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.


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

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 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

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.

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.
    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.
  • 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.
    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
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.
Noise pollution .74

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.

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.

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.
    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.

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

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