I don’t teach the Dewey Decimal Classification System during Library Orientation. In fact, I don’t teach it at all!

The eye-opener came my second year as a librarian when I was telling students *(during an incredibly boring orientation)* that library books were originally shelved behind the circulation desk, and the DDC was created so librarians could organize books to find one when a patron asked for it. I suddenly realized that the DDC is for me to know for organizing books, not for students to know for finding one.

**Students only need to know how to find a number on a shelf, and anyone who can put 3 or 4 numbers in consecutive order can do that—even a kindergartner!**

## CAN I JUSTIFY NOT TEACHING DEWEY?

Few School Librarians understand “Classes” and “Divisions” of DDC, or what it means that DDC organizes those Classes & Divisions *by discipline*. While the 10 Classes are pretty easy to remember, most School Librarians know only a few Dewey Divisions. Quick: name the 10 Divisions of the 700s Arts & Leisure. And that’s an easy one! If we School Librarians don’t even know the DDCS, why should a kid?

Secondly, the AASL National School Library Standards never mention the Dewey Decimal Classification System. *(Nor did the Standards for a 21st Century Learner!)* It’s not even listed in the Glossary or the Index. It’s only at the School Library level that there’s a hint at a classification system:

IV. CURATE C. SHARE 2. The school library facilitates the contribution and exchange within and among learning communities by including and tracking collection materials in a system that uses standardized approaches to description & location. (p.62)

As for School Librarians, there’s not even a hint at a classification system; this is as close as they get:

IV. CURATE A. THINK 2. School librarians challenge learners to act on an information need by designing opportunities for learners to explore possible information sources. (p. 50)

I particularly like the wording “opportunities for learners to explore,” and I’ve written about such opportunities for Science and for Social Studies that coordinates both the *discipline* of Dewey and classroom learning.

**So, if our own Standards don’t specify the DDCS for us or for learners, we don’t need to teach Dewey!**

Finally, the trend in education is away from content-based instruction and toward developing critical-thinking through inquiry and problem-solving. The school library is all about inquiry and problem-solving, so why would we continue to teach a content-based lesson on the Dewey Decimal Classification System?

## WHAT TO TEACH INSTEAD OF DEWEY

As School Librarians, our main concern is about helping students learn **how to use an organization system** to locate resources. Thus, we teach students about our online catalog, and that, after using it to identify whether the school library has a book,

**they only need a number to find the book on the shelf**.

This goes beyond just a lesson; it touches on the latest trend of dumping Dewey for a “kid-friendly” word-based system. I’m astonished when I hear this, since Dewey is itself a short, simple notation for locating a book on the shelf. I doubt that kids are any more likely to “learn” letter acronyms than Dewey numbers.

They’ll still have to search

By Subject, we’ll still have to teach them how to use the system to find a book, and we’ll still need to put signs on the shelves, all of which we can do just as easily with Dewey numbers!

Students do need to understand that each place value in a Dewey decimal number stands for a more specific subject or topic, so more decimals mean a narrower topic of a book. What those subjects or topics are should be a sign on a shelf, not a scrap of trivia in a kid’s brain.

Granted, for elementary students, especially very young ones who haven’t learned about decimals, Dewey numbers may seem a bit daunting, but even a kindergartner quickly learns to count to 100, and helping kids discern and practice **numerical order is a more important skill to focus on than what the numbers stand for**.

It’s incredible that many of my middle schoolers can’t do this, so a lesson activity that sends kids off to find books by number is not only a better strategy for the library—and for reinforcing Math skills—but it’s a lot more fun! At least it always is for my students since I changed my lessons from content to process!

## DO DEWEY WITH MATH CLASSES!

I suggest that our reluctance to focus on number location is due to math anxiety—after all, most librarians seem to come from a language arts background, not a math one. But think about it: Numbers and decimals are part of the math curriculum, so why not bring in math classes for a Dewey lesson? They rarely use the library, so **a Dewey Decimal lesson gives Math classes a curricular reason to visit the school library**, especially when we offer a practical, hands-on application of decimal concepts. And it certainly answers the common question in math about “When are we ever going to use this?”

Thanks to a suggestion from my library colleague, Cindy Nietubicz, I bring both 6^{th} and 7^{th} grade Math classes into the library for a Dewey Decimal Lesson. The timing is perfect for us—these math classes begin decimal units about 5 weeks into the school year, when our ELA fiction reading pattern is well established and students are eager to check out Dewey books.

