Tag Archives: The demise of the Dewey Decimal System

I’m Not Alone Any More

When I began this journey, I tried very hard to find another school that had incorporated the bookstore model into their library. Although many public libraries have gone that way, schools are more reluctant for many good reasons. Now, thanks to a post at Notes From Linda, I have discovered that I’m not alone in messing with Dewey in my school library. The Red Hawk Elementary in Colorado has completely scrapped Dewey in their new library.

I didn’t quite go that far, but that was as much due to time constraints as conviction. It was enough to get the project done as it is over the summer without any more data entry and decisions than were involved in moving the books into one of 7 Islands and 54 departments.The books are still arranged by Dewey within their departments (1 to 4 shelves), but a book in the 300’s might be next to a book in the 700’s.

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Islands of Knowledge will Transform Learning: the Plan Begins to Come Together

Acitrezza Faraglioni Moon Rise Sicilia Italy Italia by gnuckx

In earlier posts I have discussed my dissatisfaction with current library organization and my thoughts on how the improvement of successful library use is essential. In these days of almost all public school libraries in Alberta being staffed by heavily burdened, non-professional assistants, it is even more essential that students and teachers can successfully find what they require and desire with minimal assistance.

Working through the possibilities and researching the projects undertaken by public libraries who have embraced the bookstore model like the Spruce Grove Public Library’s Neighbourhoods and Anythink’s innovations, I have designed a plan to transform my collection into the possibly pretentious sounding “Islands of Knowledge”.

From supporting the inquiry-based learning philosophy of Alberta Education to improving the success of the browse for reluctant readers, the Islands concept will transform the way the library is used by students and teachers alike.

Instead of being scattered throughout the library, general topic areas for Grades 3 through 12 will be grouped in u-shaped Islands and will include all media that pertains to that theme including guided access to virtual resources and related fiction. There would be seating and table space within each island and realia decorating the shelves.

By mind mapping the Dewey Decimal System and its uses in my library both for curriculum-specific topics and general interest use by students, I was able to connect disparate areas that are commonly used together. I am still working through the fine-tuning, but my current plan consists of nine Islands with the following working titles: Arts & Entertainment, The Art & Science of Language, Mental Health & Relationships, Fantasy & the Supernatural, Body & Health, Daily Life, Science & Technology, Nature & the Environment, Global Society. The ninth Island, Global Society is far too large and will likely be further divided. As I work out the physical configuration these will all evolve.

Current draft of Islands project - Click to enlarge

This is a custom-fit plan. Each library would be different, based on the needs and interests of their patrons.

Despite my initial thoughts, the Dewey Decimal System will not be eliminated. Rather, it will be preceded in the call number by an abbreviation of the Island’s name and subtopic, and shelved accordingly within the Island. There will be further customization as time reveals the need, but the quick location of specific items by call number is still essential and shelving by author or title is not a useful option.

I have placed almost equal emphasis on curriculum and general interest needs because I believe students learn best when they are following a personal path of inquiry. There is significant learning value in a student successfully discovering and enthusiastically perusing a range of resources to support his or her current fascination with snowmobiles or hamsters.

Easy Street, the fiction and nonfiction section in my library for Kindergarten through Grade 2 will be a large, inviting Island of its own. I am considering the possibility of highlighting some specific genres within these primary books as well: interfiling fiction and nonfiction relating to Dinosaurs and Animals for example. Many books at this level cross the fiction-nonfiction boundaries. I feel it would be a valuable exercise in critical thinking for children to personally and instinctually work out truth from fiction among and within the material they read, a life skill that most are in the process of developing in their daily lives.

A presentation to administration, teachers and program assistants with discussion and feedback and a specific appeal for any potential negative impacts on teaching and learning outcomes yielded only positive, enthusiastic responses.

There are many challenges ahead not the least of which is designing the physical layout and finding the shelving that will work with the plan and within the budget. The nine Islands need fine-tuning for some kind of consistency in size and scope and many areas have been identified for serious collection development.

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The Challenges of Reorganizing Nonfiction

I’m trying not to steal too much time on the details of potentially converting my library to the book store model until I know whether or not it’s actually going to happen. My principal is for it, but several other things have to fall into place before it happens.

However, it is ever in the back of my mind and there’s nothing to be done when an idea is pushing you around, but to indulge it a little.

A first draft. Some popular areas are missing. Click to enlarge

I am concentrating on the primary nonfiction at the moment, since it is a little less daunting. Kindergarten to Grade 2 students are so certain about their reading desires and the curriculum is fairly cut-and-dry.

