Be sure to follow me at Teachers Pay Teachers. All new products are 50% off for the first 24 hours! Click Here!


To Dewey or Not to Dewey

To Dewey or Not To Dewey ...

Isn't that the question?? More and more libraries, both school and public, are ditching Dewey and modeling their nonfiction section after popular bookstores. They are grouping their books by major genre topics like animals, war, sports, etc. It has been creating lots of buzz in the library world over the last few years. Here are some bloggers that are talking about this very topic. Just one click will take you to see what they have to say, or write, about Dewey.

Mighty Little Librarian

E-Literate Librarian

Brief Book Bytes

And a search of "Dewey"at the School Library Journal's website will provide article after article on the topic!

Well, all of this talk begs one to question their own nonfiction section and whether it is organized for the best use of their patrons.

I am thinking that I am going to start a revolution and color-code my books. Much like this ...

Just kidding ... Wouldn't it be entertaining though to see your kids' faces when they walked in and saw this  :)

So where exactly do I stand on this Dewey Dilemma? I am actually kinda on the fence. Really I am ... I have one leg in Dewey's yard and one in Genre's yard, and the  nonfiction section in my Library reflects this. I am probably living in a very strange place, as Melville's fans may want to hang me for the way that I have massacred the Dewey Decimal System. While proponents of  "Genre"fying may say just go ahead and ditch Dewey already!

Here is a snapshot of my nonfiction section.

I know ... pretty tricky to see much of anything happening from this far away. But, no worries, I have several up close and personal shots for you. 

I have labeled the pictures with six different numbers. Each number corresponds to something that I have purposefully done to increase the usability of my nonfiction section.  Keep reading to learn how I have organized my nonfiction section! Each heading below corresponds with a number from the pictures above, and I will further explain the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of each component.


Personally, I think that the most important part of ANY library, is the signage! As librarians, whether school or public, our ultimate goal should be that patrons can find what they are looking for independently. So, here's your sign ...

These are the signs that hang from the ceiling in my library. They serve two purposes. First, they help students to differentiate where our three main sections are housed. Second, and probably the most useful, is that they serve as a reference for the call number that is housed in that section.

* I have had SEVERAL requests for the font that I used on these signs. Sadly, I don't have any idea what the name of it is. You see, I have a little font problem. I LOVE them. I download them ALL the time. I have WAY too many of them on my computer. After I created these signs, my old computer bit the dust. I lost lots of great stuff, including my font list. I have searched high and low for this font, but I just can't find it. I am going to send you to one of my favorite websites:; you may be able to find a font that you like even better!! *

Early on, I teach students that the call number is like an address for a book. I further explain that there is an upstairs and a downstairs and that the upstairs tells us WHERE in the library that the book is located. If the book is nonfiction, there will be a number upstairs. If it is a chapter book, there will be a JF upstairs. If it is a book for everyone ... well, you get the idea :) The house is a pictorial reminder of this lesson. It really helps students locate books when they are simply looking at a call number. Can you guess what the ALN downstairs stands for??

If you have really taken a shine to the "House" concept, I have one just for you!

You might be thinking to yourself ... "Well, that looks great! But, what am I supposed to do with it?" Well, here's the low down. Click on the image. It will take you to Google Files. Then, point your mouse at the house and right click. Click on "Save As". Be sure to save the image in a place on your computer where you can find it in the future. Then you can insert the graphic into any editing program like Word, and then just add your own text to the middle!

How did I make those hanging signs?

When I first took over my library, I knew that it needed some signs and some color. I fancy myself a cheery and colorful person, so I figured my space should reflect this. The fancy library signage from the catalogs were a little, okay alot, over my budget. So I put my crafty ways to work. If you're curious, keep reading! If not, you won't hurt my feelings if you take off now. I'll understand ... just be sure to come back!

First off, I choose a white foam art board as the basis for my sign. I knew that I wanted something heavy duty, something that would last for awhile. This board can be found at your local Walmart or craft store. It can easily be cut to size with a simple utility knife.

