How to Create a Relevant, Easy-To-Use Biography Area in the School Library

The school library Biography area can become more student-friendly and inviting by re-organizing it into topical, curriculum-related Subjects, as many School Librarians have done with their Fiction area. Read on for a good plan of action! | No Sweat LibraryMany School Librarians have reorganized the Fiction area of their library into topical categories so students can more easily find what they like to read. Whether you call them Fiction Subjects (as I do) or genres (as do others), that reorganization is a huge boost to student reading satisfaction and to our book circulation—a success that prompts us to look at other areas we can make our school library more user-friendly.

The ABC order of Biography by the last name of the person written about, much like the ABC order of Fiction by author’s last name, works fine if you know exactly who you’re looking for, but if you just want anyone in a particular profession—like an artist or scientist or athlete or world leader—it’s not very useful.

While most school libraries can access online subscription services like encyclopedias and biography databases, many teachers still like students to get information from a book, especially at middle and elementary levels. If your content-area teachers regularly assign students a biography project, then reorganizing the Biography area into topical categories makes it more relevant to curricular needs and easier for students to find what they need.


Would reorganizing the Biography area be worth the effort? Which content-area teachers give a biography assignment with books? Since our school library’s whole purpose is to support curriculum, we first find out which occupations our teachers want students to explore.

For example, our 6th grade math teachers assign a mathematician biography project, science teachers at one grade level assign scientists, at another grade level they specify inventors. Texas History teachers assign a Texas explorers project, and an ELA teacher assigns her G/T classes a Renaissance biography project on the above topics, along with politics, religion, and the arts.

The first time I had to gather books for those assignments, I thought a topical organization would make that task much easier. It would also be it easier to determine gaps and what purchases would make the Biography collection better. Accordingly, when our ELL teacher wanted newcomers to do a biography project on all the U.S. presidents, I purchased a complete easy-reader collection of them which we used for years—and they were useful, too, with special ed students.

Curricular support is paramount, but it’s also important to support student reading with books on the people they like. And while teachers prefer longer books for student projects, most students prefer to read shorter books about the popular figures of the day. Middle school boys especially love sports figures, whereas girls prefer singers, musicians, performing artists.

Early on, students would ask me where sports and arts biographies were, so even without topical reorganization, I moved all biography books with fewer than 100 pages into the Dewey section, with the DDC number and -092 as the new call numbers. We now had a large collection of “favorite biographies” where students could easily find them, and the Biography area retained the longer books for project assignments. Advantageously, I can weed the shorter, less expensive popular books more frequently and replace them with the current idols to keep students happy.


After surveying teachers and students—and browsing the biography books—you can decide on several different careers/professions for dividing up the books. Here are my choices that may help you with reorganizing your biography collection:

  • School Librarians can reorganize their Biography collection into topical groups to boost student reading and make assigned projects easier to complete. Talk to teachers, see what students are reading, and browse the books to decide what categories will work best in your school library. | No Sweat LibraryActivists & Reformers
  • Religious Leaders & Philosophers
  • Politicians & World Leaders
  • The Military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard
  • Scientists & Mathematicians
  • Inventors & Technology Innovators
  • Business Leaders
  • Artists: Painters, Sculptors, Architects, Graphic Designers
  • Performers: Musicians, Singers, Actors, Dancers
  • Athletes & Sports Figures
  • Literary Figures: Writers, Poets, Dramatists
  • Explorers & Pioneers
  • Unique Notables (for those that don’t fit the above categories)

You may notice the order of these topical divisions is similar to Dewey Subjects, which students already recognize, and that makes them excellent choices to reorganize Collected Biographies, too. There actually is an “Option A” in the DDC Handbook for this—Dewey numbers 920-928—so I reorganized the 920s this way, and circulation of these books skyrocketed!

As with Fiction, I refer to these topical categories as “Subjects” to reinforce with students how to search in the online catalog, and I introduce these Biography Subjects as the careers or “professions” of the people the books are about. This explanation is well received and understood by middle schoolers.


Once we’ve chosen the biography subjects, decide how to identify them on the books and group them on the shelves. Unlike the numerous commercial labels for fiction subjects, and even for Dewey, there aren’t classification labels for different biography subjects (although Demco does have a set of 6 for inventors, sports, and the various arts).

