Do We Teach Dewey … or Don’t We? A School Library Lesson

Do We Teach Dewey ... or Don't We? A School Library Lesson - I don't teach the Dewey Decimal Classification System and you don't have to either. There's a better way to teach students how to find a book in our School Libraries and it supports Math. Read on to find out how I do Dewey... #NoSweatLibraryI 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!


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?


Students only need to know how to find a Dewey number on a shelf, and even a kindergartner can put 3 numbers in consecutive order! 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! | No Sweat LibraryAs 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!

NoSweat Library Dewey Decimal Library Lesson presentation slide - They rarely visit the library, so a Dewey Decimal lesson gives Math classes a curricular reason to visit the library, especially if we offer a practical, hands-on application of decimal concepts.

A slide about place value from my math lessons.

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!


Here's a great way to bring Math classes into the school library: review decimal concepts & library organization by having students locate Dewey Decimal-numbered books on the shelves. I do lessons with 2 different grade levels! | No Sweat LibraryI 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 6th and 7th 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.

NoSweat Library Dewey Decimal Library Lesson presentation slide - They rarely visit the library, so a Dewey Decimal lesson gives Math classes a curricular reason to visit the library, especially if we offer a practical, hands-on application of decimal concepts.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.


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.

line of books laying down

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.

Make your Dewey Decimal Library Lesson more authentic and relevant by inviting 6g Math classes to review decimal place values and sequencing! Students & teachers love this Library Lesson that activates prior knowledge at the beginning of their 6g Math decimal unit. Do this lesson, and your math teachers will come to you every year asking when you'll schedule their visit! Make your Dewey Decimal Library Lesson more authentic & relevant by inviting 7g Math classes to review adding & subtracting decimal numbers! Students & teachers love this Library Lesson that activates prior knowledge at the beginning of their 7g Math decimal unit. Do this lesson, and your math teachers will come to you every year asking when you'll schedule their visit! No Sweat Library Dewey Subject Signs & Shelf Labels - 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!

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41 Useful Websites for School Librarians

41 Useful Websites for School Librarians - School Librarians will find these 41 quality Websites very helpful to gather information & ideas on professional development, library advocacy, library lessons & activities, reading promotion, and educational technology. #NoSweatLibrarySchool Librarians accumulate dozens of great websites as we read education and library listservs, bloggers, Facebook group comments, and Twitter feeds. The hard part is trying to keep these sites organized in a logical manner.

I’ve tried numerous curation tools, but for personal use I find a simple browser folder—Library & Librarian—with topical subfolders is faster than an external site for storing and using my most useful sites. Alas, always in a hurry, I often just save a URL to the main folder, so I have a lo-o-ong list of uncategorized sites to organize into topical subfolders.

While I do that, I’m sharing out these valuable resources on professional development & advocacy, library lessons & activities, reading promotion, and technology, accompanied by short annotations on why they’re helpful. So here they are: 41 Useful Websites for School Librarians.


AASL eCOLLAB51 Free Webinars from the American Association of School Librarians on professional learning topics. 

Library Impact Studies Infographica compact advocacy tool from Library Research Service. Available for print & online viewing.

Library and Information Science EncyclopediaIf you encounter library terminology in your readings, but may not be quite sure what it is, consult this brief list for an explanation! From internationally-known blogger librarian Salman Haider.

Mackin CommunityBook vendor Mackin’s blog with resources for libraries & classrooms, makerspaces, and professional learning. Add this site to your feed!

Project ConnectSponsored by Follett, this site offers guidance for the Future Ready Librarians framework, including PD and teaching ideas.

School Librarians: Why we still need them!article by Jamie McKenzie with some strong support to use for advocacy.

School Libraries WorkWhile you can still download the 2008 version directly, the newer 2016 version wants you to submit your email address and other info. Still, a valuable document to use for advocacy and justifying (alas, we need to) having a certified School Librarian in a school library.

Top School Library BlogsA list maintained by Laura McPherson with 50 librarian bloggers you can add to your blog feed!

Virtual Middle School LibraryWith dozens of links to useful resources for school librarians, this site, maintained by Linda Bertland, retired school librarian, has an especially valuable resource page for professional learning.

Web JunctionA free learning site from OCLC Research offers self-paced courses, webinar recordings on a variety of topics related to library services and management.

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC)a U.S. Dept of Education website with research on programs, products, practices, and policies that answers the question “What works in education?”


AASL Best Websites for Teaching & LearningEvery year our national association picks, what they consider to be, websites of ” innovation, creativity, active participation, and collaboration. … free web-based sites that are user friendly.” What’s especially nice is the little icons that show which of our Shared Foundations each one addresses.

Bingo Cards & Word Searches are quick ways to engage students for reviewing content. Here are 3 sites that generate customized bingo cards on a 3×3, 4×4, or 5×5 grid: BingoBaker & ESLactivities both generate cards with words or graphics; MyFreeBingoCards has thematic backgrounds for words or numbers. WordSearchLab has already created searches, or create your own of any size and number of words.

5 Minute Lesson Plan Series37 different downloadable graphic templates to quickly create a lesson plan. Whatever your admin wants, you’ll probably find it here.

