 1788-1975 by Miriam Dixson. We have several more accessible copies of the latter, however this one has been boxed to preserve the delicate bindings and feels a little like a special treasure housed within our shelves.

Photograph of the original front page of the book 'Australian Women at War'
Australian Women at War at SLT 305.420994 AU7B

Where notable Australian texts have been translated into other languages, we do try to source a copy for our collection. Often, these end up in the stacks. Here I found The Whole Woman, or Die Ganze Frau by Germaine Greer translated into German at S 305.4209 G85WA, and a very pretty copy of The Female Eunuch translated into Chinese at SLT 305.42 G85FO (2011):3

Photograph of the front cover of the Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer. Most of the writing on the front is in simplified Chinese characters. The book is sitting on a metal bookshelf in front of other books.
Nü Tai Jian by Jiemeiyin Gelier zhu, Ouyang Yu yi (女太监 , 杰梅茵.格里尔著, 欧阳昱译) at SLT 305.42 G85FO (2011)

Chasing 305.42 around the building

I decided to push myself in my exploration and see what other collections I could find 305.42 within.

First stop was the La Trobe Pamphlet collection, or the ‘LTP’ series. Here amongst the rows of manilla and archival folders I found a whole section of works catalogued at LTP 305.42. Some of these have been quickly handmade and photocopied, others have some incredible graphic design and artwork included. The pamphlet on Verbal Karate taught me that the correct response to being called a ‘raving feminist’ is ‘Yes, isn’t it wonderful?’

I was also extremely glad to find this exquisitely illustrated programme from a conference of the Associated Country Women of the World, held in Melbourne in 1962. The conference theme that year was ‘The Country Woman’s Part in a Changing World’. The booklet informed me that the opening ceremony and farewell party were held at the Melbourne Town Hall, and activities included an open day, symposium, handcraft exhibition, and gift stall at the Exhibition Building’s ballroom. Guests were encouraged to wear ‘national costumes’ at many of the events.

Heading further out to the unknown I flushed out a few cassettes hiding in our collection of kits at KT 305.42 Au7:

And lastly, deep within the recesses of our stacks, I even managed to track 305.42 down in the guise of a picture book hanging out in the children’s folios:

We hoped you enjoyed discovering Dewey with us. The titles shown here are held in onsite storage, and can be ordered in advance via our catalogue with your free SLV Membership. There are many more titles available on the shelves that you can access immediately. If you would like to browse this Dewey range yourself, why not check out 305.42 in either the Redmond Barry (B series) or La Trobe reading rooms (LT series) next time you visit!4

  1. Many of the books featured in this blog are on display in the Redmond Barry Reading Room as part of our Women’s History Month / International Women’s Day Book Display in March 2024. They may therefore be unavailable for ordering from storage via the catalogue, but can be picked up and read directly from the display!
  2. Answer: The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. As found in Hawthorne, S, 1991, The Spinifex book of women’s answers, Spinifex Press, North Melbourne, p 27
  3. We also hold a copy of The Female Eunuch translated into French: La Femme Eunuque. This book is held in our offsite storage facility (YB 305.42 G85FC) and can be ordered via our Ask a Librarian service with two business days’ notice.
  4. All photographs used in this blog have been taken by the author, Caitlyn Grant.

This article has 7 comments

  1. Wow! Comprehensive!

  2. Elizabeth Chipman

    I know I am biased, but what about women and Antarctica?

  3. Really interesting! There is SO much to read about women in society.

    • Hi Jen, very glad you enjoyed the blog! Yes, there’s a lot to read, and that’s just in this one Dewey number!

  4. Thanks Caitlyn, for a great article. The range of titles, topics and formats within that specific Dewey collection is fascinating!

    • Hi Alida, thanks for reading and for the great feedback! It was a lot of fun to roam around the stacks and find the material for this blog – I was pleasantly surprised by what I found, and this was obviously only the tip of the iceberg!

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