The library is generally presumed to be one of the most organized places on the planet. Then why are all of the books you are looking for never in just one spot? The reason is the Dewey Decimal Classification System. 

The Dewey Decimal System is the method used to organize information books in the majority of libraries across the country. The great thing about everyone using the same system is that you can find your favorite topic in the same place at the Stillwater Public Library or the New York Public Library!

However, the Dewey System has been around for a very long time - over 100 years! It also has a big job. It is attempting to organize every topic ever written about. The resulting system is one with many quirks.

My favorite example to use is horses. You would think that all horse books would be placed together in one spot, but they aren’t! The Dewey System separates them according to the specific type of horse information covered in the book.

Scientific information about horses, especially wild horses, are in the animal section of the 500s – specifically 599.72. 

Information about how to care for horses as pets or farm horses is located in the 600s – specifically 636.1. 

But, if the book is focused on a horse sport, like dressage or horse racing, it will be in the 700s sports section – specifically 791.8. 

Also, don’t forget that there are art books to learn how to draw horses, and those will be located in 743. 

Whoa, Nelly! There are a lot of different places to find horse books.

A few other quirks you may stumble across are items in the non-fiction, aka information section, that are not information books. These include folklore and fairy tales (398), graphic novels (741.5), and poetry (811). 

It may seem daunting to figure out at first, but by looking at the overarching classifications it starts to become a little clearer. 

 When in doubt ask your librarian as they are always ready to help you on your quest to learn more! There are also free bookmarks available at our library with the Dewey System categories printed on it.

Get to know Dewey with this handy guide:

• 000-General Knowledge: unexplained mysteries (UFOs, Bigfoot, etc.), computers, computer programming, miscellaneous fact books, publishing

• 100- Philosophy/Psychology: also includes paranormal phenomena (ghosts, dreams) logic, ethics, self-help

• 200- Religion: theory of religion, religious texts, world religions

• 300- Social Sciences: sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, law, military, education (most test prep books), true crime, customs and folklore

• 400- Language: linguistics, world languages, dictionaries

• 500- Science and Math: astronomy, physics, chemistry, earth sciences, plants, wild animals

• 600- Technology: health, agriculture (farming and gardening), home economics and family living (cookbooks and sewing), business management, building and construction

• 700- Arts & Recreation: landscaping, architecture, sculpture, painting, drawing, graphic novels, photography, music, sports and games

• 800- Literature: poetry, plays, essays, speeches, writing guides and humor

• 900- History/Geography: also includes travel guides and maps, genealogy.

Elizabeth Murray is a children’s librarian at the Stillwater Public Library. 

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