I’ve ‘stolen’ a little time from preparations from my impending Book Fair to attempt to mind-map the collection, marking curriculum connections and popular topics. In discussing the use of the Accelerated Readers, a teacher helpfully pointed out that the primary students browse more successfully in face out (or even piled) displays. As a result of that discussion, the early AR books will go into bins by level.

The low shelves under the window would be filled with plastic bins, tastefully labeled with bold word and picture guides.

That got me thinking about how the children use the nonfiction. Aesthetically, it’s not going to be ideal: plastic bins as opposed to books lined up on lovely wooden shelving is not my idea of attractive, but each bin could have bold word and picture guides on it and I know the kids would love it. And that, of course, is what it’s all about.

Curriculum topics and popular subjects would be gathered into single bins and books re-catalogued to reflect that. I can imagine the children pulling out a bin and pouring through the contents together. The process would be so much more fulfilling than carefully placing their spacers to keep the place of the books while they look at them one-by-one, or wait for their turn in the section. The Dewey numbers would not be eliminated, at least not during the first trial year or so, but they would be given new call letters based on the topic itself. The WordThink grid at Anythink gives some good connections. (I can’t thank Susan enough for directing me there.)

I’m not even sure that the primary nonfiction will remain on these shelves once the library is reorganized. It’s not ideal, extending as it does, rather distantly from the picture book area, which I call ‘Easy Street’. I am tempted to purchase the bins and give it a try without re-cataloguing, since once they are in clear subject bins shelving and retrieving should not be too much of a problem. The same does not hold true for the Grades 3-12 nonfiction. It will be much more complex.

Some important questions though: What colour and size should the bins be?…and Where am I going to find the time???

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I Couldn’t Wait

Will old Melvil stay or will he go?

I have the go-ahead, in principle, from my principal. I can kill Dewey if I want to.

My boss loves the book store concept – even mentioned a cappuccino machine, but I’m not sure parents would go for that. I’m dreaming about a fireplace, a large screen TV, ebooks lying around…I’ve only just begun.

I do have to decide on which ebooks to buy. I have approval to buy some for at least the Special Ed. Department. I understand that copyright issues for international titles in Canada can be an issue.  It’s about time we bought some, though. Kids are reading novels on their smart phones. I should have pushed them sooner.

As for Dewey…I can see how difficult it could be to place some books, but there are others I’d really like to shelve together. I sure wish I could get some feedback here. Pros and cons, I want – no, I really need -  to hear it all.

Perhaps I should arrange them by colour. Kids are always asking for books that way.

And it would look cool.

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In Response to Robert McCoppin

There’s a very interesting discussion here, with some very good arguments for hanging on to the Dewey Decimal System. One commenter suggested, “These so-called nouveau-libraries would be better served by holding classes in their neighborhood schools to educate both the student[s] and, obviously, their teachers on how to use the Dewey Decimal System.” So true! However, that statement does not address the reality of libraries staffed by non-teacher-librarians and teachers who can barely find the time to teach research skills as needed. Library managers are not in control of policy or budgets. We can only do our best so support curriculum and promote literacy.

It was also suggested there that no-one ‘browses’ nonfiction. Although I understand that school libraries are not the focus of the discussion, that has not been my experience. My students, especially up to Grade 7 and particularly boys, browse the nonfiction stacks with enthusiasm. In my opinion, the potential ‘success of the browse’ is what is going to keep nonfiction books in the hands of our children. The question is only how radical does the change need to be to make this happen. Is signage enough, or does there need to be a revamping of the way books are displayed as I outlined in my previous post?

I did attempt to join this discussion, however I’m not inclined to enter my birthdate or even a fictitious one when simply commenting on a blog post as the Chicago Tribune required me to do. My entry would possibly not have been accepted anyway, since ‘Zip Code’ was also required and my Canadian Postal Code would not likely have passed muster.

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Should I Kill Dewey in My Library?

After twelve years in the same K-12 school library, I am ready for change! Oh, I’ve moved things around and redecorated the eight bulletin boards hundreds of times. Technology has taken its toll on the nonfiction while opening exciting doors for research, but I am really ready for a big change. I am seriously considering facilitating the demiseOK…killing the Dewey Decimal System in my library.

