Happy October, HVLA! As my second first month of school wraps up, I’m amazed at how much easier this year has been, now that I already know almost everyone’s name.
That’s not the only reason why I’m feeling less overwhelmed this year, though. Over the summer I took the plunge and re-cataloged my library, replacing the Dewey Decimal system with Metis, the classification system created by Tali Kaplan, Sue Giffard, Andrea Dolloff, and Jennifer Still-Schiff, the librarians of the Ethical Culture school.
I first read about Metis in the September 2012 issue of SLJ. I was skeptical at first, but as the year progressed and I watched my students struggle with Dewey—not to mention my own struggles teaching kids who’ve barely grasped 3-digit numbers the concept of decimal points—I began to think about it more seriously. After numerous conversations with my school’s administration and other librarians, as well as HVLA’s winter meeting, which offered a workshop on that very subject, I decided to make the switch.
I could (and do) talk for hours about how nerdily fun it was—deciding on consistent language for sub-categories, figuring out how to adapt the system to meet the needs of my physical space, why I chose to put certain books where—but that may be for another day. What has been amazing is watching students navigate it, as well as seeing the different choices they are now making.
There is a fair amount of rote memorization still occurring, to be sure. Certain kids have memorized where the Scary section is, or the Adventure section, or Animals, and the younger ones haven’t yet grasped the alphabetical part of the organization. But unlike last year, where I watched them idly wander around waiting for something to jump out at them, they go specifically to Machines or Nature or Tales. They still ask for help, of course, but the help is now more along the lines of “Which of these books is the best?” rather than “Where are they?” Furthermore, many kids would go automatically to one shelf in picture books, which were only organized by author. If they liked Kevin Henkes, for example, they would only look on the “H” shelf, so they might find books by Holly Hobbie or Eric Hill, but not much else. But now the picture books are further subdivided (Family, for example, or Wordless) they have a greater diversity of titles in a smaller space. Kids who are fixated on a particular theme can read through the section, and others can jump more easily from subject to subject.
I’m also getting teachers to find their own books. One teacher wanted to create a unit around friendship, so I directed her to two sections—the “Friendship” subcategory in “Ourselves” (where books with a more specific didactic intent are located) and the “Friendship” subcategory of picture books (where books that are more story-focused than pedagogical live). She walked away with an armload that she found for herself, instead of me plucking the first three that came to mind off the shelf in between the million other things I had to do.
But I’m not worried that I’ve improved myself out of a job. Metis is an excellent tool, but it is not as delicate or precise an instrument as an individualized recommendation. And pointing a kid towards “Fantasy” can be fine, but there are plenty of students who really want that five-minute interaction where I put the perfect book for them in their hand. I believe that this re-organization has allowed me to delve more fully into my position, and use my skill set towards deeper, more meaningful interactions and selections, rather than being hurriedly trying to get a book, any book, into the hands of the 9 four-year-olds all clamoring for my attention at the same time in the ten minutes between story-time and when their teachers come and get them.