How to Create a Relevant, Easy-To-Use Biography Area in the School Library

The school library Biography area can become more student-friendly and inviting by re-organizing it into topical, curriculum-related Subjects, as many School Librarians have done with their Fiction area. Read on for a good plan of action! | No Sweat LibraryMany School Librarians have reorganized the Fiction section of the library into topical categories so students can more easily find what they like to read. Whether you call them Fiction Subjects (as I do) or genres (as do others), it is a huge boost to student reading satisfaction and to our book circulation. That success prompts us to look at other areas to make our school library more user-friendly.

The ABC order of Biography by the last name of the person written about, much like the ABC order of Fiction by author’s last name, works fine if you know exactly who you’re looking for, but if you want someone in a particular profession—like an artist or scientist or athlete or world leader—it’s not very useful.

While modern school libraries have access to online subscription services like encyclopedias and biography databases that provide search by subject, many teachers still like students to get information from a book, especially at middle and elementary levels. If subject area teachers regularly assign students a biography project, it makes sense to reorganize the Biography area into topical categories to be more student-friendly and to meet our curricular needs.

PLANNING BIOGRAPHY RE-ORGANIZATION

To be sure our reorganization effort is truly helpful, we need to first find out which content-area teachers give a biography assignment. This, of course, is practical for any form of organization, but since our whole purpose is to support curriculum, we need to know which disciplines, or fields of study, our teachers want students to explore.

For example, our 6th grade math teachers assign a biography project on mathematicians, while science teachers at one grade level assign scientists, and at another grade level they specify inventors. Our Texas History teachers assign a project on Texas explorers, while an English Language Arts teacher assigns her G/T classes a project on Renaissance figures in the above topics, along with politics, religion, and some of the arts.

It may occur to you, as it did to me the first time I began pulling books for these assignments, that a topical organization would make this task much easier for us—and for students. Also, it would make it much easier to figure out what we need to purchase to make our collection better. In that vein, my ELL teacher gives newcomers a biography project on U.S. presidents, so I acquired an easy-reader collection of them just for her.

Curricular support is paramount, but it’s also important to support student interests by making it easy to find the people they like to read about. My middle school boys love reading about athletes and other sports figures, whereas girls tend to prefer singers, musicians, and other performing artists. However, I discovered many of them prefer shorter books for the popular figures of the day, whereas teachers prefer longer books for projects, so planning a biography reorganization may require more than just categorizing the current collection.

In fact, after several students asked where the sports and arts biographies were, I chose to put all biography books with 100 or fewer pages into the Dewey section with the number of the subject and -092 after it. This way I provide a large collection of biography “favorites” right where students are looking for them and make the Biography area more suitable for project assignments. The added advantage is that I can afford to more regularly weed & replace these shorter, less expensive popular biographies with the current icons to keep students happy.

CHOOSING BIOGRAPHY CATEGORIES

12 Useful Categories to Re-organize Biographies - Dividing the school library Biography collection into topical groups can boost student reading and make assigned projects easier to complete. Here are the 12 categories that work for my middle school library. | No Sweat LibraryAfter surveying teachers and students—and browsing our biography books—we can probably find 10-12 different disciplines/fields of study for dividing up the books. Here are some choices that may help you with reorganizing your biography collection:

  • Activists & Reformers
  • Religious Leaders & Philosophers
  • Politicians & World Leaders
  • Scientists & Mathematicians (I put these together since many are both)
  • Inventors & Technology Innovators
  • Business Leaders
  • Artists: Painters, Sculptors, Architects, Graphic Designers
  • Performers: Musicians, Singers, Actors, Dancers
  • Athletes & Sports Figures
  • Literary Figures: Writers, Poets, Dramatists
  • Explorers & Pioneers
  • Unique Notables (for those that don’t fit the above categories)

You may have noticed that these topical divisions are in similar order to Dewey Subjects, so they are excellent choices for reorganizing your Collected Biographies, too. Using Dewey numbers 920-928 is actually “Option A” in the DDC Handbook, and when I reorganized my 920s this way, circulation of these books significantly increased.

