Helping School Librarians Understand Dewey 900s Countries

Helping School Librarians Understand Dewey 900s Countries - Many School Librarians are confused by the organization of Countries in the 900s History & Geography. This School Librarian/Science Teacher explains how Dewey's numbering is assigned geographically rather than politically because a nation's political affiliation may change but it's place on the Earth doesn't. #NoSweatLibraryMany school librarians are confused about the way the countries in 940-990 are organized, so I’d like to rectify that if I could. Between studying Dewey Abridged and drawing on my Social Studies background, I’ve discerned a pattern to Dewey number assignments and hope to make it a bit more understandable—although some of it is a complete mystery to everyone but folks at OCLC!

First, each continent and country has a specific number in DDC Table 2, and both 910 Geography & Travel and 940-999 History use those Dewey numbers. (Because country books are used for social studies research, most school libraries include geography with history and assign books to 940-990 History numbers. ) The arrangement of these country numbers can be confusing, especially within each Division of 940-999. We think of History in terms of political timelines, but Dewey numbers in Table 2 are assigned geographically because a location’s political affiliation may change but it’s place on the Earth doesn’t.

We realize that DDC is Anglocentric, so it’s not surprising we begin with the continent of Europe at 940, then move to 950 Asia, 960 Africa, 970 North America, 980 South America, and 990 Australia & Oceania. Dewey 900 numbers for individual countries within the continents appear to be assigned geographically from North to South along latitudinal lines and West to East along longitudinal lines. The N→S pattern is more consistent on a continent than the W→E, beginning from a NW or NE coastal country, moving south along coasts, and lastly covering inland central continental locations.

(Rather than true geography, it appears to me that many numbers are based on Anglocentric exploration & conquest of water-accessible locations.)


continent EuropeEurope begins in the British Isles at 941 Scotland/Ireland, moves SE to England/Wales at 942, then moves E into central Europe with 943. It moves SW to France with 944, then E to the Italian peninsula at 945, then back SW again to the Iberian peninsula at 946. Rather than picking up the rest of the western countries, numbers jump NE to Eastern Europe, including Russia, at 947, and move NW to Scandinavia at 948. The 949 numbers are an odd mish-mash, moving from Iceland SE to the small English Channel countries, over to Switzerland, then to Greece and the Balkans.

950 ASIA

continent AsiaAsia starts on the Pacific Ocean with 951 China/Korea and 952 Japan, then jumps SW to the Arabian peninsula at 953, then back E to India at 954. Numbers next move inland W to 955 Iran, and further W to the Mediterranean & Middle East at 956. Then we go back inland NE to 957 Siberia and 958 Central Asia. The continent finishes, oddly, with Southeast Asia at 959. (Perhaps because those were European colonies and when they become separate countries they couldn’t fit the numbers anywhere else!)


continent AfricaAfrica appears to follow an Anglocentric geo-historical water-access exploration/conquest pattern. It begins at 961 with the north-central Mediterranean coast, then moves E along the coast for 962, then S along the Red Sea for 963. Numbers jump across the African continent to NW coastal nations for 964 & 965, moving S then E along the coast for 966. The 967 numbers cover central sub-Saharan Africa, from W to E. Numbers then move into Southern Africa with 968, starting with South Africa and moving inland N to countries along its borders, from W to E. Fittingly, 969 is the island of Madagascar, along with other southern Indian Ocean islands.


continent North AmericaFor North America, it’s easy to understand that 971 Canada is first geographically, but, against all reason, 972 Middle America—Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean—is next. (Perhaps because they were explored earlier or because OCLC just wants the U.S. last.) The rest of 970 is the United States, with numbers moving more historically from E to W from 973 to 979. Interestingly, Alaska is included as a U.S. state instead of geographically with Canada, but Hawaii isn’t included at all. (See below.)


continent South AmericaSouth America begins on the east coast with 981 Brazil, and follows the coast S to Argentina, then around W to Chili at 983. Succeeding numbers move N along the Pacific coast to Columbia at 986, then back E along the northern coast to complete the circle. Historical latecomers Paraguay & Uruguay finish at 989.


continent Australia & OceaniaThe 990s are very strange. There is no 991 or 992; 993-996 is called Australasia (tectonic term for the continent) beginning at 993 for New Zealand, then moves W to Australia for 994. Pacific Islands-Melanesia, Micronesia, PolynesiaThe N→S/W→E pattern is abandoned as numbers move into the 3 geo-cultural areas of the Pacific Ocean islands—also referred to as Oceania—first N into Melanesia, then E into Polynesia, then back NW into Micronesia.

