3 Ways to Integrate Pop Culture into the School Library

3 Ways to Integrate Pop Culture into the School Library - School Librarians can engage students and build relationships by bringing pop culture into the library: integrate it into the collection, infuse it into lessons and signage, and incorporate it into projects to capture personal preferences. Read on for examples ... #NoSweatLibraryEducators are encouraged to bring popular culture into the classroom in meaningful ways to engage students and build relationships. For many this means chatting with students about popular music, movies or TV shows; to others it means using popular culture to introduce lessons. While both of these efforts can awaken a student’s initial interest in listening to us, we need more to sustain active student learning.

School Librarians must have a keen sense of what appeals to our students in order to bring them into our facility. Here are 3 ways a School Librarian can bring pop culture into the Library:

  • by integrating it into the library collection,
  • by infusing it into library lessons and signage,
  • by incorporating it into student projects.


To integrate is to bring together or incorporate parts into a whole, to combine into one unified system. We do this when we ‘mix, merge, and blend’ popular literature and non-fiction topics into the print and online reading collection. We librarians use print & online vendor catalogs and online librarian blogs about children’s & young adult literature to discover those books and topics that are currently popular with students throughout the global library community. I regularly used Follett’s Titlewave to discover the most popular books to add to the fiction collection, and yearly in-school visits with reps from Davidson Titles and Rainbow Books enabled me to bring entertaining books from more than 2 dozen publishers into the non-fiction collection.

clot & scab book hawk & drool book itch & ooze book rumble & spew book
Images from Amazon.com

Junior Library Guild is another invaluable collection development service for reading materials. With a reasonably priced yearly subscription I received more than a dozen popular fiction & nonfiction books each month on a variety of subjects and reading levels, including graphic novels & Spanish-language titles. According to their website, over 95% of their selections receive awards and/or favorable reviews, and their books circulate more than other books published for children and teens.


To infuse is ‘to introduce, as if by pouring’. We do this when we insert pop icons in library signage and intersperse popular expressions into our lessons. The American Library Association’s Celebrity READ posters are a perfect example of signage that appeals to our students and arouses them to visit the library.

common READ poster derek jeter READ poster beauty & the beast READ poster fantastic beasts poster
Images from ALA Store

fairy tale plot element introduction "long, long ago"We needn’t be experts at popular culture to interject references into our lessons. In my Fairy Tales Library Lesson I use “Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away…” as an introduction every student recognizes as the beginning of all Star Wars movies.

Making pop culture a reason for doing something during a lesson makes an even bigger impact on student engagement. My 6g Library Orientation Guided Activity introduces Christopher Paolini, who wrote the book Eragon when he was only 15, as inspiration for each student to discover where we’d place their own Fiction book (a sticky note w/ their personal call #) on our library shelves.

We can infuse pop culture into lessons in other similar ways, such as the recent trend toward gamification, speed dating or “dining” with various fiction story subjects/genres, and using social media or emojis for activities.


Add Pop Culture For Meaningful Student Projects - School librarians gain the most buy-in from students when they can express their personal pop culture preferences. But, we may need to rethink the entire lesson so the end product incorporates pop culture with a true assessment of lesson objectives. Read on for 3 examples... #NoSweatLibraryTo incorporate is to unite or combine so as to form one body. This is where we gain the most buy-in from students, as we amalgamate, embody, and fuse pop culture with projects so students can express their personal preferences. It’s also the most challenging: we may need to rethink the entire lesson so the end product incorporates pop culture as a true assessment of lesson objectives. Here are 3 examples of how teachers and I adjusted lessons to provide authentic, real world pop culture products:

  • A 7th grade research project had students choose a Greek or Roman god/goddess, record their attributes from books or websites, and create a written paper or slide presentation of the information. Ho hum…I’m yawning and so were they. My suggestion: compare a Greek or Roman god/goddess with a current popular star from TV, film, music, or sports, explain the key attributes they share, and why you think these two were/are idolized.
    Every kid has a favorite star, someone they seek to emulate, and this assignment helps them examine the qualities they admire in this person and whether they really do want to be like them. They must also examine several Greek/Roman deities to decide who to compare, which demands a more skillful analysis than the original assignment, and juxtaposing ancient mythology with ‘modern mythology’ helps students realize the continued need we humans have to look outside ourselves for help in understanding and coping with life.
  • Music teachers—band, choir, and orchestra—used the same assignment for missed performances: a 3-page biography research paper differing only in the list of composers/musicians. I suggested that students have a performance-based make-up assignment using the library’s varied audio/video collection.
    For the revised lesson, a student listens to or views 2 or 3 composer/musician performances and picks a favorite. They still do the biography research, but rather than a research paper, they write a script as if they’re a music radio host, playing musical excerpts while discussing the person: biographical information, their place in history, and how the music influenced or compares to a current performer that they like.
    The student records their “performance,” interlaced with music examples (originally on an audio-cassette but later through a digital format) and both the written script and audio recording are turned in for the grade. It’s fascinating for students to discover how “old” music relates to their current favorites!
  • 8g Spanish and Science classes study weather during the first semester. The teachers expanded concepts and vocabulary, I taught students the fundamentals of scriptwriting & storyboarding, and I provided video examples so student teams could produce live broadcasts of weather reports from our library’s TV broadcast studio.
    Spanish students did a daily weather report en Español for a city in a Spanish-speaking country and Science students reported historical weather disasters around the world, ranging from Vesuvius to Fukushima.  Students in the classroom watched through our closed-circuit TV system.
    The Spanish teacher liked the TV project so much, she designed her end-of-year Spanish project, for students to show their language prowess, by having teams produce a live-TV reality, talk, or game show. Students love it, and it is so hilarious to hear their renditions of Oprah and Survivor “en Español!”


Implementing these 3 ways to bring pop culture into the library requires an awareness of what appeals to each grade level of our students. While a classroom teacher typically has a single grade level of students, the School Librarians must appeal to anywhere from 3 to 6 grade levels, more if their library serves a combined campus! It’s important to circulate among students before and after school, in the hallways, in the cafeteria, and during their library visits so we can listen to their conversations about what’s important to them.

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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! #NoSweatLibraryBefore I became a School Librarian I taught secondary science—biology, chemistry, and physical science—so the 500s are my favorite subjects. A librarian colleague asked if I could explain the reasoning behind the Dewey Decimal Classification of animals in the 500s, so here it is!


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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