My math lessons serve to activate prior math knowledge about what students should already know about decimals**, **so it prepares them for their upcoming unit. With 6g students we review place values and sequencing decimals; with 7g students we review adding and subtracting decimals. Students **practice how decimals are used in the library by locating Dewey-decimal-number books** on the shelf. Math teachers like having this fun, non-graded review where they can see which students are having trouble with decimals.

Animated lesson slide for students to practice putting decimals in order. |

After the practice activity, students have plenty of time to browse for Dewey books to check out. Many get an interesting book they find during the activity. Others are stimulated to use my signage to find Dewey numbers of their favorite topics. When students are seated, we follow the same silent reading and invited checkout procedure that we use for ELA classes.

Math teachers love these lessons so much that they come to me early in the school year to see when we can schedule them into the library. It also whets their interest in collaborating on other math-related lessons in the library. Students love these lessons, too. Sixth graders are always puzzled about why they’re in the library with a math class…most have never done that before. What amazes me is how many **comment afterward that now they understand how all those numbers work**, which is, of course, the whole point of teaching Dewey numbers to our students.

## WHY DO I SAY “DEWEY NUMBERS”?

You may be wondering why I deliberately use the phrase *Dewey numbers*—and *Dewey books*. I identify areas of the library by **what’s on the spine labels of the books**; since there’s a Dewey number on the spine labels, it’s the Dewey area of the library.

My decision to begin doing this came during the aforementioned *(incredibly boring)* orientation: I was explaining that we separate fiction books from the 800s into their own area of the library, but the ‘non-fiction’ area still had some fictional books, such as aliens and fairy tales. I thought, “Why am I making this so confusing to students? If I just call them *Dewey-number books* I’ll alleviate confusion and questions!” So from then on, that’s what I called them.

Now I clarify with students that **‘non-fiction’ is about the content of a book, not it’s location**. If you take anything from this blog post, I hope it’s the terms ‘Dewey area’ and ‘Dewey-number books’ instead of ‘nonfiction.’ Our kids deserve common sense.

If the slide images above have sparked your interest, you can find my Dewey Lessons in my No Sweat Library store on TeachersPayTeachers, as well as my colorful Dewey Subject Signs & Shelf Labels.

I just came across your blog. Thank you! I’ve been working on this all by myself for the last few weeks and it’s taken so long… I wish I had seen this post a long time ago. I’m an LMS, never went to library school, and I’ve been looking up dewey decimal numbers one by one on books that seemed out of place to determine “Why was this book placed here? Does this really make sense? Where would it make more sense?” but the process is really taking a long time.

I see I’ve made a lot of the same changes you did. Books on smoking I changed from social problems in the 300s to addictive substances. We don’t have books on other addictive substances in our elementary school library, but it still seemed to make more sense since this way the books are closer to the other books in the 600s on different body systems (heart, lungs, etc) and other self care type books. I changed books on the transcontinental railroad from the train dewey in the 300s to the appropriate time period in US history. I actually want to pull the fairy tale section entirely and place it closer to the fiction area of the library as that just seems to make more sense (and give it a whole new call number that is not a Dewey number). I am working on categorizing the different areas similar to the way you did, although I have a section of Cinderella stories only since we have a lot and some teachers do a unit on the different versions of Cinderella.

I think I will buy your e-book and see if that helps me think out some of the other changes I want to do, as I still have lots of doubts about other areas, i.e. where to put the handful of books on immigration? (maybe that is part of your multicultural US history number?) I may come back to ask some questions! Thanks again!

Thank you for your comment, KM. I’m thrilled that you are working to make Dewey books more accessible for your students.

I think this blog post will be equally helpful for you. Let’s Put Dewey Decimal Books Where Students Can Find Them talks about just what you are intending, and it “previews” some of what you’ll find in the e-book.

Another helpful blog post is Helping School Librarians Understand Dewey 300 Social Science, which gives a bit more insight into why books are placed where they are.

Please feel free to respond with any further questions. You may also email me directly at barupa@nosweatlibrary.org.

And, since you mentioned Cinderella, my blog post How a School Librarian Responds to Teacher Requests & Lesson Ideas tells how I created an entire multicultural folktale unit from a simple request about Cinderella books! The unit is also available in my TPT store.

Thanks again for commenting!