Library‎ > ‎

We Don't Use Dewey! How do we teach our cataloging system?

posted Mar 14, 2016, 9:06 AM by Julie Alonso
Anyone familiar with libraries knows that most of them are organized using the Dewey Decimal System.  In the past several years, though, many libraries with children's collections have recognized faults. Dewey gives books call numbers that seem like arbitrary code made up of decimals and the first 3 letters of authors' last names. Kids often are not comfortable using decimals until past 4th grade. For a K-8 school, this equals more than half of our students! Also, the system is out of date and was never intended to be used by children. Developed in the late 1800s for adult scholars, the system shows bias (particularly in the theology section) and only awkwardly allows for categorization of books about new technologies.

At Town School for Boys, we adopted a system called METIS, which is word-and-picture based and flexible, allowing for growth and change. While numbers are still used in our cataloging system to organize books locationally in our space, call numbers are generally alphabetically shelved by whole-word descriptors. Additionally, every spine has a picture sticker indicating the topic or genre of the book.  We use signs on the library shelves to help students find things easily.  

How do we teach our cataloging system?

In addition to lots of signs and a dedicated bulletin board showing the different library categories, we ask Second Grade students to explore the different categories and genres in a year long project.  While Kindergarten and First Grade students check out books that are pre-selected and laid out on tables to choose from during library class, Second Graders are invited to choose from the Picture Book and Early Fiction sections of the library. For each different genre that they explore, they collect that sticker on their check-out card. Once they fill in the front of their card with fiction genre stickers, they earn the ability to explore the non-fiction room and collect category stickers there. Once the back of their card is filled, they are then allowed open access to the comics and chapter book sections of the library as well.  Of course, all of these sections are available to all students outside of class time.

While some students prefer to check out books within a limited scope of genres, many of the students are eager to find the sections for which they do not yet have a sticker. They are excited when they complete the front of their card and do a good job finding age-appropriate books for themselves in the non-fiction room. Collecting stickers familiarizes them with the various categories of books, often leading them to sections of the library they had never explored before.

In Third and Fourth grades, our methods for teaching the system are tied to our online catalog, Destiny Quest.  We encourage students to search for books using Destiny Quest and find the books themselves using the call number. We recently had the students compete in a scavenger hunt and many of them were very adept at finding things on the shelves. 

In the three years we have used this system, we have found that it is very user friendly! It is loved by teachers, who can find an entire unit's worth of books on one shelf. Our volunteers prefer it, finding it much easier to shelve books alphabetically rather than numerically. And most importantly, our students are able to serendipitously stumble upon books they are interested in as they look to certain topics or genres.