A 2016 Facelift for Dewey

“Mrs. Hembree, can you help me find the wolf (substitute any animal) books?”

“Did you look on the poster to find the number?”

“Yes, but I can’t find the number on the shelf, can you help me?

Sound familiar?  I moved to a different school this fall. The library has a big collection and is very well organized. We have a big poster with all the important animal Dewey numbers listed in alphabetical order. Yet questions about how to find books happen daily in my library and I’m willing to bet it’s happened in yours.



We have signs with numbers on the edge of the shelf.  However, when you are 8 or 9 years old, trying to find a book with Dewey numbers extending two and three numbers past the decimal point is….well….pointless.


They can’t find the numbers on the spine and give up. Even our parent volunteers find it difficult to shelve the books sometimes.

 Student frustration with finding the books they want to read is the major reason I switched to genre shelving in my fiction area.


It’s also the reason why last year in my former library I switched to a subject/theme organizational system in the picture books.

genre pic books


I plan to do it again in my new library, but that’s a project for next year. When I do, it will be modeled after the method the King County Library System is now using with their picture books in the 48 public libraries in the system. Their changes came after research with parent focus groups to determine how parents think books should be organized. After analyzing the results, the picture books are now arranged by categories and have as many face out books as possible.



 If it works for the largest library system in the country, I think it can work in my elementary library. While this bird walk into the KCLS shift may seem irrelevant, seeing the books on the shelf this way actually helped me take action on doing something about the non-fiction problem.

Back to the non-fiction books. I’ve never touched or messed with the non-fiction books.

Until now.

I’ve read countless blog posts and articles about librarians who ditched Dewey completely. I may not like Dewey 100%, but I do like the basic organizational system. In many ways it really works.  I wasn’t ready to destroy a system that had its merits. I just wanted to re-vamp it, but I didn’t know how. 

Then this fall I read a blog post on the Wrinkle in Tech blog by Mrs. J who simplified Dewey with a whole number dewey system. No more decimal points! She’s made terrific signs to use to lead students to the area they are looking for. We exchanged a few emails as I asked some more clarifying questions. I thought I had an answer to my dilemma. I bought the signs on TpT and started adopting this method in certain sections. Yet, I still had the animal problem.

When students go to the shelf to find books on panda bears for example, they expect that all the panda bear books will be together, as in next to each other. Not some here and some more 5 books away farther down the shelf. After all, isn’t that the point of the numbering system? It’s what the kids think. Of course, that’s not how it works in reality. I still needed to figure out how to keep the animals together on the shelf. I went back to the drawing board and dug deeper in my research.

To my absolute delight, I found a 2013 blog post Mammals: A Dewey “Do-over” by Sarah Ducharme on her Try Curiosity library blog. She figured out the solution, that is so obvious. Hallelujah! She organized her land mammals by animal and changed the call number to reflect the area and subject of the book.

mammals dewey

Generalized books on multiple mammals are 599, but all land mammals are 599.1 plus the animal name. For example, 599.1 ELE (elephant) All the elephant books have the same call number and are placed on the shelf next to each. Instead of having to remember an author’s last name, a student can search for a book on the shelf in alphabetical order by animal. You can read a more detailed explanation of Sarah’s system here. It’s simple. It makes sense. It meets my objective of making it easier for kids to find books on the shelves independently.

Winter break gave me some time to think about how I could interweave these two systems in our library. It’s also when I walked into the KCLS library and saw their complete changes. In addition I was reading Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students by Pernille Ripp for a book study group.  In chapter 2, I read this:

“Once again, reflection is where we begin. Ask yourself, would you like being a student in your own room.”

I want our school library to be a place where students can successfully and easily find the books they want. It’s not a book depository that must uphold the merits of an organizational system developed in 1876. My students are frustrated by our system. That part is obvious. If I was an elementary aged student, I wouldn’t like how complicated it is to find a book in the library when it’s so easy at a bookstore. Pernille’s two sentences cemented my belief that change was not only important, it was necessary for students to be successful library users.

There’s nothing like a new year to begin a new system. Not to be overwhelmed by the vastness of animals, I started small with the pet books. All the cat, dog, horse and other small pet books are together in 636 with a whole number dewey system. I typed up new call numbers, changed the numbers in the catalog and got to work re-labeling and shelving books.



