It's now August. There are 22 days between me and the start of school and my library is in utter chaos. There's order in the midst of this chaos, but barring a miracle, the new Dewey system will not be done in time. It turns out that starting a giant project just before the end of the year, getting married, traveling, doing professional development, and having the library open only until 3:30 each day (I've been known to stay at school as late as 7 p.m. during the year) means there's really not that much time to get things done.
Still, we're plugging away. My aide has been coming in to help in my absence, and we've worked out a pretty decent system - spend all day working on changing catalog records, then take armloads of books home to do labels. This way we maximize our time changing records (which can only be done at school) and my husband gets a good workout climbing our stairs with hundreds of books at a time.
And even if the library isn't completely done, what is done already looks so wonderful and has convinced me that this was an excellent idea. Just before I left, I pulled together all the lovely Civil Rights Era biographies I have and put them with the Civil Rights Era history books. Suddenly the section looks rich and well-rounded, with all those gorgeous picture book biographies of Dr. King, Coretta Scott King, Marian Anderson and Claudette Colvin seamlessly integrated into the main collection. And my countries/cultures section looks great, too - all the books from the different parts of the 900s are now together in one place. No longer is Australia banished to 999!
The goal now is to get the most popular sections done before school starts (between me, my aide, my husband and some dedicated parents, I'm hoping we can get this far at least) and save the rest for later and hope for the best. It's going to be bumpy, and I'd be lying if I said I was calm, but I'm trying to be pragmatic.
I've still got some books I have no idea how to categorize, but I've also been surprised by how my decisions have changed as I've gone along. For example, I had originally thought my animal section would be "ANIMALS - ANIMAL NAME." Then I thought about broad, scientific categories - "ANIMALS - REPTILES - SNAKES." But then I started thinking about how that wouldn't always bring together "families" of animals. So now I have categories like "Big Cats," "Farm," "Pets," "Primates," and "Sea Mammals," which essentially takes the Dewey categories and translates them.
I am also looking forward to designing new and improved signage. The previous signs were unnoticeable and child-unfriendly, so I'm hoping to meld graphics with text for easy navigation. There's still some logistical kinks to work out, but when we're done, the library is going to be a completely different place. Until then, I will simply have to keep calm and label on.
This is a tedious process, there's no doubt about it. Even with my wonderful aide on hand to help with the manual task of printing and affixing new spine labels, I'm still going through each book individually, assigning it a category, changing the call number, and then updating the MARC record.
Not only is the new system completely altering the look and feel of our poetry section (seasons! school! spooky! We have them all!), it's also fostering a renewed appreciation for the art of cataloging and MARC records. As people said over and over again in library school: if you can't find it, it might as well not be there. That phrase has always stuck with me, and as I edit MARC records to make the 650 field searchable, I'm beginning to realize just how crucial a good MARC record can be.
For instance, right now, I'm working on the ELA - FAIRY TALES - CINDERELLA category. Our 2nd grade does global Cinderella stories, and I'd like the books to be in one place. Ditto fractured fairy tales. I know from having browsed the stacks that we have a rich variety of Cinderella stories, but when I search "Cinderella" as a keyword, I get only a handful of hits. The MARC records reveal why - if Cinderella isn't in the title, or anywhere else (and I do mean anywhere - some books have no MARC record fields, some have "folktale," one had the mysterious "asghd), then how are they going to come up? Finding these materials is either going to require an encyclopedic knowledge of the collection or it's going to require a good deal of time and effort. Neither is ideal. By working to create as many access points for information as I can, I'm hoping to make the entire information retrieval process simplified and intuitive. Do I care that Cinderella doesn't really belong in the 650 -- field? Nope. If that's the field my subject search searches, then we're going to put it there so that the books come up. Besides, I'm the only one who's going to look under the hood.
Now it's just a race against time - how much can I get done in 28 days before I'm flying solo?
The first few books to be hybridized are on the shelves, and I am literally bubbling with excitement at anticipating how it's going to be easier to find books when I'm done. It makes it so much easier for me, and it really does give you a good visual sense of how many books you have in an area of the collection. Did I know we had 40+ books on the Holocaust? Nope! But I do now, because they're taking up a shelf together - poetry, biography, personal narratives, and histories.
But more than that, as I edit call numbers, I'm also editing MARC records. Why? Because I discovered that Alexandria, which is our cataloging system, was not in the least bit friendly to anyone when it came to subject/keyword searches. Alexandria only searches certain fields of the MARC records, which can lead to some items being left out, some confusing additions, and most of all, it made subject searches impossible. I mean, who is seriously going to search for books on World War II with "World War, 1939-1945'? That's right, nobody.
