We were different people when we started out. We had different needs, different goals. Over the years I’ve grown and changed and while you tried to keep up, you just aren’t meeting my needs anymore. So thank you for all the memories but my dear Mr. Melville Dewey, I think we need to part ways.
I was a Dewey hold out. I thought it was important that I teach my students how this system worked so that they could apply it later on in their library lives. But then some creeping doubts started to nag at me. Why can’t military information all be in one place? Why do the military vehicles have to be separate from the books about the branches’ history? Why can’t biographies of baseball players be right next to the baseball books? And while we’re asking questions, just how many decimal places do you expect me to go to in order to keep my dinosaur books organized anyway? And so, in my former library, we decided to step away from Dewey decimal organization. I worked with students and staff to come up with a system that utilized some aspects of the structure but fit in the terminology of our curriculum. We came up with three main categories: Language Arts, Science, Social Studies and went from there. The result was a collection arranged by the population that was accessing the information. We were off to a good start. Unfortunately I left that position just as we were finishing this project. Now I must start anew.
Once again I am in a library that is heavily Dewey organized. I knew I had to break this old habit – he’s not going to change the way I need him to so it’s time to move on. But I can’t just reapply the system I developed at my former school. The age ranges are different, the curriculum is different, the manner of use is different. So it’s back to the beginning. What is the beginning anyway? The users.
I’ve come to think the most important goal where I am is to build connections between students and the information we can offer. In my K-2 school students visit the library one scheduled time per week. I only have a guaranteed 45 minutes a week for instruction, meaningful connections, and checking out books. It’s time to throw out the unessential and I think that’s Dewey. I’d rather help them make connections to literature and information once they’ve found it than to spend time hunting. If I can do that, if I can show them there are amazing things to find, they’ll figure out how to find what they want later in whatever library they are in at the time. If they are convinced there is gold, they will dig for it. I don’t need to teach them how to hold the shovel.
What started to drive me to question a system that appeared to have worked for many years? First, a system that functions is not necessarily a system that is successful. I started with two initial problems.
Problem #1 – I got tired of answering the same questions over and over.
When the voice inside my head said, “Ugh, why do they all keep asking me where the mysteries are? How many times do I have to tell them fiction is shelved by author and they need to search the computer and then pick one book to look for on the shelf?” It happened over and over with different students of different ages at different times. Isn’t that just exhausting to have to answer that over and over and over. I can’t believe it took me so long to just put the mystery books in one place. One day, a few hours work, a good sign, and I don’t have to answer that question anymore. They don’t have to waste time asking because they are already reading the books. Now they can talk to me about what they are reading instead of spending most of their time looking for something to read.
Problem #2 – I got tired of playing the question game with students.
The second problem was even more awkward and played out something like this:
K-2 Student: Where are the horse books?
Library Staff: Do you want a made up story about horses or true facts?
K-2 Student: Ummmm well I like horses and I want to get one some day
Library Staff: Well do you want to learn facts about horses or read a made up story?
This would go on and on until the student just picked one of the choices offered and then was directed to either the horse books in Nonfiction, or to a single book in the Picture Books or perhaps a Fiction series about horses.
For goodness sake just let the poor kid look at books with horses! Picture book, chapter book, novel, nonfiction… whatever they want.
Our solution was to make a horse section with the top shelf the picture and beginning chapter books, the next shelf down the fiction novels, and the shelf below that the nonfiction book. Now that student can spend most of their time looking at books instead of guessing the answers to a series of questions and hoping that they answer “correctly”. They don’t have to pick either or, and they don’t have to waste time. This has been such a great change that we are working of doing the same with other popular topics.