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 collection is like mine, the 300 Social Sciences takes up large part of your Dewey area. What boggles the minds of students, teachers, and School Librarians alike is the mish-mash of disparate topics with an arrangement that doesn’t make much sense. Plus, the 300s seem to have many books that belong in other Dewey sections!

As a lover of the Dewey Decimal Classification system and a college major in the Social Sciences, I hope to help you understand this Dewey Class…and suggest some changes that might better serve your students and teachers.


Remember that Dewey Decimal Numbers are assigned by discipline, that is, the field of study—the profession. How does that differ from subject?

  • Subject asks, “What is this about?” and is the topic of a book—the informational content inside.
  • Discipline asks, “Who is this for?”—who will use this—and assigns a Dewey number so those folks find their professional information in one place.

A particular subject, then, can be assigned more than one Dewey number depending on which profession uses the material for their own purposes. Here’s a DDC example of a simple water report that can apply to 5 different Dewey numbers:

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. (Abridged 15, p65.) [edited for brevity]

Also keep in mind that books for more than one discipline or subject are assigned the lowest Dewey Decimal number that includes all disciplines—using the rule of two or the rule of three. This explains why the 300 section is so large: its numbers are lower than 6 other Dewey Classes, so multiple subject/discipline books are placed in the 300s rather than where we might need them for our school curriculum.

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.


Calling the 300s “social sciences” may be a slight misnomer: the social sciences include 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 in the 300s.

Since these four disciplines are about social relationships and the organization & function of human societies, I’ve chosen a more specific name for this Dewey number which students understand better than the generic “Social Sciences”:

Dewey 300 –  Society, Government, and Culture

Unfortunately, the materials for these 3 broad headings are not necessarily in contiguous divisions and sections, so here’s the 300 divisions each one encompasses:

  • Society: 300 Sociology & anthropology and 360 Social problems & services
  • Government: 320 Political science, 330 Economics, 340 Law, and 350 Public administration & military science, and 380 Commerce, communications & transportation
  • Culture: 370 Education & 390 Customs

NOTE: You probably won’t have any 310s in your school library because it’s just for statistical records.


300 Sociology & anthropology
The 300s begin with society, specifically sociology & anthropology. If we consider psychology (the 100s) as the social science of the individual, then 300-307 is the social science of groups. It includes 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 introduces those used throughout the rest of the 300s by age, gender, social class, race, ethnicity/ancestry, occupation, and illness/disability. School Librarians need to build this section with high-quality, equity-sensitive resources because it can so strongly influence the minds of our students.

360 Social problems & 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 societies & clubs,
  • by commercial insurance services,
  • by associations.

Some books in this division are victims of the rules of two or three, such as substance abuse and mental & physical disorders. I relocated many of these to appropriate higher numbers for better student access.

363 Other social problems and services
If the 360s are 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 science class assignments.
  • 363 ends with physical needs and the 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 perplexing spot, because so many popular school topics about environmental protection are crammed in here. I added additional numbers (below) to better define the different topics:
Description Dewey number
Environmental problems 363.7
Sanitation – waste control, recycling .72
Pollution .73
By source – oil, toxic chemicals, acid rain .738
Of specific environments – air, water, soil
Global warming from CO2 (greenhouse effect) &
ozone layer depletion (You may find ozone books in .738 due to the rule of 2 regarding refrigerants, but I moved mine here because it’s a global issue of the atmosphere.
Noise pollution .74


It’s no surprise that 320 Political science, 340 Law, and 350 Public administration & military science align with the 3 branches of U.S. government. (Be aware that other countries may not have this structure, but most of those books are in the 900 section. )

  •  320 Political science includes civil & human rights, the political process & elections, relations between nations, and the legislative process, hence, books about the U.S. Congress.
  • 340 Law 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 Public administration covers the executive branch—the U.S. Presidency, the Cabinet, and management of departments or agencies such as national security, justice, foreign affairs, health & education, and those with economic or environmental oversight. 355-359 military science covers all branches of the military, which is administered by the head of state.