I used colored foam sheets for the letters. First, I used Microsoft Publisher to build a template for my letters. I chose a fun font and made it super sized. Then I printed each letter on paper in black and white. Now comes the tedious part ... I cut out each paper letter by hand and then traced it onto the colored foam. Then, I cut out each foam letter by hand. Just a helpful hint, I always flipped the letter over before tracing it, so then my pen marks would be on the back of the foam letter. Once, they are all cut out, I used simple Elmer's glue to glue the colored letters onto the white board. Time consuming?? YES! But worth it, I have had the letters for four years now, and they haven't faded one iota.

Now, exactly how does one hang these from the ceiling?? I placed two grommets at the top of the sign. They worked great! Then I used fishline, one end tied to the grommet and the other tied to a large paperclip. The paperclip sits perfectly under the drop ceiling tile and holds the sign up. Voila!

Here are samples of the materials that I used ...



So, now that we know where the nonfiction books are, how have I encouraged student independence? Well, more signs! At the top of each shelf in the library, there are three different clues. Let's take a look at each one individually.

As we all know, the Dewey Decimal system does, well ... for the most part, a wonderful job of organizing books into subjects. So, I simply chose a topic that seemed to BEST describe the books that sit on that bookshelf. I tried to make the topic as kid friendly as possible. However, that wasn't always easy! Here is a partial view of my nonfiction section. The stars show you where I sit signs that highlight these topics ...

1) Society                          2) Earth Science            

3) Health & Transport      4) Food & Building

5) Art & Music                  6) Drama & Games

7) Countries                       8) United States

9) History                          10) Dinosaurs

11) Invertebrates               12) Mammals

13) Farm & Pets                14) Poetry

15) Sports                          16) Graphic Novels

A few pictures of the signs up close and personal ...

The shelves along the wall are all in DDC order ... with some exceptions! But, that's for another blog post. I simply posted a subject heading above the shelf! You'd be amazed at what a huge impact that such a simple change has made. I actually had a teacher stop into the library, shortly after I had done this, and she said, "Thank God ... finally someone has organized the books into order by subject!" I didn't have the heart to tell her that I hadn't even moved most of the books.

How Did I Make 'Em?

I used that same white foam board as the signs that hang from my ceiling. Then, I cheated a little, okay alot, and each of those letters was cut out with my Cricut. It is the most fantastic tool ever. My hubby gave it to my for my birthday a few years back, and it has been a lifesaver for SO MANY of my school projects.

To keep them sitting upright on the top of my shelves, I used a little picture or plate stand. I bought a bunch of them at my local Dollar Store. Gotta love dollar stores :)

So, there you go ... a quick and easy way to enhance your nonfiction section!


Let's chat about that little polka dotted slip of paper that is situated at the top of each shelf. I am quite certain that you probably really don't even need the following explanation. So humor me okay??

The polka dotted papers are like guide words for my shelves. The first set of numbers/letters represents the first book on the shelf and the second set of numbers/letters represents the very last book on the shelf.  I use them in all sections of my library. Each section has a different set of colored dots. So, my E section is blue, my JF section is green, and the nonfiction section is red.

If you look back to the pictures of the top of the shelf signs up above, you will see the red polka dotted papers that mark the top of each shelf. There is a DD number, then a dash, then another DD number ... representing the first book on the shelf and the last book on the shelf.

In the Everyone section, I pair each label with a number. The bookshelves in that section are not linear at all, they are more like a snake. So little ones seem to struggle with which way the shelves run alphabetically, but the numbers seem to help them find their way! Here is a little infograph that may help to explain the methods to my madness.

Following the pattern from the picture above, Bookshelf #13 would have a polka dotted label with "NIA - MAB" printed on it. The first book would be by the author NIASSAN and the last book would be by the author MABLE with a bunch of different authors in between ... alphabetically of course!

So, do they work?? Honestly, the kids seem to struggle with the numbers in the nonfiction section. BUT, the signs in the Everyone section and Junior Fiction section get lots of use!

I am more than willing to share my polka dotted labels with you! Just click on the picture below to download a Microsoft Word File with ALL three colors of polka dotted labels.


The number #4 points exactly at those cute little wooden cutouts on my shelves.

And, they are so unbelievably easy to make ... just go shopping :) I found these cutouts at my local Michael's craft store. However, I just googled them and found over 120 different cutouts at the Hobby Lobby website. Check 'em out.

