Ditching Dewey Pt 2: Out W. The Old, In W. The New

This is the second post in my Ditching Dewey series.

Read Ditching Dewey Pt 1: Dear Dewey, It’s Not Me, It’s You

I discuss in my previous post the reasons WHY Dewey isn’t working in this modern era, for my modern high school students. In this post I’ll talk about exactly how I ended up on this path of Ditching Dewey, and exactly what my new system looks like.

If you are just here to see my newly created Adapted Dewey System (or Franken-Dewey), you can download it as an excel sheet here:


How This All Started

So when I started out I did NOT intend to get rid of dewey, recatalog all of my nonfiction books, relabel all of my nonfiction books, and reshelve all of my nonfiction books.

That was very much not my plan, it just kind of….. happened? I do tend to get a bit carried away.

This actually started during my big weeding project which was part of my “first five years” plan. As I was weeding my nonfiction I kept getting annoyed with the 100s, 300s, and 600s sections. I mean, I was already annoyed that so many books for my student’s history research projects were spread out in the 300s, 600s, and 900s, when, for a school library at least, it clearly makes sense for all of those books to be together in one section. But while I was weeding I was also starting to notice other things that were just not right about Dewey. And the more I noticed these things, the more itchy I got to fix it. Until eventually I could not stop myself for making just a few small changes. HA! Well those small changes snowballed and now I have a completed new shelving and spine label system.

oops!

Noticing Things That Weren’t Right

Occult Area

So the very first thing that I noticed was the 100s, where Dewey places “the occult” within philosophy, instead of in the 200s for religions/belief systems. But even stranger than that is that he places books on the historical persecution of women, i.e. the “witch” hunts, in this same area! Every time I was going through the 100s section I was grinding my teeth in annoyance at this! First of all, books about witchcraft should not be cataloged with books about “witch” hunts. The women, and occasionally men, murdered during the “witch” hunts were almost certainly not practicing witches. At least probably not most of them. Books about the practice of witchcraft are books about a belief system, and as such belong in the 200s. Books about “witch” hunts are books about historical events and as such, I believe, belong in the 900s with the other history books. Books about the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust are found in the 900s, so I don’t understand why we have allowed books about the persecution of people accused of being “witches” to continue to be classified in the 100s along with books on the “occult.” This was the first thing I changed. At this point I didn’t change much about Dewey, I just re-cataloged the books about witch hunts to the 900s, and books about practicing witchcraft to the 200s. Which brought me to…..

The Religions Area

Which brought me to the 200s, where Dewey supposedly classifies books about religions, but which anyone who actually looks can see he really just classified books about Christianity and then squeezed in a couple other religions at the very end. Except for Pagan or Wiccan religions, which apparently he didn’t consider deserved to be in the 200s at all. As I was recataloging the Witchcraft books to the 200s, I started finding myself grinding my teeth with Dewey, yet again. Because I realized that every number from 200 through 289 were reserved for Christianity topics. AARRGGHHH! Every other religion from the entire history of the entire world were squeezed in to the last 10 slots of the 200s. It is unbelievable to me that we STILL let this stand, even though we have made many new editions to the DDC over the last 150 years. And yes, I know that the current edition does allow people to use numbers early in the 200s for another religion if desired, but its default is still to reserve 90 slots for just Christianity. I thought to myself, what message is this sending to my library users? Our library had more than 20 different versions of the Christian Bible, but only one Quran, and not even one Torah. Even though we have a considerable population of Muslim and Jewish students. We have no books on Hindu faiths, even though we have a very significant population of Hindu students. What message was my collection sending to my students about which culture is being valued most?

The 300s… such a mess!

Well the 300s were just a mess in a lot of different ways, I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone. The big standouts for me were that SO MANY of the books would fit as easily in the 900s, and that there were actually a lot of books on the same topics that were found in both the 900s and the 300s. This makes research more difficult for my students doing research on government or american history topics. I really wanted to fix that up a bit. The other issue I had is that the books on “fashion and costumes throughout history” felt like they should be in either the 900s of the 700s with fashion design books. Also, it irked me that the mythology and folklore books were in the 390s. In my opinion these books belong in the 200s. I realize that this may offend some people, but all religions are based on their own mythos, or mythology. Calling some of these belief systems religions, and others mythology, seem very biased to me. I believe strongly that books about gods, goddesses, folklore, beliefs, etc all belong in the same section. Our 390s section had the typical greek/roman mythology stories, of course, but also many African and American Indigenous mythology stories. I don’t understand why books we have categorized as “mythology” don’t get the same respect, and the same section, as the books we categorize as “religion.” Isn’t all mythology someone’s religion? The final, and really big, issue I had with the 300s is the placement and handling of books dealing with….

