Waves of attention: nonfiction

A lot has gone down this year, and with it my ability to write and document my professional life as a librarian. Someone approached me yesterday with a request to weigh in on an aspect of teacher-librarianship and I gave her my professional opinion and referred back to a blog-post I’d written in 2017 and was astounded at how much more certain and engaged I’d been. So I’m challenging myself to write a few articles about things that have garnered attention and time and effort in the past year. The first of which is the library’s nonfiction section.

Nonfiction has come under scrutiny lately for two main reasons – the first a type of existential crisis – is there any place for nonfiction in the modern school library at all, given the rate at which nonfiction ages and the ubiquity of finding information on the internet? The other an identity crisis – libraries and librarians using the DDC (Dewey Decimal Classification) system are becoming more aware of the inherent bias and flaws baked into a system created by a misogynistic white American male in the early 1900s. I’ll address each of these in turn with some practical steps I’ve taken in my Middle School Library to ameliorate the issues.

Physical nonfiction’s right to exist:

To be written about in the next post.

Personalising DDC:

I’d very much like to begin by crediting Kelsey Bogan’s thought leadership in this area (please read her 3 blog posts one; two; three on “Ditching Dewey”). While many aspects of the DDC bugged me from my start in librarianship – try explaining to a bunch of 8 year olds why puppies and kittens aren’t in the same section as wolves and cheetahs – I’d spent the first few years in school libraries just tweaking around the edges so that it made sense to a primary school audience without taking a stance.

When I moved to Middle School librarianship the problems just continued to irk me more – and funnily enough, before I’d started reading Kelsey’s blog – my journey was more or less similar. Being in an MYP school doing inquiry units, it was a pain to find all our books on the middle ages (How Dark were the Dark Ages) scattered between the 300’s, 600’s and 900’s. And if we had a problem tracking them all down – imagine how well the average G7 student was doing – well they weren’t – they just went and did a google search at worst, or looked at the libguide at best. So we sought them all out and put them into 940.1. And we also put them in the libguide linked to the catalogue via “Library Things for Libraries” AND pulled them all when the unit came around and put them on display to lower the threshold even further.

The next step was the “Forces of Nature” unit dealing with natural disasters. Those all now have a shelf to themselves in the Maths & Science section under Earth Science 551.

We also have separate sections completely for Memoirs, Biographies, Theatre, and Poetry, and our fiction collection is genrified. Our Nonfiction Graphic Novels are shelved with their non-graphic equivalent otherwise they got neglected.

But for us the most important part of our nonfiction besides tying into the curriculum is that as a school we support the values of the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals – or Global Goals) and it was always really hard to find the many many books we have related to the goals, because once again, they were everywhere except where you expected to find them.

And in order not to traumatise any future librarians taking over my library (I’m leaving in June) and to soften the hysteria of any traditionalists in love with DDC we decided to try and match the 17 Goals as closely as possible to existing DDC numbers which meant locating them in the 300’s section.

Of course DDC predates the 17 goals by quite a lot and so the numbers of the goals and those of the classification are a bit higgledy-piggledy so this is where we landed up:

  • GOAL 1: No Poverty – 362.5 Poverty
  • GOAL 2: Zero Hunger – 363.8 Hunger
  • GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being – 305 Health & Well Being (including subject headings for meditation, mindfulness, emotions & feelings, healthy living, physical fitness and 305.1 Puberty & Sex Education)
  • GOAL 4: Quality Education – 370 Education
  • GOAL 5: Gender Equality – 305.3 Gender equality & feminism
  • GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation – 333.91 – Clean Water & Sanitation
  • GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy – 333.79 – Clean Energy
  • GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth – 331 Labour Economics
  • GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure – 339 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality – 305.9 Inequalities within and among countries
  • GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities – 307 Sustainable cities & communities
  • GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production – 339 Responsible consumption & production
  • GOAL 13: Climate Action – 363.7 – Climate Action environmental problems, including waste/trash/recycling, pollution, global warming
  • GOAL 14: Life Below Water – 363.73 WATER Environmental problems related to biological resources (water)
  • GOAL 15: Life on Land – 363.73 LAND Environmental problems related to natural resources (land)
  • GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions – 325 Refugees / immigration civil war, genocides, child soldiers, SDG: peace, justice and strong institutions
  • GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal – 327 International Relations

A couple of things that were difficult to separate out were things like whether to put the scientific solutions to energy / climate / environmental problems in with the related goal DDC which mainly dealt with the sociological and problematic issues or to put them with the related scientific section – in the end, because our Individuals & Societies curriculum deals with the problems and our Science Department with the Science (although through IDUs and collaboration they often are combined) we decided to separate the more “science” books from the more “social” books. We also do some units on Human Body systems – biological – including reproduction so we put the puberty from a biological standpoint in with Biology (572) and the social emotional aspects in Health and Well-being (305.1)

Another section that really bugged me was Myths and Legends and Fairytales – since our G6’s were doing a beautiful new unit Stories worth Sharing “Creating and sharing stories teaches us about our relationship with the natural world and our role as lifelong caretakers of our planet.” that was an impetus to pull out the whole section and give it its own area in the library and split the section and subsections to better reflect the international nature of the stories and with a separate number in each instance for China (not just under Asia) as that’s where we’re located:

  • 390 Customs, etiquette, folklore
    • 393 Death Customs
    • 394 Chinese traditions
  • 398 Myths, legends and fairy tales
    • 398.2 Myths and legends
    • 398.21 Myths of Asia
    • 398.22 Myths of China
    • 398.23 Myths of Europe
    • 398.24 Myths of Greek
    • 398.25 Myths of Americas
    • 398.26 Myths of Africas
    • 398.27 Myths of Australia / New Zealand
    • 398.28 Myths of Others (mix)
  • 398.3 World fairy tales (famous tales)
    • 398.31 Grimm fairy tales
    • 398.32 Andersen fairy tales
    • 398.33 European tales
    • 398.34 Asian fairy tales
    • 398.35 Chinese fairy tales
    • 398.36 Americas fairy tales
    • 398.37 African fairy tales
    • 398.38 Australia/New Zealand fairy tales
    • 398.39 Other tales (world tales)

A few of the other things we did were to put domestic animals in with mammals (599) and to keep the 600’s for applied sciences – including engineering, inventions and innovations (another of our units) and our very nice collection of cook-books. They’re now getting much more attention.

We’ve also created a master document of the changes we made and in each instance also put in the suggested subject headings that would go with the classifications – because otherwise with all different people and systems doing cataloguing your subject headings tend to just expand and expand. Looking back at Kelsey’s latest post this aligns a bit with what she was writing about in Dewey Ditch #3: Trying a BISAC Hybrid except her post came up after we’d completed our massive undertaking!

Our purchasing department got us some very nice signage where we can make our own inserts.

Of course as we went along we found gaps in the collection and we also did a HUGE weeding exercise so now the collection is tighter and more relevant both to our curriculum and to the interests of our students.

This is not an exercise for the faint of heart – it took all our staff every spare minute they had when not cataloging or processing or doing their general library tasks plus a lot of discussion and thinking. But it will breathe a new lease of life into your nonfiction collection and increase circulation and interest.

I’m fascinated to know what choices other MYP librarians in particular have made, and also any schools that do a lot of education around the SDGs.

2 thoughts on “Waves of attention: nonfiction

  1. Thank you, we are about to be refurbished so are doing a lot of weeding and reorganising and this is really helpful, best wishes, Liz


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