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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!

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