Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mr. Dewey, I Bid you Adieu

In the past I have written posts regarding arrangement of my collection and my constant attempt to make the library as user friendly and accessible as possible. This is a goal that I believe all librarians can understand. For months I looked into various ways to organize a library's collection. After much consideration I decided to take the plunge and arrange non fiction by subject rather than Dewey. I have read several articles both for and against this arrangement. I have talked to my library friends both locally and members of my PLN in other states. Most expressed no interest in doing this in their library, but encouraged me to do what I thought was best for the students I serve. We know our students or patrons better than anyone else. Reading the experiences of others helped me to decide if this was something I wanted to do. I knew it would be a big project so I wanted to take my time in making this decision.

Here are my main motivations:
1. My middle school students don't understand Dewey.
Maybe this is my fault because I don't spend much time teaching Dewey. Maybe they don't completely understand decimals at all. Either way I do not have time to shelf and find every non fiction book that circulates. I do not have an assistant and even some of my student helpers never grasped Dewey even after I attempted to train them.
2. Pulling out fiction and biography was good for circulation.
Some people are surprised to hear that Dewey includes fiction. I think so many people are accustomed to fiction being a separate section that they think that Dewey did not originally include it. Having a separate section for fiction and biography increased circulation for these sections so it seems that arranging by subject may do the same for the rest of my non fiction.
3. I believe it will make the library more user friendly.
After polling my students, even my helpers and frequent library posse, they all were excited about the possibility of the change. I have had teachers and administrators (educated professionals) come in during the switch to see what I was up to and when they heard about it they were excited.
4. I want to appeal to the groups that check out non fiction the most.
My special education and reluctant readers are the groups I find browsing non fiction the most. I believe this change will make browsing easier for them (and everyone else).

As soon as I made up my mind I began the switch. The first step for me was getting the collection organized, weeded and inventoried. Looking back I would not have spent much time getting my Dewey in perfect order, but at the time I wasn't 100% committed yet. Then I ran a collection analysis. Using the collection analysis I looked at what subjects I had the most books in so that I could choose categories. Dewey is basically subject grouped anyway so I used these categories to determine what type of labels I would need. The report that helped me the most was the Collection Analysis (by 10s). Many of the groups were easy to group by subject. For example, all the 200s became Religion and the 700s became Art. I grouped some things together and wrote lots of little notes down. After reviewing the report and looking at the Book Industry Standards (BISAC) categories these are the categories I decided on: Animals, Arts & Crafts, Biography, Cars, Cooking, Crime, Family, Folktales, Health, History, Literature, Math, Multicultural, Music, Mythology, Nature, Poetry, Religion, Science, Space, Sports, Supernatural, and War.
I ordered genre labels for each of these categories. A few categories I had to rename so that it would fit with the labels available. There were no labels for Geography so I decided to group though with customs and holidays and create a Multicultural group. At this time I do not have subcategories because the size of my collection doesn't warrant this additional step; however, this is something I will consider for the future. History is my largest section and if I feel the need to further divide them I may do that. I may also subdivide Science if the need arises.

This decision did have its challenges. Deciding the category for some books was difficult. Should a dinosaur book be in science, history or animals? I looked at the Dewey number for guidance, asked my student helpers, and sometimes just made an executive decision.
I created an area in the library for each category and started sorting books into groups. I took one section at a time and changed the record in the computer, added the genre label and typed and added the new spine label. The spine labels changed from 940.53 WIL to NON WIL and then the History label. Then they were ready to be alphabetized and put back on the shelf. It sounds so simple when I write it but it took lots of time and several student helpers. In addition, I changed my label preferences with Follett so that I will only have to add the genre label for my new books. Another challenge will be collection analysis. Without Dewey it will be more time consuming to create a report; however, I can walk around the library and look at the shelves and see weaknesses much easier than before.

While I was making all of these changes I also decided to create a section for the anime/manga series, make new spine labels for the professional books (remove Dewey and replace with PROF SUBJECT Authors first 3 letters, EX. PROF SCIENCE WIL), move any remaining Story Collection to Fiction, remove the PB (Paperback) and E (Easy) labels from the collection by changing the record and replacing the spine label. My Cars, Cooking and Supernatural books are very popular and it wasn't until this change that I realized just how small these groups were. I will definitely order more for these areas.