As with Fiction, I refer to these divisions as “Subjects” to reinforce with students how to search in the online catalog. And, instead of the librarian-specific terms disciplines/fields of study, I explain to students that the Subjects are the careers or “professions” of the people the books are about. This dual explanation is well received and understood by middle schoolers.

LABELING BIOGRAPHY SUBJECTS/PROFESSIONS

Once we’ve chosen our different biography subjects, we want to begin identifying books in order to organize them on the shelves. It would be very confusing to color code spine labels with transparent overlays if we do that for fiction books, and unlike spine labels for fiction subjects, it’s difficult to find commercial spine labels for biography subjects (although Demco does have a set of 6 for inventors, sports, and the various arts).

No Sweat Library Biography Signs, Shelf Labels, and Spine Labels - Make your school library Biography section more usable for students and teachers by reorganizing it into these 12 topical Subjects, easily aligned with curricular assignments and with student reading interests. | No Sweat LibraryWe might consider using spine labels for Dewey subjects, which are commercially available and few school librarians put those on Dewey books. There may be signage coordinated with those labels, different from what we already use in our Dewey area.

To save money, we could create simple text labels and coordinated signs using common computer applications. Or, with a bit more time and creativity, we can devise our own biography profession spine labels, signs, & shelf labels, customized for our collection. There are free icon images online that serve that purpose, as well as sticker templates for the spine and shelf labels.

Whichever identifying method we choose, once the books are back on the shelves, we can let teachers and students know that the biography area now has a more welcoming organization system. Even if there is no current assignment, students will enjoy browsing the new layout and checking out books they never before realized we had!

Biography Spine Labels
Have I got a deal for you! By joining my E-mail Group, you gain access to the exclusive e-Group Library which has a PDF sample sheet of these Biography Book Spine Labels for you to download, print, and try out with your students!

Need ideas for Biography projects? Stay tuned…I’m working on some great ones!

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Helping School Librarians Understand Dewey 300 Social Science

Helping School Librarians Understand Dewey 300 Social Science - Many School Librarians are confused by the organization of 300 Social Science. This School Librarian & Social Sciences college major explains Dewey's disciplinary numbering based on the fields of study found in the 300s.If your school library is like mine, your Dewey 300 Social Science is a large part of your collection. It’s also a plethora of topics that boggles the minds of School Librarians, let alone students and teachers. As a lover of the Dewey Decimal Classification system and a college major in Social Science, perhaps I can help you better understand this Class.

First, remember that Dewey numbers are assigned by discipline, that is, the field of study—basically, by profession. How does that differ from subject?

  • Subject asks, “What is this about?” and gives us the topic of a book—the informational content inside.
  • Discipline asks, “Who is this for?”—what profession will use this—which tells us the Dewey number to assign, that is, where to put the book on the shelves so they can find it.

The difference is why we find a particular topic spread among more than one number…different professions use that subject material for their own unique purposes or uses. Here’s an example of how a simple water report can apply to 5 different Dewey numbers [edited for brevity]:

Use 333.91 for monitoring to protect water quality, 553.7 for chemical & biological status, 363.6 for assuring compliance with standards, 628.1 for technical aspects of water treatment, and 628.93 for effectiveness of sewage treatment.

In addition, books with more than one discipline or subject are assigned a Dewey Decimal number according to the rule of two or the rule of three, that is, to the lowest number that includes all disciplines. This explains why the 300s are so large: 300 is lower than 6 other Dewey Classes, so many multiple discipline/subject books are placed there. As I summarize the 300s I’ll highlight those areas that are problematic for School Librarians.

Visit my blog posts on Dewey 590s Animals for more about disciplinary alignment, and Let’s Put Dewey Decimal Books Where Students Can Find Them for more on the rules of two & three.

WHAT DOES 300 SOCIAL SCIENCE REALLY INCLUDE?

First, calling the 300s “social science” may be a slight misnomer: social science includes geography and history, which Dewey places in the 900s, as well as psychology, which Dewey places in the 100s. Thus, of the 7 social sciences, only sociology, anthropology, political science, and economics are found at 300 Social Science, with an interplay of these four disciplines throughout 300’s divisions and sections.

