Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I Ditched the Dewey: A personal journey of making the switch

After 10 years of teaching I landed my dream job of being a teacher librarian! When I took the position we were still using card catalog! (I am not talking electronic card catalog either) That first year students were signing their names on the check out cards and I was stamping them with a return date. I am not kidding I still have the stamp:) To my horror the library was arranged & color coded by reading levels. I knew things had to change. My first goal was to raise enough funds, beg, borrow & plead for an electronic cataloging system. Once that goal was accomplished I took my summer break to enter books into the system. As I was doing that I arranged the library by the Dewey Decimal System. Now I was on the right track and doing everything by the book and by what I was taught while obtaining my Master's Degree. Then the debates started about ditching the Dewey. At first my thoughts were purely selfish. There was no way I was going to catalog my books again and rearrange the library!!!! It would be a shame to ditch the Dewey. There is so much curriculum out there and I have spent so much time on teaching this system to my students (again these were pretty selfish thoughts).

I began to focus on my library program and not the way the books were arranged. I began implementing centers (thanks to Cari Young's book "The Centered School Library" ) and things are going way better than I expected. Students use to complain if they had to miss P.E. Now they complain if they have to miss library. (that absolutely melts my heart) Now that my program was taking off I decided to revisit the Dewey debate again. I was getting all my information from blogs and journal articles. What I really needed was the opinions of my colleagues and of my students. They were the ones benefiting from my program and everything I do is to enrich their teaching and learning experiences. So I did some soul searching and asked myself "Why are you adamant about keeping the Dewey Decimal system?". Here is what I came up with:
1. Every is doing it (so I thought)
2. I am preparing them to be lifelong learners so they need to know the Dewey Decimal in order to find books at the Middle School, High School, College & Public Libraries. 

Two reasons! That was it. Two reasons! Reason #1, I know better than to "stick" with the crowd. I didn't want to go against them but I wanted to stand out and do what was best for my program.  Reason #2 I visited and talked with other local librarians (we only have 4 teacher librarians including myself and 1 public librarian) My question was "When my students come to you are they able to locate books on their own?"  The answer was not what I was expecting, "I wouldn't know because we can't get passed them asking me first" or "my easy section is not set up by the Dewey Decimal". I know my students know how to find their own books I have taught them and they do it in my library. Talking about being frustrated! 

After 12 years in the library I have decided to ditch the Dewey. My oldest son is a Sophomore in college and gets everything he needs from the library's online data base. He doesn't use the Dewey Decimal system. My oldest daughter is a Senior in high school and orders books from Amazon or shops at book stores. She doesn't use the Dewey Decimal system. My youngest daughter is in third grade and loves the new set up because she can easily find books that interest her. 

The world is changing and we have to be willing to change too. Change is hard (especially for a veteran teacher like myself). But my passion is my students and if I have to ditch the Dewey to meet their needs then so be it. I now have time to focus on their needs.  When you enter my library you will see problem solving, text engagement, expressing learning through technology, building story settings with Legos, researching and writing. You will also see students reading to self, listening to reading, putting on a puppet show or using the flannel board to retell a story. 

An added bonus is how cute my library looks with colorful totes holding books. And adorable labels from Jane Loretz!

I don't think anyone can tell you whether to ditch the Dewey or not. Every library and situation is unique and different. I had spent many years soul searching and came up with a conclusion that met the needs of my school community (a very small PreK-5 school) Do what works for you and your program! Best of Luck!


  1. I have changed my high school fiction section and categorized it by genre and it has worked great!! The kids love finding all their favorite books in one place.

  2. Hi AMy! I'm so glad I found your blog and to see you are in Tennessee!I teach in rural Middle TN, and I'll start my 2nd year of teaching in January. I just love your blog and it inspires me to go full speed ahead with mine! I hope you continue to post, if time allows :)