Newey Decimal System

Dewey vs. the Bookstore Model

When fourth graders are in charge of classification

“Dewey was so 1800’s.”

No, this is not a comment overheard at a librarians’ forum dedicated to the implementation of the bookstore model in libraries. These are the words of a 4th grader upon completion of our Dewey Decimal study unit.

Back in November we began our exploration of the breadth and depth of topics housed in the (primarily) nonfiction section of the library we call the Dewey Decimal section. Melvil himself guest lectured to introduce his classification system to the students. Early on, there were rumblings about some of Dewey’s designations and decisions. “Hey, we should make up our own system called the Newey Decimal System,” quipped one student.

Now here’s where the lesson could have gone in two directions. “Oh, what a cute idea”, I could have thought, diminishing the creativity and critical thinking of said student and sticking with the almighty planbook. Or, I could have been blown away by the thought of a NEW Dewey, one created by the kids themselves. The fastidious Dewey-obsessed librarian would have opted for the former. (I used to be that librarian). But the Librarian 2.0 said to herself, let’s get messy and give this a try.

And so, the day arrived after we had journeyed through all ten categories to take that giant leap forward. I started with a class assessment. To create something new, we needed to understand the old first. So, I challenged the students to recall the ten Dewey classes, which we recorded on the left hand side of the whiteboard. Surprisingly this was much easier for them than I had thought it would be. Future librarians all? Then we started brainstorming how we could make the classification system more child-friendly.

The ideas began to flow. Every single child contributed. Ideas coincided, collided and overlapped.

“There should be a separate category just for nature. Animals and plants together. Pets, gardening, wild animals and trees.”

“Geography and languages and cultures and cookbooks should go together.”

“You know how the ghost books are in one section (100’s) and the alien and mysterious creatures are in another (000’s)? They should be together.”

“There should be a ‘How-To’ section. It could have the drawing books, origami books, how to put on your own play…” “Maybe we should call it the ‘Boredom Busters’ section.”

“We need to have more than just ten sections.”

And then this one, which really surprised me–a suggestion to put the biographies, history and the historical fiction together, by topic. “They’re all about history” was the (obvious) explanation. Interestingly enough, this idea is not new and has been adapted (loosely) in at least one school library.

As of this writing, this Newey concept is still just that, something theoretical–a great culminating lesson, a summative assessment designed by the students themselves. But, why not get messy? Why not empower these children to ring out the old and ring in the Newey?

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5 Comments on “Newey Decimal System”

  1. I happen to know one of those students and she is very excited about your willingness to take this challenge with them.

  2. […] Newey Decimal Ah-ha moment […]


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