Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rethinking Dewey

This is actually what I wanted to talk about with that last post!

At the 2011 ALA conference in Minneapolis, I went to a session about ditching the Dewey Decimal Classification System, in favor of a bookstore model. There are a lot of articles in the literature (and blogosphere) about this, and, judging by the attendance, it was a popular session. With that said, though, I don't think I was the only one who walked away disappointed. The librarian in question was setting up a new school library, with all new books. These were done via the bookstore model by Mackin. What good did that do those of us with an average collection age of 1989?

"The card catalog is no longer the necessary first stop in a visit to the library" by dfulmer. Used under Creative Commons license.

In my practicum, I had put my toe into the bookstore model, by doing a "featured collections" section which was hugely popular with the students (593% increase in circulation for the military books!) and have done that here, too. Doing that makes it easy for young students to find the books they really want - dinosaurs! princesses! football! kittens! - and keep them from messing up the nonfiction stacks. It was only for a few categories, though, with a small percentage of the nonfiction titles.

We've done a lot of physical changes here at the elementary library this summer - see these posts for pictures - but I think the biggest change will be some things we've done to the collections. We had already physically separated higher level fiction from lower level, but that was just by eyeballing it when we put them on the shelves. This summer, we've set up three collections for that - Fiction (Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) is against the north wall, Juvenile Fiction (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid, Smelly Bus, Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets) is against the south wall, and a new section, "Early Reader" is near the south wall, parallel. This section includes very early books, whether they be picture books, nonfiction, or fiction. This is your Hop on Pop type of books. Last year, students would come in to find "good fit books" for Daily 5 literacy instruction, and for those very beginning readers, it was hard to find appropriate books. Going to picture books was hit and miss, when you have books that really could be used with junior or senior high students. And the itty-bitty nonfiction books, appropriate for this level, simply don't get checked out if shelved in nonfiction. So this will help, I'm sure. (We got stickers from Demco for the JF and ER collections. It's a beautiful thing.)

But back to nonfiction. One argument I see in favor of changing to a bookstore model is that it's easier for students to find books. Frankly, I find it very hard to find books in Barnes and Noble.  But then again, I know the DDCS, so navigating even the New York City Public Library wouldn't be too hard for me.
The reason I want to transition to something a little different is this: the inconsistency of spine labels. I don't know about you, but I hate doing spine labels. (I know, I know, I could get processing done, but half of my books come from Amazon.)  But let's say you have a book on grizzly bears - 599.784. But I don't like to put three digits to the right of the decimal, so I'll round that to 599.78. But perhaps a past librarian would do the whole number, or round to 599.7, or god forbid, 599. So then, if you - or your Junior Librarians - have faith in your spine labels, your books might be: grizzly bear, polar bear, grizzly bear, panda bear, gazelle, grizzly bear, hyena. Chaos, I tell you! Chaos!

What I'm doing this year, then, is using fiberboard dividers that stick out a bit from the books, with the category name and Dewey number included. So we'll have "Fairy Tales" and "Bears" and "World War II." We'll get more specific with the category when there are at least ten books on a topic. We'll still mostly adhere to the Dewey order, though we'll use our judgment - we'll put all of the Titanic books together (910, Ti-tan-tic history - just like in the Dewey Decimal Rap). NASCAR is going out of the 796s and into 388s, sorry (cars, not sports).  This if course will require me to make more spine labels . . .

The fact is, I rarely have anyone come in looking for a particular nonfiction book. Someone will want a book on the Vietnam War or a fairy tale that isn't too long or a print encyclopedia (ha ha, just kidding on that one). This will make it easier to find books on a topic, for my Junior Librarians to shelve books, and I think it will encourage browsing by students who thought they didn't like nonfiction.


  1. We are going to start by genrefying our fiction at the middle school, but have already pulled out popular categories at our elementary (STAR WARS!) Great post. I love hearing how colleagues think through these challenges.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Kathy! I know it's a little librarian-wonky for my non-librarian friends. In a system where there's always been consistency to the spine labels, or enough manpower to fix any that are goofy, this spine label argument might be silly, but it's what I'm dealing with. I'd never heard spine labels as a reason to go toward the bookstore model. I don't really see doing it at the high school because there aren't enough books in nonfiction to really warrant it - Dewey definitely does his job there.

  3. I'll be interested to hear how it goes for you, Christine. One of my library staffs is visiting the North Liberty PL in September for part of our inservice day--they've gone to the bookstore model, so I'm interested to hear from their staff what they think of it. We have mini collections at one of my libraries, too--Star Wars, Pokemon, Dora, and Thomas the Train. I'll have to think more about this after I see North Liberty.
    Way to blaze a school library trail!

  4. This post made me think too hard!! :-) It is clear you love your job and I wish that I had kids in the school system that could take advantage of all the work you have put into that library!!

  5. Thank you, Kelly & Sheila for stopping by! (I have to figure out to subscribe to replies on my phone . . . ) I *do* love my job! I did take a couple of days off though. I was feeling a bit burned out, not a good feeling with school starting in 2 weeks. But time to get recharged!

    Kelly, I stopped by your library a few weeks ago. So jealous! Do you ever work weekends?