MAKING THE 300’S MORE STUDENT-FRIENDLYMaking 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.

330 Economics
Economics is probably nestled between 320 and 340, because legislatures (320) set taxes and budgets. This division also includes careers, money, banking, credit cards, the stock market, and taxes. (You may also see books on socialism & communism because they are economic-based systems, but I prefer all books on types of government 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, according to the table below:

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

This division may seem redundant with topics in 330 Economics; however, this division is for regulatory aspects (law & public administration) and public consumption—the socio-cultural perspective of ‘products’ & ‘people’, that is, services that sustain or benefit our way of life. Here we find:

  • domestic & international trade
  • the infrastructure for communications—postal, telegraph, computer, wireless (radio, television, satellite), and telephone
  • the infrastructure for transportation, including railroads, waterways, air traffic, roads, local mass transit, and pipeline transport of utilities.

You may see here books that are topical with those in the 600s, and they may get increased circulation by relocating them there.


Near the end of the 300s we find the two divisions relating to culture and it’s institutions.

370 Education
Education is how our culture and traditions are passed down from adults to children. Most books with this division number will be about teaching, so will be shelved in our Professional collection. You may, however, want to do as I did, and build a circulating group of books on schools for the historical time periods our students study in their social studies classes, and books on study skills topics.

390 Customs, etiquette, folklore
This is the division we probably think of when we refer to “culture”. It differs from 300 Sociology & anthropology in that 300 is about groups & institutions, whereas this division is about our personal or informal way of life. We find here sections on personal adornment such as clothing & 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 similar to 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 -Many 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 they don’t understand the purpose of DDC:

works that are used together to be found together.

It’s that purpose of DDC which gives us the freedom to change a Dewey number. Since our disciplinary use is different than career professionals, we can locate books where they will better serve the needs of our school curriculum.

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 2 places in the 300s:

  • 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.

I didn’t like either location, so I changed all these books to a little-used but legitimate DDC number where students would find the books within the historical time period:

973.71 Civil War – Social, political, economic history

This number already includes the Underground Railroad and the Emancipation Proclamation, so now all U.S. slavery books are together. After relocating the books, students easily discovered them there and even thought I’d bought new ones!

So, School Librarians don’t have to give up Dewey for radical 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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Best Online Professional Learning Network for School Librarians

Best Online Professional Learning Network for School Librarians - Some of my best practices & ideas have come from my online Professional Learning Network. So, here's my list of bloggers, social media groups, and other communities that have had the greatest influence on my Library Lessons and School Library Program..and they may help you, too. #NoSweatLibraryOften while creating Library Lessons or writing my blog, I realize many of the best practices and ideas I’ve gathered over the years are a result of, not formal professional development, but rather my  Professional Online Learning Network!

The concept of a PLN has been around since the 1990s, and some folks refer to it as a Personal Learning Network; but whether we choose the term personal or professional, it’s where we can learn to be a better educator and School Librarian.

For a long time, I referred to my “Professional Learning Community,” but in a Schoolology blog post titled “Personal Learning Network (PLN) Benefits, Tools, and Tactics,” Elizabeth Trach explains that PLC refers to a structured, place-oriented group of like-minded or content-related educators, whereas the major feature of a PLN is exactly what the term network implies: it’s a digital, online community connecting educators everywhere, at any time.

And that isn’t all…as Brianna Crowley explains in her December 31, 2014 Education Week-Teacher article, “Although technology is often the vehicle to build connections, a PLN is about relationships.

If you want to know more about building a PLN, visit Edublogs’ Building Your PLN, a free self-paced course. And now, here are the connections and relationships I’ve built as my Professional Learning Network over my many years as a School Librarian.


School Librarians need to keep abreast of changing subject and library standards, of useful strategies for research & information skills, and for new technology. Membership in my State library association and in ALA/AASL are advantageous, but the international LM_NET listserv and my Texas State Library listserv provide my most valuable learning about standards, information literacy and library lessons.