These fields of study are all about social relationships and the function & organization of human societies, so to benefit students, I’ve chosen to give this Class a more accurate name, comparable to what they learn in their social studies classes:

Dewey 300 –  Society, Government, and Culture

300 SOCIOLOGY & ANTHROPOLOGY
The 300s begin with culture, specifically sociology & anthropology. If we consider psychology (the 200s) as the social science of the individual, then 300-307 is the social science of groups. It includes all forms of mass communication; behaviors like bullying, gangs, prejudice & discrimination; interactions such as social change & civil disobedience; and relationships between individuals, groups, and communities. It does have one section important for School Librarians:

  • 305 Groups of people defines those used throughout the rest of the 300s: by age, gender, social class, race, ethnicity & ancestry, occupation, and illness or disability. School Librarians need to build this section with high-quality resources because it can so strongly influence the minds of our students.

320, 340, 350 = THE 3 BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT
320 Political science, 340 Law, and 350 Public administration & military science align with the 3 branches of U.S. government. (Other countries may not have this structure.)

  •  320 includes civil & human rights, the political process & elections, relations between nations, and the legislative process, hence, books about the U.S. Congress.
  • 340 covers international, constitutional, regional/state, economic, criminal, and civil law, and includes the United Nations, the U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • 350 covers the executive branch—the U.S. Presidency, the Cabinet, and management of departments and agencies such as national security, justice, foreign affairs, health, and education, and those with economic and environmental oversight. 355-359 covers all branches of the military which are administered by the head of state.

Making the Dewey 300s More Student-Friendly - This Class name & several sections of 300s Social Science are exasperating for students and School Librarians, but a few changes can help. Calling it Society, Government & Culture helps students, as does actually adding decimal numbers to clarify different topics.MAKING THE 300’S MORE STUDENT-FRIENDLY

330 ECONOMICS
Why economics is between political science and the other two governmental divisions is one of the mysteries of DDC and OCLC. Anyway, this division includes careers, money, banking, credit cards, the stock market, and taxes. We may also see books on socialism & communism because they are economic-based systems. (I prefer all types of government books together, so I relocated mine to 321.)

School Librarians need to know that 330 also covers economic development and management including that of natural resources, so that’s why we find a sizable group of books in 333.7-333.9. I actually added decimals to my books to differentiate between the different topics:

Description Dewey number
Economics of land & energy 333
Land, recreational & wilderness areas, energy 333.7
Conservation & protection .72
Land .73
Grasslands .74
Forest lands .75
Rural lands .76
Urban lands .77
Recreational & wilderness areas .78
Energy – alternative, renewable .79
Primary forms of energy – solar, nuclear .792
Secondary forms of energy – renewable .793
Photovoltaic energy .796
Subsurface resources – nonrenewable 333.8
Fossil fuels .82
Geothermal .88
Other natural resources 333.9
Water energy – hydroelectric .91
Wind energy .92
Biofuels, biodiversity, wildlife refuges .95

The 300s end as they begin, with culture and it’s institutions. The next 3 Divisions, 360 Social problems, 370 Education, and 380 Commerce, communications, transportation are a unique combination of governmental, sociological, and economic, looking at public services that sustain or benefit our way of life.

360 SOCIAL PROBLEMS AND SERVICES
This division may be, I suspect, the one that gives School Librarians the most headaches. It’s categorized according to type of problem and how the service is provided: for specific groups of people (according to the groups in 305), as governmental services such as public safety, crime & punishment, by public & private social societies & clubs, by commercial insurance services, and by associations. Some books in this division are victims of the rules of two & three, such as substance abuse and mental & physical disorders. I relocated many of these to higher numbers for better student access.

363 Other social problems and services
If 360 is problematic, this section is particularly exasperating for School Librarians. Like any “other…” section of the 300s, it’s a dumping ground for disparate topics. To understand what’s covered in this section, think of it as the basic needs of Maslow’s Hierarchy: physical needs for human survival, and our need for safety & security.