LGBTQIA+ topics

Most of the books dealing with LGBTQIA+ topics were found in our 300s section, even though some of them really should have been in the 600s at the very least. The biggest issue with their placement in the 300s is that some were placed in the 306 area, which isn’t too bad. Mostly the books about the historical gay rights movements were in 306. But the so-called “Opposing Viewpoints” books about LGBTQIA+ topics were found in the 360s. In the 360s right next to the CRIME books. In the 360s right next to murder, pornography (which also isn’t actually a crime), and other so-called “deviant behavior” books. I asked myself, what kind of message does it send to my students? When my students search the catalog for LGBTQIA+ books and they find them right next to books about crime and pornography books, what message am I sending to my students about LGBTQIA+ identities? It is the year 2020, why haven’t we fixed the DDC to better serve LGBTQIA+ topics yet? And yes, I do know that newer editions have made some changes, but its not good enough.

Suicide, Addiction, & Other Self-Help Books

I actually get a lot of requests for books dealing with self-help type topics, mental health, inspiration, etc. The DDC is SERIOUSLY lacking in a good place for these books. When you go into any bookstore, you will notice wonderfully helpful and easily browsable areas. Self-Help is usually one of these areas. As requests for these types of books continued to pour in I became increasingly vexed that I didnt have a beautiful and standout “Self-help & wellness” section to send library users to browse. Some books were finding themselves in the 100s, others the 300s, and others the 600s. Did you know that DDC still categorizes books about suicide in the 360s? Again, right amongst the crime and “social problems” section. Suicide is not a crime anymore, its a mental health issue. So why doesnt the DDC have a good section for mental health yet? Books about addiction are also frequently found in the DDC’s “social problems” section. Again I say, addiction is not a crime. Addiction is a health and mental health issue. So why do my students have to look near the crime section to find books to help them cope with addiction?

The 900s American History sections

Ugh, the American History section! What a mess. Since our school is in America, and since all of our students are required to take a year long U.S. History class, our library has a large collection of books pertaining to U.S. History. Obviously. This was problematic for us because DDC puts everything for U.S. history in # 973. Which is fine if you have a small collection of 973 books. But when, like us, you have a large collection of 973 books it makes shelving and finding books a nightmare for both library staff AND students. Because you end up using a ton of decimal points to distinguish the books. And I don’t know about you, but my students really don’t understand how to go too far past the decimal point. Every year when our students did their U.S. History research projects they were all globbed together in the one section, trying to find the books on their research topic. It was frustrating, and I really wanted to stretch that section out so that they didn’t all have the same first 3 to 5 numbers on their spines.


Making Changes

Once I started noticing these issue, my brain would not stop thinking (dwelling) on ways these issues could be fixed. I mulled on it constantly until I just could not stand it anymore. If I see a problem, and can think of a way to make the problem better, I just simply can’t not try. I get fixated on the problem until I do something about it. But even still at this point I wasnt actually planning on getting rid of Dewey. I was just going to make a few changes.

This is how it started out anyway. 🙂

Change #1: Moving the Witchcraft & Witch Hunts books

The first change I made was pretty minor. I simply recataloged the books on the belief system Witchcraft over to the 200s. Then I recataloged the books about the historical witch hunts over to the 900s. It was a simple change but it started me on this journey. After I made that change I felt my confidence grow and felt empowered to make more changes.

Change #2: Creating a “Self, Help, & Wellness” Area

Because our school, like so many others, are dealing with increasing issues with mental health, suicide, addiction, bullying, etc I started to purchase a bunch of really great books on these topics. But when the new books came in I realized that I just could not catalog them according to Dewey. I didn’t want them spread out among the collection as Dewey would have it. No, I wanted there to be a clear “self help” section where all of thee types of books would be together. And I wanted it to be in a non-traumatic location, not in the 300s next to the books on crime and “deviants!!!!”

So I scoured the DDC and I found an empty number that I could use, in a section I thought made sense. I found that the number 619 was unused. I liked this area because it was in among the other books dealing with health topics like sexual health, anatomy, etc. So I used the 619 number to establish a place for books on topics like mental health, suicide, bullying, inspiration, motivation, study guides, gender identity, racial identity, etc. It was a bit crammed in since it was only the 619 numbers, but it was still a great improvement.