Another wonderful organization for school librarians is Through their School Library Network and Emerging Tech for Schools and Libraries communities, they offer at least one FREE webinar every month on new ideas, best practices, and valuable resources. School Librarians need to keep up with the constant innovation and diversification of technology, and to keep our professional skills one step ahead of students. I seek out new tools to integrate technology into assignments and ideas for new or better ways to implement my technology lessons.

Library of Congress is one of my favorite places to explore. Not only do they have a huge online catalog of nearly every book ever written (with both LOC & Dewey identifiers), they also have a vast digital collection of media about American life from the earliest years up to today, as well as a vibrant blog that regularly features interesting parts of their collection.


Many librarians rely on Twitter, but I’m not as enthusiastic, though I do follow a few dozen folks, as well as a few librarians on Pinterest. My main social media outlet for library learning is Facebook and these 6 Groups consistently provide great professional learning ideas for School Librarians:


There aren’t a lot of library podcasts, but here are two that are the best you could possibly use for timely advice and information.:


Another essential professional learning tool is an RSS feeder that allows me to subscribe to and gather together blogs about School Libraries, education, and technology.  I’ve used feedly for several years and recently began also using Bloglovin’; through them I can read numerous blogs that provide insight and ideas for improving my Library Lessons and my School Library Program. Here is a list of my favorites:

Jennifer Gonzalez, blogger/author at Cult of Pedagogy.Cult of Pedagogy – Jennifer Gonzalez, education specialist and National Board Certified teacher. Best overall teaching blog ever, plus great technology implementations.

Joyce Valenza, blogger for Never Ending Search at School Library Journal.Never Ending Search – Joyce Valenza, the guru of all school librarians, writes this blog for School Library Journal. She’s a long-time tech leader and co-creator of #TLChat, TLChat Live, and TL Virtual Café. First as a high school librarian and now as professor of library science at Rutgers University, she keeps us all on our toes!

Naomi Bates, librarian/blogger at YA Books and MoreYA Books and More – Naomi Bates, a Texas high school librarian with a wide range of knowledge about books and reading, library skills and technology. (One of these days I’ll get in my car and drive across town to visit her library!) She’s now vlogging: creating 2-3 minute video booktalks on current YA reads.

500 Hats image.500 Hats – Barbara Braxton, an Australian school librarian, has 3 Master’s degrees and over 40 years experience. Her posts on the LM_NET listserv always offers excellent professional guidance for school library programs.

Shannon McClintock Miller, teacher/blogger at The Library Voice and spokesperson for Future Ready Librarians and Follett.The Library Voice – Shannon McClintock Miller, school librarian and currently the Future Ready Libraries & Project Connect spokesperson. She offers great resources for school librarians to become leaders in the digital transformation of learning.

Hilda K. Weisburg, author of her name blog.Hilda K. Weisburg – another long-time guru, Hilda is a retired school librarian with over 25 years experience. She has a way of making us see the big picture!

Nikki Robertson, librarian/blogger at The Absolutely True Adventures of a School Librarian.The Absolutely True Adventures of a School Librarian – Nikki Robertson, a Georgia school librarian and Instructional Technology Facilitator, is co-creator of #TLChat LIVE! and TL News Night.

Gwyneth Jones, librarian/blogger at The Daring Librarian.The Daring Librarian – Gwyneth Jones, a teacher librarian in Maryland, has a passion for edtech and shares all her creative and wonderful lesson ideas with the rest of the library world.

Diana Rendina, librarian/blogger at Renovated Learning.Renovated Learning – Diana Rendina, a media specialist/teacher librarian in Tampa, Florida is the guru of Makerspaces. Her ideas for redesigning the school library into a participatory learning environment with hands-on STEM learning experiences are the best!