Curiously, 996.9 is for the Hawaiian Islands, and while they are in the middle of the north Pacific, this numbering makes no sense for 3 reasons:

  1. It’s culturally part of Polynesia, not Micronesia.
  2. Dewey numbers for other offshore islands are geographically included with their continent, like the Azores with Europe, the Philippines with Asia, and Madagascar with Africa; even Bermuda is included with North America.
  3. As mentioned above, our U.S. state Alaska is geographically part of Canada, but is included with U.S. Dewey numbers at 979.8.
    (If you have a large U.S. States section, you may, like me, use the open number after Alaska to redo your Hawaii books with 979.9 to keep all U.S. States books together!)

As I said, the 990s are weird, and there is no easy way to understand the last 3 number assignments:

  • 997 is Atlantic Ocean Islands which includes The Falklands off the coast of South America, but it also includes St. Helena off the coast of Africa, which is closer to that continental coast than Europe’s Azores are to its coast—go figure.
  • continent Antarctica998 is for Arctic islands, including Greenland, and Antarctica, even though they are geographically at opposite ends of the Earth!
  • 999, wonder of all wonders, is Extraterrestrial worlds, clearly having no geographical or historical affiliation to the Earth whatsoever! This number is for books related to extraterrestrial intelligence or civilizations, as opposed to mere extraterrestrial life at 576.8 or UFOs/aliens at 001.94. I can only guess the DDC folks want to include all possible areas of historical human conquest within the 900s, no matter where they might be!


Learn More About Dewey Country Numbers in the School Library - School Librarians can learn more about country organization in DDC and how to use those books to provide a content-based geography lesson for Social Studies students. #NoSweatLibraryIn my post about 590 Animals I offered a hands-on lesson activity with books so students could practice both Dewey & life science’s taxonomic organization. Likewise, we can offer a fun lesson activity with Social Studies classes studying world geography.

Pull enough country books to put a dozen or so on each table, making sure to have at least one book for each of the 5 multi-country continents. Students use the books and Dewey numbers to group books by continent, then write the continent name and main Dewey number of the continent on provided sticky notes and add to the stack of books. Students next find a new country book from the shelves so each one from a table brings one for a different continent. To make this a graded review activity, provide a map worksheet of the continents with country outlines and students record the countries at their table, along with their Dewey number, in the proper place on the map. If time permits, students can rotate to different tables and try to fill in all the countries on their map.

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Helping School Librarians Understand Dewey 590 Animals

Helping School Librarians Understand Dewey 590 Animals - Many School Librarians are confused by the organization of Animals in 590 Science. This School Librarian/Science Teacher explains Dewey's disciplinary numbering based on biology's scientific nomenclature! #NoSweatLibrary

I love anything with an organizational pattern, so one of my favorite courses when getting my Library Science master’s degree was the course on cataloging. I just love the Dewey Decimal Classification System, especially that it’s a flexible and continually changing system that responds to the changes in our society and culture.

Before I became a School Librarian I taught secondary science—biology, chemistry, and physical science. I love that science has recognized the wonderful organizational structure of our natural world—the periodic table of elements is my favorite thing, along with taxonomy of living things. Naturally, the 500s are my favorite Dewey numbers!

When a librarian colleague asked if I could explain the reasoning behind the Dewey Decimal Classification of animals in the 590s, I was delighted to help! I hope all School Librarians will learn from this “deep dive” into a biology section of the Dewey 500s.


The DDC classifies books according to discipline, that is, the field of study, so animals, being part of a science discipline, are assigned to the DDC Class of 500 Science, and as living things are assigned to the DDC Divisions of Life Sciences, biology numbers 570-590. The discipline of biology has a special system for organizing living things called taxonomic classification and the scientific nomenclature of biology, from broadest to most specific, is:


Within its groupings, biology classifies according to increasing complexity, and DDC follows the biology discipline’s classification system, so cellular life and its Kingdoms are in 570, the more complex Plant Kingdom is 580, and the most complex Animal Kingdom is 590. In biology the Animal Kingdom has Phyla which DDC doesn’t specifically differentiate, but roughly they are:

  • 592-595 Phyla Invertebrata – animals that don’t have a backbone.
  • 597-599 Phyla Vertebrata – animals that do have a backbone.

