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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Our New Library System

It's been a fascinating process watching students negotiating Metis, our new categorization system, and tracking how they have been using our collection. While some of the new categories, such as Animals, represent more or less the same books as the corresponding Dewey sections (differently organized and named), there are some categories which I think of as synthetic, in that they pull together books which were scattered in Dewey. One such category is "G MakingStuff."

In the MakingStuff category we put all the books about crafts, activities, games, drawing: in fact, anything that kids might want to do for fun, including putting on plays, magic tricks, cooking, origami and collecting stamps. This includes books on models scattered through the 620s, cooking and sewing books from the 640s, and books from many different sections of the 700s.

The category, like nearly all of our categories, is arranged by subdivisions with the name of the craft or activity organized alphabetically. The use of whole words in the call number and on the spine label, along with the picture label on each book, makes it possible for students to easily identify where the category begins and ends, and to jump from one subtopic to another.

Watching students use this section has been interesting and exciting. There is quite often a group of students clustered around the area, and students help other students to find books on a craft or activity. I watched a third grader one morning begin by looking at a book on paper crafts, and then move on to a book about how to sew, which was the book he eventually checked out. This natural and simple segue from paper craft to sewing could never have happened with Dewey: it would have entailed a jump from 735 to 646. Our cooking books have never been better used; the same goes for the drawing books and many other crafts.

Our circulation statistics bear this out. The books in this section have seen an amazing 87% increase in circulation for the first three months of the school year. This is a category that 4th grade students specifically asked for last year when we discussed with them the ways that they thought about categorizing information and books, and it has been one of the most successful areas of our new system.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

TALES in the upper library (3rd-5th grade)

One attention-grabbing character to come on the scene is Percy Jackson, monster-battling demigod. If your child enjoys the Percy Jackson series or any of Rick Riordan’s other fantasy-mythology blending characters, chances are you’ll find lots of similar stories to gobble up in this part of the library!

Our Tales section contains folk and fairytales, myths, and legends. In addition, we’ve placed many novels based on those original tales right alongside the sources of their inspiration.

Some full-length books to try:

Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman based on Norse myths. A boy’s adventure wtih Thor, Loki and Odin to defeat the monstrous Frost Giants.

The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale creates a world where a princess can converse with birds and a treacherous servant will get her just desserts.

Beauty: A Retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast, by Robin McKinley. At two decades old, this is one of the earliest novelizations of a popular fairy tale to be written for older elementary students. Descriptions and dialogue and a look into the characters brings Beauty alive for readers who are looking for more depth after enjoying the Disney movie version.

The Thirteenth Princess, by Diane Zahler in which an unknown youngest sister of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” must rely on her courage to save her siblings from enchantment.

The Golem: a version by Barbara Rogasky and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman is an engrossing and frightening tale of prejudice and liberation set in Prague.

Short versions of Tales are also located in this part of the library. Browse traditional collections or some beautifully illustrated stories for older children.

I hope you will find some new favorites for your family! ---Jennifer Still

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Doing Away with Dewey - A Library Student's Perspective

I count my lucky stars that I have been able to fulfill my library school fieldwork hours at the Ethical Culture School's Library this Fall. It's been fascinating to witness the library's shift to their new organizational system, "METIS," aptly named after the Greek goddess of wisdom and deep thought. From my first time visiting the library, I sensed an excited energy amongst the students as they eagerly browsed the newly arranged shelves and found the books they sought. I listened as they deliberated amongst themselves where a certain book might be found, would it be in humor or sports? Is it about pets or about potions? And which of the genres does that connect to? Then, their eyes dart to the alphabetized icons displayed on the large wall, guiding them to the proper section. We have all relished that small victory in finding the right book, and it's been a joy seeing the children succeed in their intuitive searching. As a library student, I am required to learn about the various classification and organization systems utilized by libraries and at the moment I am in the midst of Dewey, that infamous decimal system that has been baffling students (and teachers) since 1876 when it was created. Observing METIS in action while learning about Dewey in school has created quite the interesting juxtaposition! Dewey's classification system works on decimals arranged in ascending order, which is inherently problematic for young children who don't yet possess the necessary decimal point know-how to navigate it. METIS is an alphabetized system, which is far more universal and practical for the children to work with. The iconic nature of METIS, with its colorful symbol for each genre/section, gives students the visual cues to make the connections they need when searching. These visuals follow through to the spine of the book, along with an extra symbol indicating the "nature" of the book: a blue star for information or a red star for imagination. It's almost like a fun game for the children to scavenge for the book they seek, but unlike Dewey's confusing numbers, they are guided by many friendly helpers along the way. In this sense, they are less dependent on the librarian and more excited to find books and read. The other wonderful advantage of a system like METIS is that it lends to "accidental" searching, allowing a student who might not be completely sure of what he or she is seeking to find a good match. For example, a student might be in the mood for a fairy tale so they would peruse the Tales section. There they could find original fairy tales alongside modern fractured fairy tales, such as Goldie and the Three Bears by Diane Stanley (which Tali read to her Kindergarteners today). With Dewey, they might never have come across this unique genre simply because they wouldn't know to search for it in the first place! Think of all the serendipitous searches to come. Ultimately, the goal of any organizational system is to benefit the user, and in our case, the students. It's about increasing the number of those small victories and giving them the tools to access the information they seek. Dewey may have its seniority and all, but I feel strongly that its place is far from the school library. After all, the school library is a place for children to freely explore and transcend the bounds of space and time through reading, and all those decimals were just weighing things down.


