How to Be Brave: Simplifying Dewey

I’ve written recently about my goal this year to be brave (or fierce), no matter what my district or the Department of Ed throw at me.  Though I’ve already had a few challenges with that this school year, I’m still determined.  I’ve started on the first major project for making our library more student-centered and user friendly.  I’ve getting rid of decimals in the nonfiction section.

Interestingly, when I mentioned my plans to the other librarians in my department (who I respect greatly and value their opinions), the response was mixed.  Some folks didn’t seen any harm in trying it, but others were so opposed that we had a vehement and quite lively discussion/debate about why they thought I was outright wrong in doing this.  The whole discussion was completely respectful and fascinating!

Here are my reasons for simplifying Dewey to whole numbers:

  1. I’ve stealthily been shortening the decimals to whole numbers on all the new books for the second half of the school year.  It hasn’t impeded students’ ability to find a book in my professional opinion.
  2. Students don’t learn about decimals until at least 3rd grade.  I want students to use the nonfiction WELL before that.  I let kindergarten and 1st graders check out nonfiction, especially with the Common Core 50/50 fiction/nonfiction expectations barreling down the tracks.
  3. The main point of the Dewey Decimal System, or METIS or any other system of organizing books, is to make them easy to find and use.  I think sometimes we forget that.  If we can make it easier to find a book or audiobook, more students will find what they are looking for and consequently spend more time actually reading and learning.
  4. If a student goes from the Spring Ridge library to another library that uses the full decimals, they will still have the basic skills to find a book.  A number still denotes a topic.  567 is still dinosaurs, with or without the .9 after it.
  5. And finally, I’m not going to change all the call numbers myself.  I’m having Mackin do it for me for $300.  My collection has just over 12,000 titles.  I can think of much better uses of my time than sitting at a computer editing copy records in Destiny one at a time.  Some very clever computer programmer will write some code and change the call numbers for me, plus the price is right.

As I said, the discussion was fast and furious, and while they did bring up some good points to consider, my esteemed colleagues didn’t deter me from continuing the process.  I will be making some accommodations for some of the larger nonfiction sections:

  • Animals (596 through 599), Sports (796), and History (973 or so) will get some large signage on the shelf using magazine files to denote the different sections.  Animals will be divided by type…insects, mammals, etc. and sports by the most popular.  I’m thinking of using recycled video cases or thin magazine file boxes if I can get my hands on some.  I might have to break down and buy something for this, though.
  • I will continue to have an “easy nonfiction” section where to books are loosely divided into subjects and where I don’t care about the order they are in.  Kindergarten and 1st grade students use these books before moving to the “big nonfiction” section later in 1st grade.

    easy nonfiction section

    The “easy nonfiction” section has several loosely organized sections: health, science, animals, holidays, biographies, careers, and places/geography. I don’t worry so much about Dewey order for these books, because I want to make it as easy as possible for young students to access nonfiction.

  • More signage is definitely needed, including signs for the beginning of each Dewey hundreds, all with pictures!  Here’s the start of what I have in mind…

    nonfiction sections

    I added pictures to the Dewey hundreds signs to make them more helpful to elementary students.

The clincher for me, though, is a question my wonderful husband often uses to convince me to do something new: What’s the worst that could happen?  Indeed, how bad is it really to try it?

It’s not the end of the world if I end up changing all the decimals back.  More work, yes, but a different outcome does not mean a failure for the experiment as a whole.  On the other hand, if simplifying Dewey makes the library less daunting and more usable for even one student, I think it’s worth a shot.

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Mrs. J in the Library

Collette J., or Mrs. J in the Library, is a full-time elementary teacher-librarian, blogger, and mama from Pennsylvania. She loves technology, books in any format, makerspaces, and all things Harry Potter. The information and opinions represented here are her own and are not the views and opinions of any business or organization.

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4 Responses

  1. Cristol Kapp says:

    Would you be willing to share your nonfiction signs?

    • Collette J. says:

      Yes, I’m adding them to my TeachersPayTeachers store once I finish them. I’m about halfway done with the 100’s and then I’m hoping to add some of the 10’s in the 500, 700, and 900 sections.