Students and teachers will thank you when you reorganize biographies into topical Subjects that align with curricular assignments and student reading interests, and then add these No Sweat Library Biography Signs, Shelf and Spine Labels. | No Sweat LibrarySome folks can create simple text labels and coordinated signs, but I like very visual signage that catches the eyes of students and leaves a strong impression. Using free templates for various sized office supply sticky labels, I create spine labels and shelf labels, and make bookcase signs with a slide presentation app. You may want to save yourself time and get my Biography Signs, Shelf Labels, & Spine Labels, from No Sweat Library, my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Once the labeling is done and the books grouped into their professions, we can let teachers and students know that the biography area now has a more welcoming organization system. Even if there is no current assignment, students will enjoy browsing the new layout and checking out books they never before realized we had!

Need ideas for Biography projects? Stay tuned…I’m working on some great ones!

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What’s a Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix & How Do I Use It?

What's a Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix & How Do I Use It? - School Librarians often struggle to create a cohesive library skills curriculum when subject area library visits are so unpredictable. Here's a visual organizer that lets you take control of your lesson planning and promotes collaboration with all content area teachers! #NoSweatLibraryWhen we become a School Librarian we don’t cease being a teacher. What changes, however, is how we plan and present our lessons.

  • We no longer have a standard curriculum that is presented chronologically on a daily basis.
  • We rarely have contiguous days with students, but rather random, irregular library visits.

How can a School Librarian teach Library Information Literacy Skills under such circumstances? We have to scaffold stand-alone topical lessons in order to gradually build up knowledge, so students receive a comprehensive program of Information Literacy instruction during the time we have them with us.

In short, School Librarians must integrate info-lit skills into every subject and each grade level during single class periods throughout the school year. How, then, might we effectively do this?


School Librarians need to support what students are studying in the classroom, otherwise, teachers won’t allow time for a library visit. And the only way to do that is to become familiar with everyone’s subject area curriculum. We don’t need to know course content to the depth teachers do, but we must familiarize ourselves with content area units and their assessments so we can discern when students need an information literacy skill (even if it’s not written down and the teacher doesn’t realize it). With such an overwhelming prospect, we must have a way to:

  • identify when a library lesson is needed for students, and
  • keep track of intermittent library lessons in order to progressively build information literacy skills.

When I faced this challenge, I determined the best approach would be to create a grid with different subject areas along one side and Library Lessons along the other side. I began on paper, but as I worked my way through subjects and grade levels, the grid became quite unwieldy, so I digitized it into a set of spreadsheets. After a few modifications and adjustments, I arrived at the finished product that I use even today: the No Sweat Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix.

No Sweat Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - School Librarians often struggle to create a cohesive library skills curriculum when subject area library visits are so unpredictable. Here's a visual organizer that lets you take control of your lesson planning and promotes collaboration with all content area teachers! #NoSweatLibrary

The No Sweat Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix Template is now available through my Teachers Pay Teachers store. The No Sweat Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix Template contains 5 tabbed spreadsheet pages:

No Sweat Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix snip of tabs

  • a year-long Library Schedule page.
  • 3 pages for Grade Levels. (In my case, 6g, 7g, 8g, but you can add pages by copying a spreadsheet and rename tabs to align with your own grade levels.)
  • an Example sheet with some of my No Sweat Library Lessons entered to guide you through filling in your own information.

For each grade level spreadsheet, the Subject Area rows are listed down the left side, along with a row for Information Literacy and one for National School Library Standards. The Grading Period Week columns are listed across the top with a numbered row also between each subject. There is a separate block for each of the two semesters. By using the “Freeze” feature, you can slide the relevant time period up next to the Subjects column to make it easier to read. (See image below.)
Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix Grade Level sheets - Grade level pages of the visual organizer Template that lets School Librarians organize subject curricula and Library Lesson. #NoSweatLibrary


Colleagues have asked for specifics about the No Sweat Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix, so here’s how any school librarian can easily use the No Sweat template to fill in their own subject curricula and library lessons.


