Last week, there was a spirited debate on my state's library listserv. Someone asked for some advice on switching from the Dewey Decimal Classification System to more of a bookstore layout. Apparently it was quite a hot button issue, because the original poster got a wide range of responses. Many of those responses were directed toward the entire list, and I have to say it got a little ugly. Needless to say, changing your library from the Dewey Decimal Classification System is controversial. I'm going to share my thoughts about this issue and tell you why I won't ditch Dewey in my school library.
So Dewey, or Don't We (ditch Dewey, that is)?
Sorry, I couldn't resist.
Many libraries, like Red Hawk Elementary in Colorado are getting rid of call numbers and organizing their collection simply by subject (more like a bookstore). Supporters of this Dewey-less system say that their libraries are more user-friendly and that their circulation volume has increased. Those things sound good in theory.
My problem is that books are already grouped by like subject in the DDC. Yes, there are a few eccentricities here and there. You may find books about trains in several different classifications, for instance, depending on what the book is about. The "secret" is teaching your students to use the library catalog system to find what they want. They don't have to memorize the main classifications or randomly browse the shelves to find what they want. Just use good searching techniques on the online catalog, make a note of the call number, and go to that shelf. It's really not rocket science.
The problem I have with the bookstore model is that while bookstores do look like Dewey-less libraries, public and university libraries generally do not. I use my local public library often, and they organize using Dewey. While it's true that many public and university libraries use different classification systems than Dewey, the basic principle is the same. Search for what you need, make a note of the call number, and figure out where it's located.
Confession: I don't even know all the classifications in the DDC
Even if I thought getting rid of Dewey was a good idea, I would have a hard time getting it done. I have a full schedule of classes on most days, and I don't have an assistant. I can barely get my books shelved in a typical week, let alone redo thousands of labels and change the online catalog. I do get paid to work a few extended days in the summer, but it would not be enough time to get it done, especially considering I have to work on the 500 other things I don't have time to do during the school year.
Another thing to consider is that my students generally understand how to use the online catalog to find what they want. I spend quite a bit of time teaching them to find books because it's really hard for me to help them all in a limited amount of checkout time.
What I'm saying is that we need to help our students become better information seekers instead of reinventing the wheel to make their lives easier. That's what life in the 21st Century is all about. Need to find an answer? Search for it. The same is true for books in libraries. It's more important to know how to find an answer than to know every answer immediately.
Six ways to make your library more user-friendly without ditching Dewey
Even though I'm not ready to reinvent my school library, there are still some ways to make it more user-friendly. Here are some ideas to help you increase your nonfiction circulations.
1. Make signs for your shelves. Think about books your students ask you for often (like dogs, cars, sports, etc.) and make colorful signs for the tops of your shelves to quickly direct students to that section.
2. Create a rotating nonfiction display. I know this is tough to do if your schedule is anything like mine, but you could always enlist the help of a parent volunteer. Each week (or month), create a simple display about a particular subject. Students may find books that they would not have found on their own. Even simpler? Just display a book at the end of each shelf that's not full.
3. Try a nonfiction book challenge. This is one of the things I wanted to start at my school this year, but I haven't had time to organize yet. I love Tiffany's book challenge idea at Mighty Little Librarian. You could even do a strictly Dewey book challenge and offer a prize at the end.
4. Review how to search the library catalog several times each year. I recommend a quick review at least once every 9 weeks. Sometimes new students come in throughout the year, and the review helps those who have been there a while, too.
5. Don't forget to weed your collection. Get rid of some books to make room for new ones. When I started in this library last year, I spent a long time weeding the nonfiction section. Some of the books were older than me. I found a NBA basketball collection from 1994, which is before my students were born. There were several biographies of people who were popular when I was in middle school (also before my students were born). Weeding your collection makes relevant books easier to find, and it also helps you see which types of books need to be reordered.
6. Change the call number for books that seem out of place. Have a few train books in the 300s and others in the 600s? Change the call numbers on some of the books so they're all together. Don't forget to change your online catalog, too!
What's your opinion on changing classification systems? If you've done this, has it been successful? Share with us in the comments!