Elizabeth Kahn, librarin in Avondale LATales from a Loud Librarian –Elizabeth Kahn, librarian at Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy in Avondale, LA. She has some of the cleverest ideas I’ve ever seen for library lessons that truly engage students.

025.431: The Dewey blog Everything you always wanted to know about the Dewey Decimal Classification® system but were afraid to ask025.431: The Dewey blog – Everything you always wanted to know about the Dewey Decimal Classification System but were afraid to ask. From OCLC, the folks in charge of keeping Dewey current, who also sponsor a Google Groups discussion forum where you can ask questions and contribute suggestions.

Larry Ferlazzo, teacher/blogger at Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day.Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day – This long-time ELL/ESL/EFL teacher is a librarian’s best resource for online curation. He has thousands—yes, thousands—of sites organized in dozens of categories on his website. For us he’s better than Google!

Richard Byrne, author/blogger at Free Technology for Teachers.Free Technology for Teachers – Richard Byrne in Maine. The very best resource for all things technology, he also has a channel on YouTube with dozens of video tutorials for tech tools. My go-to guy when I need to know how to use a tech tool!

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning - logo.Educational Technology & Mobile Learning – Meg Kharbach, a doctoral researcher with 10 years of classroom experience, writes from Nova Scotia, Canada about dozens of technology tools for iPads, Smartphones, and Google, Chrome, & Chromebooks. You need it, she can recommend something!

There are thousands more educational bloggers, but if you’re looking for high quality sources, try Teach 100, a daily ranking of the top 100 educational blogs recommended by educators around the world.

I hope these online professional communities help you as much as they’ve helped me. Happy Professional Library Learning!

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Disability Accessibility in the School Library

Disability Accessibility in the School Library - School Librarians need to be aware of federal guidelines for disabilities and examine our facility layout for barriers that may inhibit students from access and comfort. Here's what I discovered about my School Library and how I solved the problems. #NoSweatLibraryWhat impression does your School Library make on those who enter it for the first time? Is it inviting to all students and staff?

In “3 Strategies for a First-Time School Librarian“, I cautioned new School Librarians to not make changes before they understood their school culture and how students and classes used the library environment.

However, there is one area that new and veteran School Librarians need to examine and change immediately, especially if it does not meet Federal guidelines:
Is your School Library accessible to those with disabilities?


In 1968, the federal government passed the Architectural Barriers Act, mandating that facilities built with federal funds, such as courthouses, libraries, and schools, be accessible to persons with disabilities. From that first measure up through 1996—with updates through 2008—a total of 10 different acts have been passed to address persons with disabilities:

  1. Architectural Barriers Act of 1968
  2. Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  3. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975
  4. Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980
  5. Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984
  6. Air Carrier Access Act of 1986
  7. Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988
  8. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  9. National Voter Registration Act of 1993
  10. Telecommunications Act of 1996

Two of these Acts are of particular importance to our School Libraries:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975/1990/1997/2004 mandating a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990/2008, “a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.”


Public schools, including the school library, must provide a least restrictive learning environment for disabled students. While the physical structures of our school libraries have been built or updated to align with ADA Guidelines, the interior arrangement of our bookcases, tables & chairs, computers, and other furniture or decorative items may inhibit free access for those with wheelchairs or other assistive devices.

When I arrived at my middle school library, I noticed major accessibility problems that needed to be eliminated for our 2 students in wheelchairs. You may also need to eliminate barriers in these areas of your school library:

  • entry/exit doorways
  • walkways
  • approach to tables, computers, and other seating
  • aisles between bookcases
  • moving from one aisle into another
  • reaching books on shelves
  • the circulation counter.

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design provided by the Department of Justice are very detailed about how much room is required for various wheelchair accessible areas, including illustrations that I’ve inserted below. (click to enlarge)

Entry/Exit Doorways

404.2.4 Maneuvering Clearances. Minimum maneuvering clearances at doors and gates shall comply with 404.2.4. Maneuvering clearances shall extend the full width of the doorway and the required latch side or hinge side clearance.
404.2.4.1 Swinging Doors and Gates. Swinging doors and gates shall have maneuvering clearances complying with Table 404.2.4.1.