Change #3 Going All In

After I made the change to add a new section for “Self, Help, and Wellness” books I found that I couldn’t seem to stop thinking on how much better I could make the collection if the whole collection was organized more similarly to genre-fication. Which I know DDC KIND OF is already. DDC is kind of genrefied, but its poorly genrefied. I kept thinking about how I could clean it up but establishing simpler over-arching categories and then making sure most books that fit that category were found in that one single category. What if all of the books dealing with warfare and weapons were found in the same area that the WW1 and WW2 books were found, instead of some being in the 350s, some in the 600s, and others in the 900s? What if all the books about animals were found in one place, instead of wildlife being in the 500s while domesticated animals were in the 600s. ETc, Etc, Etc. And with that in mind, and with the pandemic making the year outrageous anyway, I decided to go all in and establish a new system.


The New System

Which brings me to the new system, which I call my “Adapted-Dewey” system when I want to sound professional. When I think I’m being funny I call it the “Franken-Dewey” system. The reason I still refer to Dewey for my system is that even tough I ditched Dewey, I only kind of mostly ditched him. I didn’t really create an entirely new system either though. In fact, at first glance a regular browser at my library would assume our library still went by the DDC. Because all of the books still have spine labels with numbers on them. Just like they do in the DDC.

I essentially took Dewey’s method for categorizing books according to numbers and I ran with that. I just stopped using most of the same numbers he used for many of the books. But I still have things categorized using a system that works by increments of 10s. And each 10 still stands for its own category. I also rearranged things so as to use as many whole numbers as possible, and as few decimals as possible. Here’s what my 10 broad categories look like:

  1. 000’s – Unused
    1. currently unused. I’m reserving it in case I need to add things later
  2. 100’s – Philosophy
    1. currently still used for philosophy, except no longer includes occult, inspiration, etc
  3. 200’s – Religion
    1. I still use 200s for religion but I reissued the categories under 200 so that Christianity does not get 8 sections of the 200s. Instead I tried to more equally spread the #s across all of the religions.
  4. 300’s – Social Science
    1. I still use the 300s for social sciences! But I removed all of the books that are historical, warfare, mythology, etc. This is where I have a lot of the books on topics like social justice, social “issues” like political divisiveness, propaganda, gun control, etc.
  5. 400’s – Unused
    1. currently unused. I’m reserving this category in case I need it later. In my system the books on Language are now found in the 800s section.
  6. 500’s – Sciences
    1. I still use the 500s for science books, though I have rearranged and recategorized the subcategories.
  7. 600”s – Health, Self, Help, and Wellness
    1. This section now focuses solely on things like health (anatomy, diseases, pharmaceuticals, sexual health, healthy relationships), Self (identity, gender/sexual identity, racial/cultural identity, neurodiversity identity, etc), Help (bullying, suicide, career planning, study guides, etc) and Wellness (anxiety, stress, inspiration, etc)
  8. 700’s – Hobbies, Recreation, & Creative Pursuits
    1. This section houses books on sports, cooking, gardning, fashion design, fine arts, video games, TV, movies, media, etc.
  9. 800s – Literature and Language
    1. This section is still pretty close to Dewey’s 800s in that I still use the same numbers for poetry and drama, literary criticism, etc. But I also added a section at the end for Languages, Travel, etc.
  10. 900s – History
    1. Just like in DDC the 900s are where my history books go, but I merged all of the warfare and military books from DDC’s 300s and 600s here too.

Check It Out

So now that I have my first rough draft of a new cataloging system, and now that I’ve re-cataloged and re-labeled all of my current books and moved the books to their new sections, the nonfiction section is looking and feeling really great! When I purchase new books I obviously have to hand-catalog each book and add the spine labels, but I was doing that anyway. I just keep my trusty “Adapted Dewey” spreadsheet open and that’s how I know which call # to use for each book. I will write a blog post eventually to share the results, how the students reacted, circulation stats, etc. Right now, with the pandemic, our library is physically closed so the students have not gotten to really enjoy the fruits of this labor yet. I can’t wait until they can!

If you want to see a virtual picture tour of my nonfiction section check out my other recent blog post.

If you want to peruse my categories you can download my spreadsheet:

You can also check out the screenshots I put here:

The 800s are still a work in progress, the 800-814s will be cleaned up and re-ordered, they are still using the same numbers mostly as DDC.

