Whole Number Dewey: A Year Without Decimals

White text "Whole Number Dewey" on blue, purple, and indigo vertical striped background, with a white overlay with the text "Common Sense Cataloging for School Libraries"

It’s been almost a whole school year since I hit the “Import Titles” button and replaced ALL of my Dewey nonfiction MARC records with whole number Dewey call numbers, without decimals.  It was a bit daunting making such a wildly revolutionary decision.  Thanks to some VERY dedicated volunteers, countless hours spent re-stickering spine labels, and new, large, and colorful signs, however, I honestly think that the change has made our nonfiction section more accessible to students and faculty.

Here are some of my discoveries and reflections…

It took almost a full school year to re-sticker everything to Whole Number Dewey…

…and that was with a part-time assistant and a few fantastic volunteers spending every non-shelving moment on this project (without working in the summer). Between classes and after school, we were picking up the stack of spine labels to change part of a shelf or the books that were returned that day.  It’s tedious and time-consuming, no doubt about it.  It’s also worth it!

Once we got started, I was taking a harder look at where books were cataloged…

I questioned if a particular book or section of books really belonged there (from a 7-year-old’s perspective).  It was this reflection that prompted me to manually change the pets from 636 to 597-599, because they are ANIMALS after all.  Why catalogers still put them with the farming books is beyond me!

Knowing your collection and your students is crucial.

Whole Number Dewey signs displayed on five library shelves showing animal books separated into categories: Ocean Mammals, Land Mammals, Bears, Monkeys, Wild Cats, Pets, Cats, Dogs, and HorsesKnow what’s popular, and what needs signage.  Think about how your students think and where a child would most likely look for a particular book.  Then put it in that section.

Having a whole number in the online catalog and decimals on the actual spine label DID NOT significantly affect how students found books.

This pleasant surprise led me to an interesting conclusion: Students weren’t paying attention to the parts of the call number they can’t see on the printed label anyway…like the decimal wrapped around the spine.  They just look at the 3 numbers they can see on the spine, and then just look around that area.  When students got stuck trying to find a shelf that had moved (like the pets), they just asked a friend or me for help.

Signage is SO important!

It needs to be “just-in-time” to help students find what they need whether they are searching for a specific number or just browsing/aimlessly wandering.  Signage is how I keep the 599’s from becoming one huge section with monkeys, bears, and kangaroos inter-filed.  I just added a few magazine file boxes and added the number 599 and different images to each.  The same for 796 with the most popular sports, though we also found adding a sports ball sticker to the spine helps too.  (See image on the right.)


If you use magazine boxes for shelf signage (available in my TpT store if you’re interested), you need to know that the boxes take up a good amount of space on the shelf.  So weed your collection.  Use a collection analysis tool like the Percentage Relative Use (PRU) formula to analyze what you have and what you need.  Remember, we are competing with video games for students’ attention.  If a book (or its cover) is over 15 years old and doesn’t stack up, get rid of it!  For my collection, if a book hasn’t been checked out in the 10 years that we’ve had Destiny as our circulation system, I made sure there was a *REALLY* good reason to keep it, or I made plans to replace it with updated cover art.

The Percentage of Relative Use (or PRU) formula calculates how much each section of a library collection is being circulated. A teacher-librarian can use this data to inform collection development and budget decisions. | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Click the image to download the FREE Percentage of Relative Use Spreadsheet.

The Results:

I just finished adding the last of the magazine file box signage to our shelves this week, and I’ve VERY happy with how they look.  I’ll be updating my TpT products soon with the new additions too.

So I hope this post was helpful if you are thinking of changing your school library’s organization.  Have you ever altered the traditional Dewey Decimal System to meet young students’ needs?  Post in the comments, and link some pictures!  I’d love to see what other elementary librarians are doing.