Clearance around doors must be 48-60 inches, depending on which way our library doors open. That means we don’t want to put displays, tables, or even portable signage too close to our entrance/exit doorways.


403.5.1 Clear Width. Except as provided in 403.5.2 and 403.5.3, the clear width of walking surfaces shall be 36 inches minimum.

403.5.1 Clear Width. Except as provided in 403.5.2 and 403.5.3, the clear width of walking surfaces shall be 36 inches minimum.In my school library, the areas between tables were too narrow when students were seated, but because there was ample wheelchair access around the end tables on either side of the library, I did not consider this a barrier to be eliminated. Make sure, when your library tables are fully seated, that a wheelchair can still maneuver to the other areas of the library.

Approach to Tables, Computers, and Other Seating

802.1.3 Depth. Where a wheelchair space can be entered from the front or rear, the wheelchair space shall be 48 inches deep minimum. … public schools must provide learning environments with counters and workspaces accommodating students seated in wheelchairs.

802.1.3 Depth. Where a wheelchair space can be entered from the front or rear, the wheelchair space shall be 48 inches deep minimum. … public schools must provide learning environments with counters and workspaces accommodating students seated in wheelchairs.In my school library the table area was quite wide with computer stations at one side. There was more than 48 inches from the computer counter to the chairs at the adjoining table, so the computer stations were accessible to wheelchairs, as were the 2 tables on that side of the library.

In our magazine area I arranged chairs so there was a wide walkway to the magazines and allowed for a wheelchair to pull up to the conversation area.

A recent blog post on We Are Teachers, How to Create Inclusive Classroom Spaces for Students With Physical Disabilities, had this recommendation:

2. Make the Whole Classroom Accessible
Mobility does not simply involve access between the student’s desk and the door to the classroom. … Therefore, ensure students with disabilities are able to move around the whole classroom so that they can participate in all workstation and group-work activities. In particular, aim to ensure all pathways, desks, and computer workstations are accessible for students with physical disabilities.

Aisles Between Bookcases

225.2.2 Self-Service Shelving. Self-service shelves shall be located on an accessible route complying with 402. Self-service shelves include, but are not limited to, library, store, or post office shelves.

My initial situation was 8 lines of paired bookcases angled out from a curved back wall. The aisles were unevenly spread across the space, with some quite wide, but others so narrow that 2 students couldn’t enter at the same time, let alone a wheelchair.

225.2.2 Self-Service Shelving. Self-service shelves shall be located on an accessible route complying with 402. Self-service shelves include, but are not limited to, library, store, or post office shelves.Wheelchairs need to have “full maneuverability radius” between bookcases. The minimum width for a wheelchair is 36 inches, but since other students would be in the aisles, I wanted to allow 48 inches, which is the minimum width for a wheelchair and an ambulatory person. Since my aisles would abut a wall, I also needed to allow a minimum turning radius of 60 inches.

Moving from One Aisle into Another

403.5.2 Clear Width at Turn. Where the accessible route makes a 180 degree turn around an element which is less than 48 inches wide, clear width shall be 42 inches minimum approaching the turn, 48 inches minimum at the turn and 42 inches minimum leaving the turn.

In my school library the shelving area jutted far into the table area, so there was a very narrow walkway between the ends of bookcases and the tables, allowing little room to maneuver from aisle to aisle, especially for our wheelchair students.

403.5.2 Clear Width at Turn. Where the accessible route makes a 180 degree turn around an element which is less than 48 inches wide, clear width shall be 42 inches minimum approaching the turn, 48 inches minimum at the turn and 42 inches minimum leaving the turn.The space between the ends of bookcases and any other solid object needs to allow for a wheelchair to emerge from the aisle, turn & traverse to the next aisle, then turn again and enter. So, I needed to allow at least 4 feet from the end of bookcases to other furniture so a wheelchair could move from one aisle to another.