HyperDocs Interactive Content & MultimediaAs stated on the site: “The most difficult and time consuming part of creating a HyperDoc … is finding the content to engage your students in the learning process. I’ve curated several lists that I hope will help get your started.” There are a dozen categories with a varying number of websites with resources and tools.

Interactive Learning Menus (Choice Boards)Ideas for differentiated learning that give students a menu or choice of learning activities; can be part of a HyperDoc. From Shake Up Learning.

Makerspace Starter KitThe Daring Librarian, Gwyneth Jones, provides a list of great tools for starting a makerspace in your library.

Primary Source Setsthe Digital Public Library of America has more than 35 million digital resources including these curated collections on topics in history, literature, and culture, with teaching guides for class use.

Skype in the ClassroomMicrosoft’s FREE go-to source for Virtual Field Trips, Guest Speakers, classroom connections, and live collaboration projects. I first heard about this from Stony Evans, and think it’s one of the most engaging activities you can do with students.

Smithsonian Learning Labfree, interactive, easy-to-use tools using the millions of Smithsonian resources to adapt one of thousands of existing collections, or to create your own lessons, like digital research skills with built-in tools for creating & using proper citations.

Spruce Up Learning Centers w/ Tech – Tony Vincent’s blog post with lots of specific information and examples to make any learning station in your library that much better with technology.


Biblionasiumsort of a GoodReads for kids; free, protected site for ages 6-13 to encourage independent reading. Use their tools to create book reviews, reading logs, and personalized reading lists.

Classroom Libraries: Best apps for keeping trackWe Are Teachers blog post offers 6 apps teachers can use to keep track of their class books. Hey, they’re gonna have ’em, so we might as well support them…and they’ll love us for it and support the library even more! 

NEW!Educational Resources For Individuals Working With Blind & Visually Impaired Childrenchildren who are blind or visually impaired navigate a world primarily designed for sighted individuals. This site provides a comprehensive guide of resources, techniques, and organizations to help these children, including lessons & reading materials. Read the Comment below from William Moore to learn where this wonderful resource came from. 

Librarians Lovenifty book talks and display ideas from secondary school librarians.

Library of Congress Center for the Booka rich resource for librarians with recommended books, author webcasts, book awards, and the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled.

The Online Books Page –  Plain website listing over 3 million free books on the Web, along with archives & indexes in languages around the world. This large database is maintained by a digital librarian at UPenn.

Social Justice BooksBooklists and other resources to help librarians build a diverse collection of titles and encourage a more culturally responsive reading experience for students.

State Award Reading ListsThis Simon & Schuster site has current Award Reading Lists from every state, along with curriculum, teaching, & reading group guides, themed collections, & reading levels. If you need labels for your State Award Reading List, they’re available as a customization in my Reading Promotion for ELA product at No Sweat Library, my TPT store. 

SYNC If you’ve never heard of this site, you are in for a treat. SYNC offers FREE audiobooks for teens every summer—2 complete audiobooks a week for 14 weeks. I always told students about it at their last library visit of the school year and provided a bookmark with a QR code link to the site.


AASL Best Apps for Teaching & Learning – As with the websites, AASL picks, what they consider to be, apps of “exceptional value to inquiry-based teaching and learning.” They also have little icons to show which of our Shared Foundations each addresses.

BEAM Chart MakerYes, we teach students how to make spreadsheet data graphs, like MS Excel, but this online app is quick & easy. Just choose the style, click the graph element, and fill in the information. Graphics like this can add so much to those end-of-grading-period library reports for principals & teachers. (If you don’t do that, this is a great way to get started!)

GooseChase EduFree and reasonably priced options to create educational scavenger hunts with mobile technology (IOS or Android app). Students (or teachers!) earn points by submitting a photo, video, or text.

Internet Archive Digital Library – Hundreds of millions of important webpages and media. Their Wayback Machine is a searchable database of 20+ years of web history.

Kathy Schrock’s Guide to EverythingIf you need information or guidance on educational technology, this is the place to go! Kathy has been blogging about edtech for more than 20 years and is still the best one-stop spot for general edtech info.

Media Literacy Educator CertificationDeveloped by PBS/KQED & Digital Promise, you can earn 8 media literacy micro-credentials to become a PBS Certified Media Literacy Educator.

Minecraft Education EditionIf you want to use Minecraft in your library, this site is the gateway to the education edition of the popular game. Special features for educators such as easy tutorials, classroom management tools, secure sign-in, classroom collaboration and tons of sample lessons, plus a global network of mentors and tech support.

100 Useful Websites for Educators and Students – With YA Books & More, Naomi Bates blogs about books, websites, and anything else a librarian might need. This page is a list of what she considers the most valuable website collection a librarian can have. It’s about 3 years old, but most of the links are still valid…and on my own “best” list!

Top 20 PowerPoint AlternativesPost from the Visme blog offers an open-minded examination of free & paid apps to use for presentations. Video demos are helpful. (Heavy content, allow time to load in browser.)

You may be wondering about sites for information literacy or subject areas. Those are also huge unorganized lists, so we’ll save them for future blog posts. For now, have fun looking these over and adding them to your browser bookmarks. If you have some bookmarked sites on these 4 topics you’d like to share, add them into the comments!

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

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