  1. Begin with a single subject area for your lowest grade level. I suggest beginning with your former classroom subject area, since that’s what you’re most familiar with, which will make filling in the Matrix much more intuitive.
  2. Using the subject’s curriculum guide or scope & sequence, enter content unit titles into the field for the week they begin. I italicize these to keep them distinct from my library lesson information.
  3. Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix snip of color blocks - Lesson color blocks of the visual organizer Template that lets School Librarians organize subject curricula and Library Lesson. #NoSweatLibraryLook through the guide/s&s for classroom assignments that would benefit from a library lesson or library resources. For the week you determine it’s needed, colorize the block (I make it the same color as the subject area) and type the Library Lesson or library resources needed.
  4. In the Information Literacy row, under the corresponding week, add the skills that are reviewed, expanded, or introduced. Or, add details about resources needed.
  5. When finished with one subject, grab another subject area guide/s&s for the same grade level, and fill in those units, then identify probable library lessons or resources. Continue doing this for each different subject at that grade level.
  6. Move to each grade level and fill in subject area units and possible library lessons & resources, until all subject areas at all grade levels are filled in.
  7. Once you have this preliminary Curriculum Matrix, pull out all Library Lesson Plans that you currently teach and, in the appropriate fields, fill in other lesson info and the National School Library Standards, which is now included on another tabbed spreadsheet to copy & paste into the other sheets as needed. I like to enter my lesson Title into the subject row and the lesson Theme or Learning Target into the Info-Lit row.

When you’ve finished your Curriculum Matrix, you’ll have a thorough picture of all subject area curricula and your Library Lessons. Now, do some analysis:

  1. Look over each grade level and compare the information literacy skills you taught for the prior grade level and what you will teach at the next grade level.
  2. Make notes in your current lesson plans if you can activate prior knowledge from previous grade level lessons before you introduce new skills.
  3. Make a list of specific Information Literacy Skills which you need to introduce or build with new Library Lessons.
  4. Make notes of where you need to expand the library’s print or digital collection to meet a curricular need you weren’t aware of.

Your Curriculum Matrix may occasionally need to be updated as standards and course curricula change, but if you keep up with it, you’ll always have a broad view of library visits and the Info-Lit Skills you cover for all your grade levels.

The Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix is a great tool to show your principal during evaluations, so s/he understands how valuable you are to classroom learning!


Collaborate with Teachers using the Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Use the No Sweat School Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix Template to plan Library Lessons with subject area teachers, and take a printout along when approaching them to schedule a library visit. They'll be convinced that collaborating with the School Librarian will benefit their students! | No Sweat Library
Creating the Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix is the easy part. Developing specific Library Lessons is a bit more challenging. The really hard part is convincing teachers that students will benefit from a Library Lesson! Here’s how I do it:

  • At the start of each grading period I use my Curriculum Matrix to view upcoming possible library lessons & resources for that time span. I select & print out enough of the Matrix so I can visit with those teachers and show them how important their place is in building Info-Lit skills.
  • I print out the related Library Lesson Plans—recurring or new—so I can show each teacher how I incorporate their unit Standards and activities as a focus for the library skills lesson. When only library resources are needed, I use my Library Lesson Short Form for Teacher Requests (available on my FREE Librarian Resources page) so the teacher can make any changes or additional requests.
  • I also select and print-out the relevant portion of the Library Scheduler spreadsheet.
  • I go to each subject area teacher during their conference period and show them the LLC Matrix and their Library Lesson Plan. I make it pretty easy for them to say “Yes, indeed, let’s do this!” Then I pull out the schedule to enter the teacher’s library visit, and they’re pretty impressed to see how busy a School Librarian really is! (For Short Form & resources I suggest a “quick lesson” so students know how to best use the materials.) 

You may be thinking, “Wait, shouldn’t we collaborate with the teacher before we create the Library Lesson Plan?” Uh, NO. In my experience, teachers who are unfamiliar with librarian collaboration can’t envision how we can help them. But, they’ll consider a library visit when we show them a concrete example of how we use their content to teach library skills that enhance classroom learning and increase student achievement. (Read my blog post, “How to Propose Library Lessons to Teachers ,” to learn more about this!)


Once you’ve completed your Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix, I know you’ll rely on it to develop your lessons and purchase resources. When colleagues, teachers, and administrators see this tool, your professional standing with them will skyrocket!

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My Teacher Collaboration Form is available for download from my FREE Librarian Resources page! My No Sweat Library Lesson Planner Templates are available for download from my FREE Librarian Resources page!
Image of single Library Lesson Teacher Collaboration Form. | No Sweat Library NoSweat Library Lesson Planner Template - page 1
Learn more about using my Library Lesson Planner Template from these blog posts:
Short, Simple, and Relevant School Library Lessons
How to Build a High Quality, Standards-Based School Library Lesson
The No Sweat School Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix Template is available from No Sweat Library, my Teachers Pay Teachers store. The No Sweat Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix product is designed as a set of spreadsheets for School Librarians to enter subject-area units & their assessments for each grade level to determine when a library lesson or resource is needed. | No Sweat Library

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