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.
During library school, cataloguing was the most notoriously difficult class, and though I found it a challenge, I also found it appealed to a certain part of my brain. There's something immensely satisfying in puzzling out why an item has been categorized one way versus another, and what that choice reveals about the person who made the decision. Some books are very straightforward, but others could easily be a blend - especially in the holiday book section, as I'm currently finding. Where do you put a book with a St. Patrick's Day theme that isn't purely factual, but blends facts about the holiday with a story? Is it non-fiction? Fiction? If you put it in fiction, will you be doing students who want to find books on St. Patrick's Day a disservice?
These are the questions I find myself pondering as I work on automation, but as I've worked, I've noticed an interested, albeit somewhat frustrating (to me) trend. As I've said before, I rely on WorldCat and the Minuteman Library Network catalog to classify non-fiction books. I look up the book, find a call number, and use it. But with holiday books, I'm noticing a trend across the country to recategorize these books in their own call number: HOLIDAY. Gone are the Dewey Decimal categories for Halloween, Easter, St. Patrick's Day or Christmas. Part of me understands this - it's easier to group all the holiday books together and then subdivide into the specific holiday name. I like the specificity offered by Dewey, which is why I've elected to categorize my books by it, but clearly I'm bucking the trend.
It's a hot topic in the school library world at the moment as well - whether to categorize a collection by subject/genre or by Dewey. Neither system is flawless, and I think my ideal is a blended system, where books are grouped together by topic but also organized by Dewey number, but it's interesting to see that this trend is very much in force in the holiday book section.
One of the main struggles I have had to contend with in my library since beginning is the state of utter disarray the library is usually in at the end of a Wednesday, when I teach K-1, K-2, and special needs throughout the day. The little kids are excited about book checkout, and in their rush to find the perfect book, they have an unfortunate tendency of leaving books strewn about all over the floor and the shelves, leaving me or one of my student workers to clean up after them. I've tried talking to them and reminding them as they search to put books back, but it never seems to sink in.
That's when I decided I would experiment with shelf markers. The librarian I worked with for my elementary practicum used them to mixed results, but I figured something would be better than nothing. Using tips gleaned from Cari at The Centered School Library, I asked for paint stirrers at Home Depot (they handed over an armful), bought a $3 tin of trial paint in a vibrant shade of orange, and snagged some cute back-to-school themed cardstock and Modge Podge at Michael's. I started by painting the sticks on both sides, two coats each. I learned the hard way that unless you're careful, you're going to get newspaper stuck to your sticks, but I managed to get the worst of it off.
Next, I modge-podged the cardstock onto the top of each stick for decorative purposes - one layer on the wood, then another over the paper. Once they dried, they looked really nice. And best of all, after incorporating a short demonstration on how to use them, the kids managed to use them more or less as intended, and when the day was done, I had about a 95% improvement in tidiness - I still had to put away a few books, but it was a much easier task than the massive cleanups I'd been doing at the end of the day before. I will definitely be using these again (but first I have to remember I have them!), because the time it took to make them is a small investment compared to how much time (and stress) is saved by using them.
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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