That’s a Wrap… For Now

Its important that you understand that this is my first draft of my new system, and I am still tweaking it and working on it. I do expect that it will be a living document which I will need to make changes to over the years. There are still some areas I’m not sure on and some things to be cleaned up. I also do understand that this is a lot of work, and that a lot of people are going to be judgey about me doing this. I know my students and my school community. I know how they have been using, or mostly not using, our nonfiction library collection. I know that something had to be done to try to change the path we were on. This is my first attempt at fixing some of the issues and in trying to revamp the library to have more of a bookstore vibe. I want students to enjoy browsing the nonfiction collection, and I want them to brose it successfully. I want them to be able to find what they want. And using clear signage, high interest categories, and logical groupings that meet general interests and curricular needs, this is how I’m hoping to accomplish this.

21 comments

  1. I love what you’ve done (we’ve done some changing at Milton, but nothing this extensive). Just one question about your 900s – what happened to Africa?

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    • Africa is in my 958.6 section although I’m actually still shifting my 900s (the 920s snd 930s are currently unused so I’ll be moving things around so as to use those areas up) so the current numbers are unlikely to remain as they currently look. I still have to fix a lot in the 800 and 900s 😊

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    • Kelsey,
      You have opened my eyes! Until tonight, I thought Dewey was the way to go – it is organized, consistent, and used all over which means knowing Dewey would allow me to go find my favourite Fairy Tales in any library. I thought that switching things up through genre-fication would create chaos. I thought it meant you would have 200s shelved with 900s and no one would know where to find anything. I wondered: How do you manage books that fit in more than one spot?! How do you choose what goes where?! These were big questions that I didn’t have answers to. Well, thanks to you, I now understand exactly why you ditched Dewey (or at least modified his work). Dewey needed an update. He needed to get into our progressive, inclusive, and forward thinking 21st Century. I really like how you came up with your new system and I can only imagine the absolute hours of work it took. It must have been like dismantling and reassembling a whole new library – with a whole lot of weeding and Dymo label printing! Thank you for taking the time to not only do this in your own library, but to share it with the rest of us so we can see that it is do-able and be less afraid to take this on in our own libraries. My brain cogs are already turning thinking about how this customization might work in my elementary school library.
      Ashley

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      • Hi Ashley, I’m so glad the blog post was helpful! I did indeed spend a ridiculous amount of hours studying the DDC, analyzing my collection, and running different configuration trials before I settled on this new system, but it was worth it! I wanted to still use numbers like Dewey did (though w less decimal points) because I wanted that part to translate for my students so that other libraries would not be completely un-navigateable to them but I wanted categories that worked better for a school library’s needs. So far it’s working well! Good luck with any collection changes you make! 😊

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    • lol our true crime section is the most popular nonfiction area at my HS so I tend to put anything relating to a crime or injustice in the criminal justice system in that area becuase it helps those books get more circulation

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    • It did not impact m process because I’ve always done my own cataloging. For anyone who orders books pre-cataloged/processed I imagine it would be a little bit more problematic. If I ordered books pre-cataloged and did not have a library assistant I likely would have done the reorganization a different way.

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  2. Hello, it is wonderful to see this advocacy work you are doing in your library! I am currently training to become a teacher-librarian, and your post has helped me see how a seemingly innocuous system can contain many dangerous and othering biases underneath the surface. Thank you! Do you think that changing away from the Dewey Decimal System is a trend that is starting to gain traction in schools or is this still a fairly new idea? I wish you the best of luck as you unveil the fruits of your labour to your students post-pandemic, and I will keep an eye out for your next blog detailing the results.

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    • Hi Lisa,
      I certainly would not say it is the norm in libraries in general. But in school libraries it is something that is starting to be seen more frequently (still not the majority though.) I think significant change in how school libraries are organized is inevitable but that it will be unlikely that everyone will come to a complete consensus on how to do it so I think we’ll probably see a lot of different approaches being implemented. 🙂

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  3. Hi Kelsey! You have inspired me to take on a similar project at my high school. I am really stuck on the 300s – they are a mess as you said! It feels like one big “miscellaneous” section. One thing I am unsure of is keeping the social justice books here especially Civil Rights movements – I think they should really be in the 900s with history. I saw you made a note about this on your document – is that something you are still considering?

    I also feel that government/law books would make more sense in or near the 900s. Government is in the history curriculum after all! I am thinking of dissolving my 800s section completely (I already have poetry and plays pulled out and no one uses the literary criticism) and using it for Law/Government instead of Literature.