Reaching Books on Shelves

308.2 Forward Reach.
308.2.1 Unobstructed. Where a forward reach is unobstructed, the high forward reach shall be 48 inches maximum and the low forward reach shall be 15 inches minimum above the finish floor or ground.

Our school library bookcases are, what I consider, the perfect height for middle school students: 5 feet with room for 4 shelves. I did slightly lower the shelves so the top shelf was easily reached by wheelchair students. I realized how advantageous this decision was when I began to need a scooter chair to move around, and shelving books on that top shelf was not difficult at all!

308.2 Forward Reach. 308.2.1 Unobstructed. Where a forward reach is unobstructed, the high forward reach shall be 48 inches maximum and the low forward reach shall be 15 inches minimum above the finish floor or ground.Because we have an ample number of cases, I decided to not use the bottom shelves for books, which would be too low for students in wheelchairs. Instead I lined the bottom shelves in fiction and part of Dewey with our extra slanted shelves, providing a face-out display area for new or featured books. This brought the top of a book up to the 15″ minimum.

The above mentioned article on We Are Teachers also included the recommendation to “3. Make All Materials Accessible.”  Especially for an elementary school library, that might mean using bins for books instead of lining them up on shelves.

Access to the Circulation Counter

904 Check-Out Aisles and Sales and Service Counters
…variant-height circulation desks,
904.4.1 Parallel Approach. A portion of the counter surface that is 36 inches long minimum and 36 inches high maximum above the finish floor shall be provided. A clear floor or ground space complying with 305 shall be positioned for a parallel approach adjacent to the 36 inch minimum length of counter.

Our circulation counter had the required lower counter, but because the computer monitor and keyboard were there, it prevented a person in a wheelchair being easily visible and able to reach the actual checkout scanner.

A wireless scanner made it much easier for our wheelchair-bound students to check out library materials.A wireless keypad made it much easier for our wheelchair-bound students to check out library materials.To solve this problem, we ordered a wireless scanner and a wireless keypad so our wheelchair-bound students could check out library materials more easily. Other students also appreciated this. Often I find that differentiation for one group of students benefits everyone. It has helped me to always look for the simplest and most accommodating means to teach in and manage the school library.


For those wanting to examine your own school library, the ADA Library Accessibility Checklist from Project Enable can help you assess for barriers within your facility.

Is Your School Library Accessible for Students with Disabilities? - ADA Guidelines are very detailed about how much space is required for wheelchair access in our school library. We can use resources in this article to assess our own facility for possible barriers. #NoSweatLibraryTo solve the accessibility problems in my school library, I carefully measured the shelving area and drew a new plan to ensure federally-mandated wheelchair accessibility. I decided to eliminate the gaps along the back wall & between bookcase pairs, since they served no positive purpose, and there would be ample maneuverability within the new aisles.

I put strips of masking tape on the carpet to mark new bookcase locations, and spent the next month moving them. The results were better than expected:

  • The aisles were more evenly spaced and had plenty of room, with 4 feet at the front of each aisle and 5-6 feet across the back wall.
  • Students in wheelchairs could easily enter the aisles, maneuver within the aisles, reach books, and move from one aisle to another, even with other students browsing the area.
  • The continuous line of bookcases prevented the previous problem of “hide & seek” and we gained 6 feet of space in the table area, allowing for the needed wider walkways along the bookcase ends & the back tables, yet maintaining accessible walkways between the front tables and the row of OPAC computers.

Intellectual Access

A School Library Research article about accessibility, “School Librarians as Ambassadors of Inclusive Information Access for Students with Disabilities” advocates “a space that is physically accessible, information that is intellectually accessible, specialized instruction that meets the needs of each individual student.”