Furthermore, I decided that pigs, sheep and cows would be removed from this section and shelved with the other land mammals.


Yes, they are farm animals, but it’s 2016. We live in a suburb near a large metropolitan city. My students don’t think of cows, pigs and sheep as being anything other than a mammal. I doubt more than a few have ever seen a farm, let alone know what animals live on a farm. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen quizzical looks from students when they see cows near the pet section. The farm animals were moving.

Here is the final result of stage one of our revamped Dewey project. I’m not sure if the sign at the top is what exactly what students will find useful, but it’s a start.


Now I can’t wait to see what the students say! Check back in the next few weeks. As I move through other areas, I will publish more photos and share student reaction to the changes.


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12 thoughts on “A 2016 Facelift for Dewey

  1. WOW! These look awesome, and I love the edits you made. I think each library can find their own solution to the “animals classification problem,” and I’ve had other TLs and public librarians tell me that they use the call number letters to identify the animal. Looks beautiful, and thanks for the link!

    • Thank you Mrs J for inspiring me with your post and awesome signs. By Friday, I had no cat books left on the shelf. I know that the cat, dog and horse books weren’t too hard to find, but the signs and call number changes seem to be a hit with the youngers.

  2. I have often thought about Dewey and it is not very helpful for students. I spend more time teaching an abstract concept of finding books when all they want is a book on a specific animal. Thank you so much for posting this. It will help me as I think about transitioning and what works best for my students to be self-users of their library. Even when me or my clerk shelve books we often forget the number and decimal then forget the author then forget he number and the vicious cycle continues. I look forward to seeing how it plays out in your library.

    • Ruth,
      I will let you know how it goes. So far it’s working well. I’m doing a little bit at a time each day in ABC order. Bite size chunks don’t seem so bad. I’m up to cows! It may take awhile to get to zebras, but the word from the kids is pretty positive so far.

  3. I saw something at the Westwood PublicLibrary that I am thinking of using. In my picture book section, I had large letters of the first letter of the author’s name above the call number label. This worked really well. In Westwood they had a large number sticker above the call number label for their nonfiction.

    M 8
    Easy 811
    Martin Prelutsky

    I think this will help students find the right Dewey section, then with spacers with distinct subjects as you have.

    • Charlotte,
      Whatever you think will work best with your population of students is always the best way to go. Because our school is in the middle of the very large public library system, I am going to adapt to their changes for the most part. One category I had in my last school was “funny books”. Lots of kids come to me and ask, “Where are the funny books?” Signage, call numbers, posters, whatever it takes to get kids connected with books is great. I don’t want finding a book to read a difficult experience. For the kids who already find reading tough, adding the difficulty of finding a book they might be interested is a double whammy.
      Good luck!

  4. Hi Julie,

    I love the way you are always thinking of ways to make it easier for your students to independently find the book they want or need.

    At the end of last year we moved to a new cloud-based library management system which has allowed me to look at our collection through a different lense in the way it is organised. After surviving the system changeover, my dream this year is to make a start on ‘Genrefying” our Fiction books. I’ll follow your wise example and do a bit at a time.

    This post has also got me thinking about our Non Fiction area now too! I’ll watch your blog and see how things go…

    Kim 🙂

  5. Hi Julie-
    Thank you so much for sharing! I am new to the library gig, and feeling super excited! I really want to implement the picture book categories. Can we get the labels that Seattle Public Library uses? Or..do you have suggestions?

    • HI Wyndi,
      I love your enthusiasm! Isn’t this job great? Not everyone would want to take on this kind of task. Claps to you for considering it. The KCLS got their labels from a private vendor, so trying to get them isn’t an option. I’m currently in investigation mode of what to do. I will make some kind of label and adhere it similarly to KCLS. As far as colors are concerned, and this is a big deal, I’m going to look at a couple options. Demco has colored call number overlay stickers. I also want to see if there are colored labels I can buy. It may end up being a combo of the options to get the color assortment I need. If you have any ideas, I am very interested! Please share!
      In the meantime, I have my categories set up in Destiny, and I am starting the process of adding the copy category into the record of books. This is the part that takes a very long time. I have to do some significant weeding as well. I suspect this project will take me the most of the next year. If I can get the categories entered, then I can print an Excel sheet of them, pull the books and have volunteers label them in large groups.
      If you have more questions, please let me know.

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