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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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16 Responses

  1. Deb Kachel says:

    PRU is an excellent statistical way to analyze the size of the collection in terms of its use. It answers the question – Do I have a large enough collection to meet the needs of my users (as evidenced in circulation)? It is so often misunderstood or inaccurately calculated. For it to be accurate, you must use a full school year of data comparing the size of the collection at the end of a school year with the circulation at the end of a full school year. This is because units of study (and thus when library resources are used and circulated) follow the sequence of the curriculum. So to capture all uses of library materials that are used to meet the school’s curriculum and students needs, you need a full school year of data. PRU is based on the premise that previous usage (last year’s) predicts future usage. Not always true, but a good predictor. I hope you try the PRU spreadsheet Collette shared. It is very interesting and often uncovers smaller areas/subjects of the collection that are heavily used that the librarian may not have recognized. For deeper analysis and lovers of statistics, you can expand the spreadsheet to calculate PRU by Dewey tens.

  2. Jenahlee says:

    I have been toying with the idea of “ditching dewey” for a while now. I was looking at the metis system but I’m liking this idea as a compromise between the two. My students are just struggling with finding books independently! I’ve thought about doing some subject categories in my early readers as a pilot because I am constantly getting those subject related requests from my students. We may try to pull out all the “princess” or “truck” books from all area and put them together on the shelf for a few weeks at a time just to see how kids react. I’m glad to see a new version of this change!

    • Collette J. says:

      Princess books is one that I’ve actually separated from the rest of the fairy tales/folktales because I get so many requests. Of course my definition of “princess” is pretty broad, but I just put a “fairy tale” sticker on it with a princess/tower image to identify them from the rest of the folktales/fairy tales.

      If you look through my earlier “How to Be Brave” posts, I also do something similar with my “easy nonfiction” section. They are mostly “Rookie Readers” that are aimed at K-1 students, and they are VERY popular.

    • cmargocs says:

      Jenahlee–I “inherited” a library that already had special sections for princess, Draw 50, Star Wars, and I Spy books–and they are heavily used on a daily basis! We also have a separate shelf for the DK Eyewitness and dog breed series of books.

      • Mrs. J in the Library says:

        In the last library I worked in, there were similar sections. I changed them up every few months like a display, and it did save some time and sanity.

  3. Mandy Lawson says:

    I just bought this set on TPT from you and I’m wondering something. Your photo above shows 599. Are there more signs that I need to buy because the set only came with 100s,200s, 300s, etc. I didn’t see 599 or any other numbers….just the hundreds.

    • Collette J. says:

      An update is on the way with ALL of the Dewey numbers I used. Sorry for the confusion and the wait! Once I reupload the files, you’ll be able to download the Dewey signs for popular elementary topics.

    • Mandy Lawson says:

      Thanks!!! could you please email me when you have the update! 🙂 [email address removed to protect commenter privacy]

      • Collette J. says:

        Of course! I just updated the file on TpT, so you should be able to download the updated product shortly.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I love this! Thank you…will go prder it on TpT this weekend. Is one magazine holder better than another? Do they tend to tip over when a child removes a book or books near it? Thanks!

    • Collette J. says:

      I have a link in the product to the ones I ordered when my supply of leftovers ran out. They are just normal ones from Demco, but the thicker the plastic, the better. Very occasionally they tip over, but I’ve solved this by putting a metal book end to the left or right of the magazine file boxes to keep the books standing up straight.

  5. Brandy says:

    I have two nonfiction sections, one for lower and one for upper and I have tubs for the most popular books. A tub for cats and a tub for dogs, one for football, one for basketball. It’s helped but I’m definitely thinking of going farther and going with whole number Dewey. I definitely think it would help the 900’s. I’m also thinking of “genrefying” the fiction section, we’ll see what my principal says. It just makes sense, since grade 3-5 all study genre. Wow!! I might have a very busy school year!!! Thanks for this post!

    • Thanks for reading! I’ve thought of doing tubs for the series first chapter books too. My “easy nonfiction” section has some basic categories like health, animals, science, biographies, careers, and geography.

  6. Heidi Anderson says:

    Yes!!! I have for a couple years now!! I also changed the system and just use the whole number then alphabetize. I always tell students stop at the dot then ABC order. This really worked, plus it is easier to shelve. It just gets too complicated after the dot.

    • I agree! After 2 years of Whole Number Dewey and re-stickering everything, I don’t regret the changes at all! I have more students browsing and helping each other find books too, so that helps me focus on helping the “tough customers” find books.