At less than $1.oo apiece, you can't go wrong. Seriously, if you do just ONE new thing to your nonfiction section, it should be this one. I use that tacky putty on the back of the shapes to stick them to the shelves. Holds them well and doesn't harm the shelves wooden finish.

Okay ... gotta go! I am off to buy some new shapes for my nonfiction section. I am in love with the hot rod, the military tank, the octopus, the snake ... my shelves probably won't even have room for them all!


Step by step, we are drilling down to a specific subject on a shelf. Once kids have used the subject sign and/or the subject pictures to get themselves to a specific shelf, I use EVEN more signs to help them find EXACTLY what they are looking for.

Next to the colorful wooden cutouts, these little shelf labels are the second best thing that I did. Yes, it does help the kids find exactly what they are looking for, but even better, it gives the kids a peak into "other" book subjects that we have in the library. I have had kids who are looking for a magic book come back to the desk with a joke book and say, "I didn't know that you have joke books!" It really helps my browsers.

How did I make 'em?

Well, first I simply created a list of subjects that were most commonly requested. I measured the height of each shelf, and then I used Microsoft Publisher to create the labels. If you click on the links below, you should be able to download a PDF file or Microsoft Publisher file of my shelf labels. If you'd like to use them yourself, feel free!

Click HERE for a .pdf  file
And HERE for an editable .pub file

I attach these labels with some plastic clip on shelf labels thingies that I bought at Gaylord. You clip the plastic piece right onto the shelf and the label fits under the plastic perfectly. Here is a link to these little gadgets. Just be sure you measure the width of your shelf before ordering! I ordered a package that was too big ... HUGE BUMMER!


Ahh ... the finale! Do you remember when I first blogged about Dewey in our libraries? I had mentioned that I "massacred" the DDC. Well, I am here to explain that statement. So, if you are a dedicated, true to Melville, no exceptions kind of librarian, it may be in your best interest to skip today's post. I can already feel your blood pressure rising.

However, if you believe that our libraries should be a place where kids can find what they are looking for AND not a shrine to Dewey, then keep reading.

The DDC is the foundation for my organizational process in the nonfiction section. The books against the far wall are in DDC order from 001.9 to 999. However the "Y" shelf ... the one in the foreground is organized by subject. I know, be still your heart! They ARE in fact out of DDC order. Want to know the truth ... the kids don't even have a clue! They simply know where they can find their animal books.

I chose a few of the kids favorite topics and "pulled" them from the backshelf and displayed them on the "Y" shelf  (you can't tell from the pix but this unit is shaped like the letter "Y"). I chose dinosaurs, animals, pets, poetry, and sports. So, here the kids can find 567.9, all the 590s, all the 630s, all 811s, and all sports. Even though these books are "out of DDC order", I kept them in order on the "Y" shelf. Make sense?

There is a downside to this ... if you don't know the methods to my madness, it can be challenging to put books away. So, if I have a parent volunteer, I will sometimes find books that are supposed to be shelved on the "Y" shelf over against the wall. Oh well, it is a small price to pay for the MANY benefits that I have found.

Yes, the kids can all easily find their books, but they can also reach them. When I had all of the books on the back wall, my littles couldn't reach their favorite books ... EVER! It was maddening ... especially when this librarian is only five feet tall herself. The shorter shelves are better.

As if taking books out of DDC order weren't enough, I also do a bit of creative cataloging ... to make books easier for kids to find. I tend to choose a DDC number for a subject and stick with it. For example, I use a single DDC number for all countries, regardless of whether the book is geographic or cultural, they all get one number. Dragons are ALWAYS 398.24. Military is always cataloged with the same number; it doesn't matter if it is about people or weapons. Kids don't understand the DDC enough to understand the subtle difference between the two. All of my "You Wouldn't Want To ... " history books all have a simple 900.  That way I don't separate the series. Kids love these books and they aren't concerned with what historical era that it fall into. I catalog as if I were a kid looking for a book. Again, I don't expect everyone to agree with me. Can we simply agree to disagree?

So the moral of this story is that one shouldn't feel married to Dewey. You and I aren't the ones who need to find the books ... we KNOW where they are, right? I put my books in order so that my kids can find them. That's my job ... creating equal access to all books ... regardless of whether you are really short or not!