I'm looking forward to seeing student reaction and looking at circulation for differences in non fiction numbers. I still need to finish up a small stack of War and put up the signs for each area. I have shelf markers from Demco that I plan to use, but I'm also looking at other options for making each category easy to find and see. I ordered lots of book stands so that I can display as many books face out as possible. I will post an update after the school year begins to share any positive reactions and any difficulties that may arise.

A few resources for your consideration:
Dewey Free Project Presentation: One public libraries journey as they converted their collection. Lots of great links inside the presentation.
An article about the library mentioned in the previous presentation from a catalogers view.
"It's Not About Dewey" from the Library Journal
"To Dewey or Not to Dewey" peer reviewed article
"It's Fine to Drop Dewey" from Library Journal
"The Dewey Dilemma" from Library Journal


  1. I applaud your decision, even if I don't necessarily agree with it! You'll have to let us know how your kids like it and the long term results (what worked or tweaks you have to make along the way.)

  2. Aaaahhh, you are my hero!!! You know I've been going back and forth with this as well. With my collection now weeded and a move to a new school on the map for next year, I have to make my decision soon! I'm very tempted to hop on a plane and come see how this works out for you and your students :)

  3. I will be very interested to follow this project and hope you will continue to post about its impact. I have already pulled biography, story collections, graphic novels and several sports from their "dewey" homes and, like you, have seen marked increases in circulation. However, I haven't made the full commitment yet. Good for you!

  4. Thanks for the encouragement everybody. I will definitely update as the year goes and share good and bad changes I see. C'mon over @Librarian Tiff :)

  5. Excellent post, Tamara! Anyone considering doing this will benefit from reading it.

    Don't think I will ever undertake the whole nonfiction collection this way, but I am going to try pulling some subjects for special displays to see how it goes.

    We have to get our students reading more nonfiction (those danged standardized tests use lots of it in reading passages).

  6. I guess I'm a non-believer. To me Dewey already does this. The gold within your concept is the clarity of the labelling and you have challenged me to think about mine. Thanks

  7. @Mrs S: I appreciate where you are coming from. It isn't for everybody. I think the labeling and signs help even if a library keeps Dewey.

  8. So interested to read this post, it's an idea I have been mulling over for a while for my primary school (K-5) library. So far I've just gone down the labelling/signs route with some custom block labels tailored to our collection - attached to our School library association wiki page here:

    Our graphic novels are already shelved separately.

    I am just starting the process of re-organising fiction (chapter books only, not picture books) by genre, rather than just alphabetically by author. Like you, my mission is always to make it as easy as possible for kids to find what they need. The students are really excited about it!

  9. @Miriam I'm looking forward to seeing the student reaction in a few weeks. I don't regret it (even after the work). I think they'll love it. I've considered grouping fiction by genre. Right now it is just labels. Maybe I can come to NZ and help you:)

  10. I did a sort of "featured collections" project in my practicum at an elementary library this past spring, and the statistics were astounding. For all the six areas (graphic novels, dogs, cats, drawing, military, dinosaurs), circulation went up from 100-600%. The reason I did it initially was so students would quit making such a mess of the shelves - the librarian didn't have a para and was only there half days - which worked, and it was much easier to put the books away correctly. It'd be interesting to see it done library-wide. I've started at my own library and this is something possible as we build the nonfiction collection at the elementary.

    Please keep up updated on the students' reaction!

  11. Hi - coming to this discussion a little late as I've just found you via cpd23things. I have done something similar in my school for many of the same reasons. We cater for 11-16 year olds. My stock is separated in a study collection and a reading collection. The study collection is still organised by Dewey (as I do believe it is important for students to be aware of especially as we're encouraging them to go to college/university etc...), however, it is curriculum specific and can only be borrowed for 2 days. The reading collection is fiction and non-fiction and organised into themes such as LOL, Imagine, Rewind, Play... The aim is that then a reluctant male reader might pick up a book about football, and would also see fiction about football, footballer's autobiographies, fact books about the World Cup and books on other sports all in the same section. Each theme has it's own spine label which ensure's it goes back into the same place. I'd be interested in your comments.