Daphna S. Amar

CUNY Queens College

Graduate School of Library & Information Studies

Vice President of QC LISSA

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


by Andrea Dolloff

Although Dewey wasn't exactly "broke," we still wanted to "fix it." “Why?” you ask. Because informing a six year old that she’ll find books on magic at 793.8 didn't feel entirely helpful. And even more challenging was explaining that while Goldilocks certainly learned valuable lessons after her unlawful break and entry, she can be found at 398.209242: among the other non-fiction shelves.

This kind of mulling lead our team of librarians at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City to lay to rest the respected but rather antiquated Dewey Decimal System, and create a whole new one that we have named proudly, "Metis."

In Greek Mythology, Metis was the goddess of wisdom and deep thought. And it was exactly "deep thought" that we found ourselves steeped in…knee deep actually, for the last 8+ months. Our task was to figure out where the location of each and every book in our collection of 20,000 would make the most sense to students between 5 and 12 years old. Our goal was to create a user friendly, flexible, and intuitive system that would enhance the naturally inclined reader's experience in exploring and locating books of interest, while also reaching out to the less inclined, and create a supportive and enticing environment.

Upon reflection, we had been grappling with Dewey's system for quite some time, making modest attempts to simplify and improve accessibility for the children. But it wasn’t until December 2010, when one of our librarians shared an article about a public library in Connecticut that had done away with Dewey and created a broad subject based system for ages 0-5, that the quest truly took hold. We stood around our colleague's desk as she read the article out loud, nodding our heads in curious agreement, while interjecting occasionally, "Hmm. Nice. Cool. But it wouldn’t work here."

If you know anything about librarians, you know this: they are generally helpful, pleasant, kind, well mannered, and patient. In addition, they tend to be inconspicuously adventurous and sometimes…they can be…well, overly ambitious.

Throughout the spring sections were created by sorting through and integrating both fiction and non-fiction books based on their topic. The lower library’s (pre K - 2nd grade) experiment began with clearly defined sections for "celebrations" "scary" and "transportation" books. In the upper library, fiction was broken down into genres such as "humor" "mystery" "science fiction" etc. serving as litmus tests for ease of browsing, statistics on circulation, and overall enjoyment of the library space. The feedback from students was strikingly positive and enthusiastic, leading us to commit to spending our approaching summer realizing this vision in full.

Holding on to our convictions we arrived day-by- day, and sorted book by book. Some days were fun and exhilarating, while others were stressful and downright overwhelming. Thankfully however, almost every day was made up of rich and thoughtful conversations contemplating the most sensible and useful place for each book. Admittedly, by the last two weeks of August, as we stood in our maze of piles and piles and piles of books, we too, with tears, questioned, "Why?" But when students arrived on September 8th, 2011, not only was Metis up and running, we librarians had never felt more ready and excited about opening day.

We have yet to determine thoroughly if our system works. We believe it does but will remain open and committed to adjusting as we observe our students in action. The library belongs to them, and Metis was created to show them just that.

Next, we tackle the website!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The EC library will whet your APP-etite for fun!

Your librarians want to guide you to find the best apps---games you can feel good about handing to your child (when they beg to play with your electronics!), so we’ll be providing reviews here, and in the EC Bulletin.

Today’s tasty morsel:
GeoMaster ($0.99) tests your knowledge of the US states, the countries of the world, their capitals, cities and flags. Choose a wrong answer, and the game highlights the correct one for instant feedback and memorization. Compare your high score to a friend's or try to beat your personal best-- competition is a great motivator for memorizing geography!

GeoMaster for iPad and iPhone at the Apple App Store; a "lite" version is available for free, but only includes the U.S. states.

You can try these apps with your child after school during open library hours.