Library Map from the Nellie A. Thornton High School

Reactionary? Maybe. Original? I’m about to find out. Public libraries are moving to the ‘Neighbourhood’ system all over the place. The Spruce Grove Public Library here in Alberta has combined “… the ease of bookstore browsing by topics and the structure of the traditional Dewey Decimal classification system”. I plan to visit this library as soon as possible and speak to the people who spearheaded and implemented the concept. I’d like to ask them what was involved in their plan of action and also why they held on to Dewey?

I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t like the Dewey Decimal System. I have been a librarian for a long time. The necessarily persnickety part of me has thoroughly enjoyed spending hours of my over-committed time moving books from one section to another and fine-tuning the collection for better access and stricter conformation to the rules. It’s an incredibly efficient system. But is it the best way to connect kids and books?

My library really needs updating. In spite of the small and large changes I’ve made over the years, former students have commented that it’s still “the same”. Although they are often speaking positively and I hope they are referring to the welcoming atmosphere rather than the age of the layout and shelving, I feel that the ‘look’ of my library is dated. More importantly, current students are finding fewer and fewer reasons to visit the stacks, especially nonfiction.

When I first introduce the Easy Nonfiction section to my primary students they behave as if I’ve just given them a new toy. They crowd the ‘Question Line’ and the short stacks excited to find the books on horses or monster trucks. This thrill continues through when they are old (and tall) enough to venture into the General nonfiction to discover books about dragons and knights, crafts and ghosts.

Because of the nature of my job description I have little time for library class preparation but I do still teach elementary students the basics of arrangement and how to find a book from the call number in the online catalogue. Most will understand that the nonfiction section is arranged by subject using the Dewey Decimal System, but even when the specifics of the system were taught by my predecessor, a teacher librarian, few students retained the classification details. Beyond understanding the library’s basic layout and numerical order, they knew they could go to the catalogue and locate the book on the shelf, some without but many still with assistance. University libraries generally employ the Library of Congress system and many public libraries are converting to the bookstore model. With or without Dewey, the concept of books arranged by subject is the same.

A Popular Book

My dilemma is that, although a student who knows what they’re looking for can go to the catalogue and find a book on castles in the 728’s, another on knights in the 940’s and one on dragons on the 398’s; those who are not so directed can wander the stacks for a full quarter of an hour and not find anything to strike their interest. This is in spite of my attempts to keep attractive books on display face-out at the end of each shelf. In a very interesting article and one of the few I’ve found so far on the subject, Roger Green states that “…it is ultimately the signage in the bookstore model of the library that allows one to find the books”. But would a bookstore not also think it advantageous to place the books on castles, knights and dragons together?

In many ways, keeping classic nonfiction and reference collections current is a waste of money. There are superior and current reference materials in databases and even on the open web. Using the print collection for research in middle and high school serves little other purpose than to teach the use of library arrangement and index skills. Note-taking, skimming and scanning must now be taught with the ability of copy-paste and ‘Find’ techniques in mind. In any case, junior and senior high teachers are not often requiring print references in their assignments.

Nonfiction collections must now be developed with the mind-set of the seller. Students are still enthusiastic about books and possibly even more so since they are seldom associated with the dreaded “Assignment” as they may have been in the past. New nonfiction is attractive, colourful and full of strong images for this extremely visual generation. Whether they are reading the biography of a famous hockey star or browsing the illustrations in a history of war ships, they are broadening their minds and their general experience. They are internalizing the unique feeling of holding and interacting with the physical tome and most importantly, they are developing and honing language literacy.

Students in my library reading together

You will find from my About page that I am not a ‘professional’ librarian. I have no degree and little formal schooling in the field. I beg you, however not to dismiss my questions because of this. Ideally, in my opinion, all school libraries would be staffed by teacher-librarians with full-time assistance but that is not the reality here in Alberta. I was charged with the management of this library because of my experience and my non-professional grid-placement. It is a challenge that I must make the best of and I continue to fine-tune my job description to provide services and collections that support teachers and encourage students to develop a love for the written word.

I cannot find another school library anywhere that has converted to the ‘bookstore model’, with or without maintaining current cataloguing regimens. I need feedback desperately! Resources are scarce. There’s a good, Public Library related article from 2004 by Chris Rippel here, and I’ve just borrowed Creating the Customer-Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model by Jeanette Woodward (ALA 2005).

Our wonderful parent fundraising group is raising money for new shelving for the general fiction and nonfiction sections. In order to convert to the bookstore model with or without Dewey, I would have to find the funds for signage at least. To completely revamp the arrangement I will have to obtain permission to work over the summer, for which time I currently am not paid. Please share your expertise and opinions with me to help me to decide whether or not to even approach my boss with this.

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