Dewey Decimal System: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jeremy Cook

I have been teaching elementary school for 16 years. I have extensive experience in lesson and curriculum development and educational technology.

Have you ever been to the library and wondered how they keep track of all those books? Well the library has a system called the Dewey Decimal System and it helps organize all those book. This lesson will teach you how to use the Dewey Decimal System.

What is the Dewey Decimal System?

The Dewey Decimal System was created by Melvil Dewey in the 1800s. He was a library guy and was hired by a library in Massachusetts to run their library. However, he ran into a problem. While fiction books were easy to organize based on the author's last name, non-fiction books, books that are based on real facts, events or people, couldn't work the same way. Think about trying to look for a book about trees by author! It would be impossible, especially since many non-fiction authors and publishers write about multiple topics.

He came up with a system of organizing the non-fiction books by dividing them into categories and organizing the categories and books based on numbers between 000 - 999. Each book has at least a three-digit number and the numbers are then put on the spine of the book so that you can easily see them when looking at books on the shelves. He called it the Dewey Decimal System, obviously named after himself.

Melvil Dewey was the creator of the Dewey Decimal System in 1876
melvil dewey

How is the Dewey Decimal System Organized

Dewey made 10 categories into which all non-fiction books could be placed. He then gave each category a name based on the information presented in the books. The category of the book is represented by the first digit. Each category is further broken down into divisions, which are represented by the second digit, and each division is further broken down into sections, the third number of the three-digit system. Let's look at an example.

Let's say you are looking for a book on lions. The book would be under the main category of Natural Science (nature). The natural sciences fall in the 500 category. So 500-599 are all in the natural sciences section. Lions are animals, which are in the 590 division, and more specifically, lions are mammals, which are in the 599 section. Many libraries are sorted even further down than that. So 500 is natural sciences, 599 is mammals and lions have a decimal point of 7. So the lion books would be under 599.7. This very specific number helps a ton if you are in a very big library where there are hundreds of mammal books to look through.

This library shelf is organized by the Dewey Decimal system
Library Shelf Labels

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