  • 363 begins with Public safety from hazards, followed by police services with crime investigation & forensics, and ‘safety’ from moral ‘problems’, like alcohol, gambling, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, drug trafficking, and abortion. The public safety portion ends with another dumping ground—363.3 Other aspects of public safety which has just about everything else, from censorship to terrorism to gun control to firefighting.
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    363.34 Disasters is actually disaster relief, and school libraries may have sizeable sections here on earthquakes & volcanos, floods & tsunamis, and other earth & weather-related disasters. I relocated many of these to 551 Earth science so they’d be together for class assignments.
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  • 363 ends with physical needs and services that provide for it. This section includes housing, public utilities like water treatment, food supply issues including malnutrition of the poor & famine, and population issues like family planning & birth control, sterilization, and over-population.
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    363.7 Environmental problems is another spot we find perplexing, because so many popular school topics about environmental protection are crammed in here.
Description Dewey number
Environmental problems 363.7
Sanitation – waste control, recycling .72
Pollution .73
By source – oil, toxic chemicals, acid rain
Here is another “rule of…” conflict. See below
.738
Of specific environments – air, water, soil
Global warming from CO2 (greenhouse effect) &
ozone layer depletion from refrigerants I include here
because their effects are earth-wide rather than local.
.739
Noise pollution .74

370 EDUCATION
Most books with this division number will be about teaching, shelved in our Professional collection. I did build a small circulating area on schools and learning for the historical time periods our students study in their social studies classes, along with a few books on study skills and similar topics.

380 COMMERCE, COMMUNICATIONS, TRANSPORTATION
This division may seem redundant with similar topics in 330 Economics; however, this division is for regulatory aspects and public consumption—the socio-cultural perspective of ‘products’ & ‘people’.

Here we find domestic & international trade, the infrastructure for communications—postal, telegraph, computer, wireless (radio, television, satellite), and telephone—for transportation, including railroads, waterways, air traffic, roads, local mass transit, and pipeline transport of utilities. We may see here books that are topical with those in the 600s, and they may get increased circulation by relocating them there.

390 CUSTOMS, ETIQUETTE, FOLKLORE
This is the division we probably think of when we refer to culture. It’s appropriately the last entry in the 300s, because it’s about the personal or informal manner in which our way of life is preserved. We find here sections on clothing, including accessories, cosmetics, jewelry, and body alteration like tattoos and body piercing.

We also find sections on customs for home & family life, death, and special occasions, like marriage, festivals, birthdays, and holidays. Interestingly, it’s also where we find such arcane topics as cannibalism and taboos. The topics may seem to duplicate 306 Culture and institutions, but 306 is about behaviors and interactions, whereas these sections are for specific celebratory rituals.

  • 398 Folklore, especially 398.2 Folk literature can be a sizable section in school libraries, and if yours is not well organized, you might want to read my post Let’s Put Dewey Decimal Books Where Students Can Find Them. I offer alternate numbers to group these books according to how our students study folklore.
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    At 398.8 Rhymes and rhyming games we find Mother Goose and other nursery rhymes, as well as lullabies and jump rope rhymes. If your school library serves PreK, you may want to build this section and relocate related books from other areas to make it easier for you and your teachers to find them all together.

School Librarians Can Change Dewey to Improve Student Access -WHEN THE 300’s ISN’T THE RIGHT PLACE

We School Librarians get frustrated with the Dewey Decimal Classification system and want to “genrify” it like we do our fiction literature. I believe this is because we don’t understand the purpose of DDC: “works that are used together to be found together.” That very purpose of DDC gives us the freedom to change a Dewey number to where a book will be best used, and to better serve the subjective approach of the classes that our students have.

For example, one DDC rule of two/three victim is U.S. slavery before the Civil War. Books on this subject can be found at

  • 306.3 Culture/Economic institutions if the content is slavery as an established socio-economic culture of the time.
  • 326 Slavery and emancipation if the content is about abolitionism and antislavery movements, the political issues of that time period.

Frankly, I didn’t like either location, so I changed all these books to a legitimate DDC number where students would find it with its historical time period:

973.71 Civil War – Social, political, economic history

This number includes the Underground Railroad and the Emancipation Proclamation, and after relocating, students easily discovered the books there and even thought I’d bought new ones!

So, School Librarians don’t have to give up Dewey with sweeping organizational changes to make their school library more student-friendly. For additional ‘creative’ ways to use DDC, get my new E-book How to Make Dewey Decimals Student-Friendly found at No Sweat Library, my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

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