  12. It has been so interesting to hear all of the ways other libraries organize their collections. Featured collections is a great way to boost circulation and I like the idea of a study and reading collection grouping. Thanks everyone for sharing their ideas.

  13. I really like this idea. I also think it is interesting that you had to think about how you would categorize certain books. I think conversations about that problem would help students see that they may have to modify their search terms when doing research. If someone doesn't want to toss out the Dewey Decimal system, then perhaps he/she could just label the shelves with category terms. I know that our school's library has signs indicating what is covered by the DDS, but if each section/shelf were also labeled, I think students would be able to find items more easily.

  14. Interesting. I've never thought about doing this, but it makes some sense. My fiction has always been separate, and for right now, my nonfiction is along the walls and easy to find, but this does give me some food for thought. It's always about finding the best ways to help students easily get the books they need. (All of my graphic stuff is in one section, I will say!)

  15. How has your non-fiction reorganization worked out, now that it's been in effect for most of the school year? It's an intriguing idea!

    1. It has worked out wonderfully. Browsing and shelving is easier and circulation is up. Wouldn't change back.

  16. Hello,

    Thank you for posting all of your thoughts around this. I bookmarked your post quite some time ago and shared it today with an elementary colleague who is giving this some thought. I have one, probably annoying, question. Where would books about computers or the internet fall with regard to your broad categories (Assume that you had books on this topic if you don't)!

    Again, thanks so much for sharing.


    1. I weeded most of those because they are outdated before I can get them on the shelf, but I would probably put them in history or science depending on the focus. You could also make your science a science and technology section if you have lots of these titles. There are always weird things lie that, but I didn't like how Dewey had them either:)

  17. I am not certain if your title should be Eliterate or Illiterate Librarian. As a school librarian, my goal is to prepare my students to be lifelong learners. This would involve knowing how to use the public and academic libraries. I am sorry to hear that you can't handle teaching students how to use the classification system. I prefer to train the children in my school to be students, not shoppers at Barnes and Noble.

    1. Wow, Anonymous, I appreciate your thoughts. It makes me happy to know that I am challenging others to think. A question for you..are you teaching the LOC at your school since that is what is usually in place in the public and academic libraries? Instead of spending my time teaching a classification system, I am in the stacks giving reader's advisory, teaching digital citizenship, collaborating with my teachers, and having an impact on learning goals. I prefer to train my students to be readers, no matter how a collection is organized. I hope you will take your energy and make a positive impact on your school by taking your students needs into account.

    2. Maureen Beattie-WaterworthJune 18, 2014 at 8:46 PM

      While I cannot possibly bear the thought of undertaking a project such as this, kudos to you for your success. I will stick with considering a new labeling process. I wish I could manage the time in my too-short classes to provide reader's advisory. You and your students are so fortunate.

  18. Hi Tamara. I'm coming to this discussion REALLY late! I'm thinking of doing the same thing in my elementary library. Our goal is for kids to find books they want to read, right? I find I just don't have the time to help all of my students find books they want in the time allotted. I've already pulled out drawing, I Spy, fairies, dogs, cats, horses and early chapter books into stand alone sections where the younger kids who check these out the most can find them and have found a lot of success. A few questions:
    Are all of your picture books arranged by subject?
    How do students find books using the library catalog (we use Destiny)?
    Do you still teach Dewey?

    It's awesome that you just went for it and are a trailblazer for those of us thinking about going the "Barnes and Noble" direction.

  19. I have a small collection of picture books so I have them all together, but all of my other books are by subject, fiction and nonfiction. Now that it is by subject they rarely have to look in Destiny, but when they do it is cataloged as FIC ABC Fantasy, etc or NON ABC Animals. I don't teach Dewey at all anymore. If they understand one organization system they can usually figure out anyone's. Let me know if I can help in any way!