How I Created Special Multicultural Collections in the School Library

How I Created Special Multicultural Collections in the School Library - If you are bothered by racial and cultural biases in the Dewey Decimal Classification system, modify it a bit to make your collection more culturally responsive. Here's my solution that could work for you, too. #NoSweatLibraryWhen I became the School Librarian at the district’s most diverse school—1/3 African-American and the other 2/3 equally split between Hispanic, Anglo, and Asian—I quickly realized the limitations of DDC in making a collection culturally responsive. I had questions similar to those posed by another librarian in a recent LM_NET listserv post:

“I want my collection to equitably reflect my students and their world, and am bothered by racial and cultural biases in the Dewey Decimal classification system, in the Library of Congress Subject Headings, and other systems. … how do you combat systemic marginalization in the organization and classification of your collection? Do you reorganize your collection to reflect the population you serve, or pull books about particular groups or subjects together, while retaining Dewey classification and adding spine labels/stickers?”


Before we can promote multicultural awareness and reading we need to be sure we build a collection that is culturally diverse. In my case, our fiction area had a number of cultural historical fiction books, but it’s also important to offer quality modern fiction stories with diverse characters. Most book vendors offer a variety of reviews and recommendations from our librarian colleagues to help us find what we need, and each year I make a special effort to add as many as possible.

To build student awareness of multicultural books in our Fiction area, I apply multicultural labels to the top of the spine of fiction books that have cultural, ethnic and racial characters and topics. I use labels for African American, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, and Native Nations, as well as Cross-Cultural labels for stories with multiple racial/ethnic characters and Multicultural labels for stories taking place in other lands.

As School Librarians & responsible educators, we want to imbue appreciation for diversity, not amplify differences. I leave our multicultural books intermingled with other books on the shelves to best serve that goal.

NoSweat Multicultural Fiction Book Labels - The Multicultural Fiction labels template is in my e-List Library. Join my Mailing List and download for free.
You can get my template to print Multicultural Fiction Labels by joining my Email list. Then it’s a free download from my e-List Library.

Reading multicultural fiction creates understanding, so during library orientation I promote Multicultural Fiction as a reading topic. The ELA Student Reading Records I create for students to paste into their Interactive Notebooks have a page showing multicultural labels, and students know to look for the labels when they want to read & record that type of story.


Our first responsibility as School Librarians is to make the school library student-friendly, so we can make changes so students can find what they need! silhouette of trooperThere are no “Dewey Police” that punish us for changing a book’s Dewey number. In fact, OCLC regularly makes changes to DDC to meet the changing needs of our society. And changing Dewey to meet the needs of our students fulfills the very purpose of DDC: for “works that are used together to be found together.”

I don’t worry about “the next librarian” because few of us really know enough DDC numbers past the 10 main Classes to be confused by any changes I make. We didn’t have to know LOC to locate a book in our college library—do you remember the LOC classifications for Education or Library Science? (I looked them up—they’re L and Z.) We locate an item using the Call Number listed in the OPAC, not by what’s in our memory! I prefer being a creative Dewey-ist, in that I’ll always change a Dewey number to put a book where students will likely look for it.

It's OK to Adapt Dewey to the Needs of Student Diversity - Overcome the racial & cultural biases of Dewey Decimal Classification by adapting existing numbers to become more culturally responsive. Here's how I did it... #NoSweatLibraryWith my student demographics in mind, I decided to modify DDC to  reflect cultural origins. The DDC Abridged 14, Table 2 Geographic Areas lists numbers for the continents that can be added as an identifier; it’s the familiar one added after 9 in the 900s. I decided to use them as “continent of origin” for my cultural/ethnic groupings:

  • 3=Jewish & other Semitic groups (Ancient Worlds includes Palestine)
  • 4=European or Anglo
  • 5=Asian
  • 6=African
  • 7=North American or Native Nations
  • 8=South American or Hispanic/Latino.
    Though Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean are included in North America, I chose to include them here for cultural identity & to avoid confusion with U.S./Canada & Europe.


My school library collection has 3 distinct Dewey sections with the most books related to cultural, ethnic, and racial topics:

  • the 300s, notably 305 Social Groups, 306 Culture & Institutions, and 398 Folklore
  • the 920 Collected Biographies
  • the 973 U.S. History section

920 Collected Biographies

920s Multicultural Shelf LabelsI had already begun to redo the 920 Collected Biographies, using 921-928 for Subjects according to DDC 920 Option A. I decided to make 920.3-920.8 “Multicultural Collected Biographies” by adding the pertinent geographic number to the right of the decimal. (I know Option A is a little different, but who’d know or care?) I barely got the section reorganized before kids noticed the new groupings and began checking them out! Chalk one up for my first Special Multicultural Collection!

973 U.S. History

Make Dewey Multicultural - Try my Dewey 973 Multicultural shelf labels, part of my NoSweat Dewey Subject product on my TPT store. #NoSweatLibraryNext I tackled 973 U.S. History. DDC shows .04 as Special topics in History and .008 as History with respect to Kinds of Persons, so I used 973.04 as Multicultural History & Events and 973.08 for Multicultural National Groups (I dropped a zero to simplify) and added the relevant geographic designation. I was able to create 3 shelves of books for our “new” Special Multicultural America Collection:

  • 973.045 became Asian-American History
  • 973.046 became African-American History (including the Civil Rights Movement)
  • 973.048 became Hispanic-American History
  • 973.083 for Jewish-Americans in the US
  • 973.085 became Asian-Americans in the US
  • 973.086 became African-Americans in the US
  • 973.088 became Hispanic-Americans in the US.
  • I also added 973.082 for Women in America

I did not put books on U.S. slavery in these collections—I used 973.714 to be with Civil War books since that’s when the topic is studied in 8g Social Studies.

398 Folklore

In the 300s, I had pulled books from 305 Social Groups and 306 Culture & Institutions for the new U.S. History topics, and the remaining books were now fewer and more relevant as global topics, so I didn’t need to make any changes.

To simplify 398 Folklore, I decided against using 398.2089 for  ethnic/national groups—way too many decimals—and instead used 398.23 Folk Literature of Places & Times to add my multicultural designations. What a remarkable difference that made to our sizable folklore collection, which is now much easier to use, especially when I need to pull books for lessons or for classroom use.

  • 398.231 Non-specific or mixed folktales
  • 398.233 Jewish & other Semitic folktales
  • 398.234 European folktales
  • 398.235 Asian folktales
  • 398.236 African & African American folktales
  • 398.237 Native Nations folktales
  • 398.238 Hispanic/Latino & Hispanic American folktales
  • 398.239 Australia/Oceania folktales


Some may worry about the effort to redo book spine labels and change catalog call numbers for every new multicultural book, but really, how many of these does one order at a time? If you wonder how the next librarian would know what I did, I have detailed explanations in my Librarian’s Handbook, both print & digital versions. As it turned out, the new librarian after I retired is from a feeder elementary, so she knew what I’d done and intends to continue it! In fact, every school librarian I’ve shown my changes to has loved the idea, especially that students can now find these books and check them out like crazy!

Make it easier for students to find a Dewey book in your school library with these colorful, pictorial signs and shelf labels. They're just what you need for your middle school or elementary library!


Do you like the shelf labels
shown above?
Make your School Library
more student-friendly!
Get Dewey Subjects Signs
& Shelf Labels

at NoSweat Library, my TPT store.


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