    And I’m thinking about moving the environmentalism books to science. Honestly, most of the books in the 300s feel like they are separated from the content areas they should go under.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing, and I would love to collaborate with you and others who are re-envisioning Dewey. Maybe another Future Ready Librarians thread, or even a sub-group where we could discuss our struggles and successes?

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    • Hi Lorie, I completely agree with you on the 300s, they are a nightmare under Dewey. Military and warfare books are in 350, and 600s, and 940s… ugh! The only thing i have in my previous 800s section now is poetry and drama, I weeded most of the rest too. I did keep some of the literary criticism reference books since they are still used for a research project w our 11th graders but i just created a “reference” section to plop them into so i could get them out of my way in the nonfiction lol. I like your idea of repurposing the 800s for law and goverment so it would be near the 900s. I ditched the entire 400s language section and moved them into some of the empty 800s slots because I thought it made sense for language to be near poetry and geography. Moving things to where they seem to make most sense for you is the best thing to do. Regarding environmentalism, I found that half of the books were in the 300s and half were in the 500s, so i put them all together too. Mine ended up in the 300s under a new section i created since after changing everything the 300s ended up being my “social issues” section where i keep the books on topics our students often choose for their “opposing viewpoints” or “big issues” research. Animal rights, gun control, environmentalism, etc all got their own number in the 300s. I think you could easily move them to your 500s though, they really fit in either place. For the Civil Rights stuff I’m still pondering it. For now I’ve left them in my new “Antiracism & Civil Rights” section where I put books dealing with discrimination, antiracism, and civil and human rights movements. I moved the books on the LGBTQ rights movement and womens rights movements to this section too. I could see myself moving them to the 900s at some point and the only reason i have not yet is that i hesitate to indicate, even subtly, that the fight for civil rights is a historical thing when its very much a “still ongoing” thing. Im concerned that putting them in the 900s with the other history books might help promote the belief that some have that discrimination and civil rights movements are a “way back when” thing. But I change things a lot and whatever decisions ive made this year have a high likelihood of being revisited and changed in coming years lol.

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  4. I am in the process. And it is a process. I am also not a fan of the 300s. As a former history teacher, it all should be in one place. When students do history projects and want to do shelf surfing, not a single book in that 300 is looked at. Still plugging along here

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  5. Hi Kelsey, Thanks for sharing all your work and creating discussion. I have currently rethinking our nonfiction area. I love everything you’ve done but wonder where you’ve put the high-interest nonfiction like facts, guinness world records or even ghosts, zombies, mysteries. I’m thinking about a Weird and Wonderful collection in the 100s though was interested in what you came up with?

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    • Hi Kristy! I created a section in the 800s which is now my “culture, beliefs, & stories” section. That’s where I have mythology books now and I put the superstitions, folklore, spooky, paranormal stuff in that section next to mythology. Other things I have in my new 800s include plays, poetry, religion/faith, travel & culture, mythology, etc.

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  6. Thanks for the inspiration! I have a question about where you put any books on inventions (not necessarily historical) and cars and other forms of transportation (excluding anything historical or weapons). Thanks!

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    • So for cars, I put them in my 700s which is my “recreation, hobbies, skills” section. I have cars/motorcycles a section under hobbies (also in hobbies/skills are cookbooks, gardening guides, how to draw books, how to knit books, etc)

      For inventions I put them in 2 different places. If it relates to inventions more than 5-10 years old then I put it in a section in history. If it’s emerging and recent inventions then it goes in my 300s where I have a subsection to keep things that are technology related

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  7. Wow! I’ve been in the process of doing something similar to your early changes for a while now. I’ve done stuff like moving the ‘pets’ out of the 600s and into the 590s, consolidating the various ‘environment’ related areas, putting all the fashion into the 700s, etc. But I’ve been sticking quite close to Dewey in doing so – it’s been more about interpreting Dewey in a way most favourable to my circumstances, while actually not trying to change Dewey. It’s made things better, but having to work within the confines of Dewey does lead to certain unavoidable awkwardnesses still…

    I’ve read other blogs about ditching Dewey, but they were all about primary schools, and I guess I’d concluded that such an approach would be too simplistic for a secondary school library like mine. But seeing what you’ve done here… I don’t want to say I’m sold yet, but a seed has definitely been planted.

    I’ve already recently been convinced of the merits of genrefying the fiction (by a combination of your blog and others), and have just about convinced my head librarian to let me do this. Maybe, one day, this is next?

    I’d love to see an eventual update on this once it’s been in place for a while!

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