So I'm adding simple, intuitive language tags to the 650 field (which is what gets searched), and making it as easy to cross-search. So for instance, poetry about America will have the call number ELA - POETRY - AMERICA, but then in the 650 fields will have poetry (so it comes up if someone searches for poetry), America, and the other information that was pulled in automatically when the record was created. It's time-consuming, but I think it's going to pay off, and it may even steer kids towards using Researcher over Scout, which I think is a good thing.
Here's a sneak peek!
As I mentioned earlier, I have been pondering a Dewey Alternative system since attending AASL. The more I thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make, but where to start? I didn't want to abandon Dewey wholesale, but Metis didn't satisfy me, and so I kept pondering.
And then, one of my fabulous fellow Massachusetts librarians, Halley at Dartmouth High, gave a presentation to MSLA, the state library association, about her new, hybrid Dewey system. Halley had worked to develop real-language descriptors that fit her library, but kept the numerical organization of Dewey intact.
That's when I knew I had my solution. Halley has been extremely gracious in answering questions and sharing her classification guide with me, and today, I began taking the first baby steps into the brave new world of Dewey hybridization. I'm starting small, and in pieces (trying to minimize disruption to active areas of the collection and confusing my volunteers even more), and it's definitely time consuming, but the more I think about how this is going to translate into reality, the more excited I get.
My first section is HIST - WORLD WAR II - HOLOCAUST. I elected to not do a WAR modifier in front of WWII because I want to keep it to three descriptors, and we have a large Colonial America project that happens, so I wanted those labels to read HIST - COLONIAL AMERICA - SUBCAT. And it's great, because just this morning I wound up pulling together books not just from the 940s, but also from the 800s. Eventually, I'll also pull in fiction and even picture books, as well as biographies, that relate. And then they'll all be in one place, to allow for easy topic correlation. It's a take on Metis' "Imagination" and "Ideas" interfiling, but with my own twist.
If you're curious to see my thought process, you can follow along on my Trello board. I think this is going to be really, really great.
My student learning goal for the year is to build an awareness of how different books are categorized in the library with my 3rd and 4th grade students. So, by the end of the year, I hope that 80% of them realize that non-fiction is categorized by number, that Dewey is the organizing principle behind those numbers, and that fiction and biography have other call numbers and are arranged differently.
On a more personal note, since beginning work at my new school, I've started to look at the library through the lens of accessibility, and the sad truth is, many parts of it are not accessible. There are whole shelves in non-fiction that are too high for me (a 5'0 tall adult) to comfortably see - how can I expect kids to browse there? There's also the question of finding space for new books, because some sections (plants, I'm looking at you) are bulging at the seams. The non-fiction collection is also split into three different parts of the library, and the back portion (700-900) are dark and unappealing. So, I'm on a mission to make the library more user-friendly however I can. Part of that is weeding (we've gotten almost 2000 books off the shelves already, and I've got more to go), part of that will be reorganizing the space, and part of that is categorizing materials.
Plans are already underfoot to classify the fiction section by genre - alphabetization will still be present, but now the primary method of finding books will be genre, then author's last name. Yet, one of the things I discovered last weekend at AASL is that there is a raging debate going on over Dewey and its continued relevance (or irrelevance) to meeting the needs of school libraries and students.
I don't believe that Dewey is wholly irrelevant, and I'm not willing to (at the moment) adopt a self-created or minimally used alternative classification before seeing where everything pans out, but I did get to thinking about how the principles behind Dewey alternatives like Metis are worthwhile in terms of making information more easily accessible. Then I started thinking about how frustrating it is when kids ask for picture books on particular topics: princesses, ghosts, etc. So, I think I have a plan brewing in my mind. I am going to write a proposal to develop a subject classification system for our picture book collection (roughly 3000 books - no small task) with a focus on broad categories and some major subtopics and then redo them. Hopefully this will make books easier to find in the long-run, especially for my youngest, pre-literate students.
My name is Ms. Bery. I am a PK-8 library media specialist in the Boston area. In addition to being a certified school librarian, I am also certified in instructional technology, and have a strong interest in exploring and integrating technology in new and exciting ways in the classroom.
I am also a 2016 PBS LearningMedia Local Digital Innovator, and a 2015 recipient of the Massachusetts School Library Association's President's Award.
Check out the Sandbox for apps and websites I've found useful in supporting student learning and creativity. I also review children's, middle grade, and young adult books on Instagram.
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