The DDC section numbers (the ones-place) are equivalent to a biology Class (not to be confused with Dewey Classes) according to the increasing complexity of the organism:

  • 592-595 Invertebrates
    • 593 Class of sponges, coral & starfish
    • 594 Class of clams, oysters, octopi
    • 595 Class of crustaceans & insects

To understand Dewey numbers 596-599, know that the tenths place is assigned to each different biology Order, so by increasing complexity:

  • 596-599 Vertebrates
    • 597 Class of cold-blooded vertebrates:
        • 597.1-597.7 Orders of Fishes (sharks are 597.3)
        • 597.8 Order Amphibians
        • 597.9 Order Reptiles

      Dewey number 597

and for warm-blooded vertebrates:

    • 598 Class Birds
    • 599 Class Mammals with
      • 599.2 Order Marsupial – Families possum, kangaroo
      • 599.3 Orders of small placental mammals – Families rabbits, rodents (rats & mice), squirrels, beavers
      • 599.4 Order Chiroptera (bats)
      • 599.5 Order Cetacean – Families whales, dolphins, manatees

      Dewey numbers 599-599.5

      • 599.6 Order Ungulates – Families of land-based plant-eating animals (camels, cows, deer, horses, elephants)

      Dewey number 599.6

      • 599.7 Order Carnivora (Families felines, canines, bears, marine carnivores like seals & walruses)
        (You won’t find books here about animal pets such as cats, dogs, or birds; DDC assigns pet books to 636 Domestic animals.)
      • 599.8 Order Primate (monkeys, baboons, orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee)

      Dewey numbers 599.7-599.8

      • 599.9 Order Hominids—that’s us.
        You rarely have 599.9 books, because books on humans are usually about the human body so are in the 610s Medicine & health.

Keep in mind that with Dewey, a book covering multiple groups is assigned the lowest and least specific Dewey number. A book about American large animal wildlife with wolves and mountain lions would be numbered 599.7 and shelved with other carnivore books; if the book also included moose and elk, then it would be numbered 599 and shelved with other mammal books. If you’re looking for books for a class assignment, you might need to look beyond just one specific Dewey number or do an online catalog search by Subject to pick up any relevant books outside of a specific number.


Join Life Science with Dewey Subjects for an Authentic Classification Lesson - Enhance student comprehension of life science classification with a Library Lesson on Dewey Decimal Subject Numbers for animals! Here's how to do it... #NoSweatLibraryHere’s a Library Lesson suggestion for middle school Life Science using Dewey Decimal Subjects to enhance student understanding of taxonomic classification. To prepare for this lesson I pull books from shelves so there is a sample of the various kingdoms, phyla, orders, etc. with about 6-8 books per table (seating 4 students).

To begin the lesson, I give students a classification of living things taxonomy chart worksheet, based on what they study in 6g Science, which stimulates student participation during Direct instruction. During the Modeling & guided learning activity, students hierarchically organize the books on their table and fill in boxes on their worksheet with Dewey numbers and the animal subjects of the books.

There are a few empty boxes left, so for Independent practice, students visit the Science 590-599 bookshelves to find one book whose Dewey number and subject fills in an empty box on their worksheet. They return to the table and work with their table partners to fill in any empty boxes.

Students paste the daily-grade worksheet into their Interactive Notebook (graded later by their teacher), then they can browse for a book to check out. I see students apply what they learn as they explore other topical sections of the Science shelves as well as the 636 section on domesticated animals and pets.

I have a similar lesson for 6g on ecology, for 7g on human body systems, and for 8g on weather and weather disasters. As middle school Science has become more integrated, these quick Library Lessons offer single-visit reinforcement for a variety of Science topics at any grade-level, and also give students more insight into and experience with the different Dewey Subjects in the library. As always, teachers love that I have a graphic organizer worksheet to use as a daily grade.

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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!


If you like the colorful shelf labels above, you can find them in my TPT store, No Sweat Library!


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