Intellectual access should also be inclusive and multimodal or multi-encoded, providing a multisensory experience. Signage, normally encoded in one mode (print), should be encoded in two modes (e.g., large print, and color picture or symbol) or three modes (e.g., large print, and color picture or symbol, and Braille or other texture) to be accessible to a larger group of students. In terms of navigating the school library by means of signs and posters, multimodal or multi-encoded intellectual access is more inclusive to the special needs of students with disabilities (Farmer 2009).

What is Intellectual Accessibility and How is Your School Library? - The School Library must provide a least restrictive learning environment for disabled students, and that includes the intellectual accessibility of information. To be truly inclusive, we must provide multimodal signage so our students can find just what they want and need. Learn more ... #NoSweatLibraryWhen I arrived at my 2-year-old school library, there was no signage at all. I created a variety of signage that includes images, so students can more easily locate the books they need, especially in the Dewey area. This is another example of adjustments for accessibility that benefits all students.

You can find my Fiction & Dewey signage products at No Sweat Library, my TeachersPayTeachers store.

For better intellectual access I also changed the location of specific groups of books in the library collection:

  • Reference was on the opposite side of the library from the computers, so using those books during projects would be inconvenient, and with Fiction next to the computers, students browsing for a book would distract students working at computers. Switching these 2 areas made a huge difference in accessing both, even though I substantially reduced the reference section in later years.
  • Later on, I discovered many students are confused by the similarity of alpha spine labels on Fiction and Biography books—which were across the aisle from each other. I moved the alpha Biography to shelves between the 2 numbered areas, Reference and Dewey. This helped not only with locating the materials, but no longer did my shelving volunteers get FIC and BIO books mixed together, nor REF and Dewey numbers!

In addition to the physical facility, take a look at your virtual library—your School Library Website. Is it accessible to students with visual impairments? A.D.A. recommends all of your images include ALT or “alternative” text. For viewers who use audio screen readers or braille displays, an image without ALT text is simply “image” and they have no way of knowing what is displayed. When the image is a link to another webpage, a disabled visitor is at a particular disadvantage if no ALT tag is provided—they don’t know what the link is or where it will take them.

Intellectual access also applies to our library book collection. Can your disabled students find relevant reading material? One excellent resource that helps school librarians increase intellectual access for students with disabilities is the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award, which honors “an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” There is a list of winners back to its inception in 2004, as well as a 9-page bibliography of books published between 2000 and 2008 about ‘the disability experience’. (From this site I learned 1 out of 7 Americans have a disability!)

2019 Winners & Honors for Teen, Middle School, and Young Children
Anger is a Gift - 2019 Schneider Family Book Award Teen Winner
(Don't) Call Me Crazy - 2019 Schneider Family Book Award Teen Honors
Mason Buttle - 2019 Schneider Family Middle School Book Award Winner
The Collectors - 2019 Schneider Family Book Award Middle School Honors
Rescue & Jessica - 2019 Schneider Family Book Award Young Children Honors
The Remember Balloon - 2019 Schneider Family Book Award Young Children Honors


I hope we all take a fresh look at our school library facility with an eye to its accessibility for students with disabilities, initially for wheelchair access. I was fortunate to already have 2 students in wheelchairs to open my eyes, and in later years we gained 4 other students who used hearing, visual, or ambulatory assistance. Because I’d already done a thorough examination of our facility and collection, these students were able to fully participate in all our library lessons and activities.

May I suggest you head to the nurse’s office, borrow their wheelchair, and put on a pair of sunglasses to simulate impaired vision. Begin by opening your library door and entering. Take a deep breath. Tour the entire space, browse for and choose books, and do a book checkout. You may be surprised at what you’ve always taken for granted!

Anticipate disabilities that aren’t obvious, such as health impairments. Students with asthma are susceptible to chemicals and fragrances, so don’t use air diffusers or potpourri. Clean up dust-catchers and mold traps, such as stuffed animals, plants, and portable fans.  Read my post about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.

While our National School Library Standards don’t specifically address disability accessibility, one of our Shared Foundations is Include. We can all make sure our school libraries are fully accessible to include everyone.

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

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