For years I’ve read other school librarians’ posts about rearranging their nonfiction collections so they look more like a bookstore: books arranged by student-friendly subjects rather than strict Dewey order. This summer I finally had the time and motivation to try this approach in my PreK-4 library. I was prompted in part by the Common Core’s increasing emphasis on nonfiction; if I’m going to to urge my young readers to try out the “true books,” I should make them more accessible, right? In my library that meant removing a lot of old, yellowing, noncirculating, way-too-hard books from the way-too-tight shelves, and then moving the remaining books down. Now my highest shelves are only for displays, and even my kindergartners can reach everything.
I borrowed the fabulous ideas of Donna Sullivan-Macdonald at Orchard School in South Burlington, Vermont and added objects like the bat above to my displays to help students orient themselves among the many shelves of nonfiction books. I also added Dewey-free shelf labels with pictures like the one below to help guide students to the most popular areas. The books are still in Dewey order, but now there are mini-sections for snakes, LEGO, horses, and other perennially popular topics.
My students came back to school on Wednesday and in those three days I’ve already seen my hard work (100.5 hours, I counted!) paid back many times over. Here are the highlights, and the reasons I think you should bookstorize your nonfiction too!
1. Easier for prereaders and new readers to find what they’re looking for independently. My first graders figured out right away where to look for the books about pets…under the stuffed dog, of course! And I heard them pointing out the pictures on the shelf labels as they looked for the LEGO books.
2. Easier for small hands to get books on and off the shelves. The nonfiction shelves used to be overcrowded and tight with too many books; now there is nothing to discourage my more tentative nonfiction readers from trying something new. It’s also easier for them to put the books back in the right places if they change their minds. Less librarian time spent reordering the shelves means more librarian time spent improving the library’s resources and lessons.
3. More appealing, less cluttered presentation means more students selecting nonfiction. The students and I spent our first library classes touring the library and noticing what was different. It was super gratifying when at least one student in each class pointed out there were new books now! In fact there are fewer books than before, and no new ones at all since last year (that’s the next part of my ongoing nonfiction project). But the culling, decluttering, rearranging, and labeling made the remaining books so much more accessible that students were finding titles they had never been able to find before.
Thanks to everyone who has posted pictures and summaries of their own bookstorizing projects over the last few years…it was great inspiration and it’s already been great for my students.