Melvil’s Dewey System

Writing is everywhere.

And for thousands of years, people have been collecting writing.

In Mesopotamia, thousands of years ago, there were libraries with collections of thousands of clay tablets.  In the land of the pyramids, in Egpyt, there was a famous library with about 500,000 scrolls made of papyrus.  In  two thousand years ago, writing started to appear on pages bound together into codexes, what we call books. And soon, throughout the Roman Empire, public libraries were opened.  The pages of these books were made of parchment, thin layers of animal skin.  But by 1500, most books in Europe were written on paper.

A little over 150 years ago, a young man in the United States came up with a way of organizing all the books in libraries.  His system became so popular that it is now used in thousands and thousands of libraries all over the world.

Melvil Dewey was born in in a small town in the state of New York during the winter of 1851. Right from young, he liked organizing things. He also liked math.  So, when he got older and went to college and got a job in a library, he created a new system. Using his love of organization and and his knowledge of mathematics, he invented his own system for arranging books in 1876.

Melvil divided all the books into 10 main classes or categories. And he gave all those books numbers.  You will not be surprised to hear that his organized system is now called the Dewey Decimal Classification System.

Here is how the Dewey system works:

0.  0 to 99, includes all the encyclopedias, all the books about computers and all the books about topics that will not fit anywhere else. It is the section for generalities and collections on all sorts of topics.

1.  100 to 199,  includes books about philosophy and psychology, all the books about our relationship with ourselves, about how we think and feel and behave.

2.  200 to 299, leads us to our relationship with God. It includes books about religion and mythology, It tells us about all sorts of religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, and all sorts of myths about Greek, Roman and Norse gods.

3.  300 to 399, talks about our relationships with other people. It covers the social sciences. Here you will find books about people’s customs and how they organize themselves. You will find books on clothing and etiquette, nursery rhymes and fairy tales, schools and governments, money and transportation systems.

4.  400 to 499, talks about how we communicate with all those other people in the world. It contains all the books on the languages of the world, even extinct languages such as hieroglyphics. English, French, German, Korean, Russian and Swahili dictionaries are all found in this section.

5.  500 to 599,  moves away from people to address the natural world around us. This is the section for books about mathematics and chemistry, for books about planets and stars, mountains and rivers, viruses and microbes, plants and animals.

6.  600 to 699, describes how people use that natural world. This is where we find books about medicine and cooking, farming and pets, engineering and manufacturing.

7. 700 to 799, reminds us of the seventh day of the week when we are supposed to finally have time to rest. Here you will find all the books on sports and recreation.   Collections of riddles and jokes are in this section.  Books about music, arts and crafts, dance and sport are all found here.

8.  800 to 899 takes us to a whole new level of sophisticated thought. After having a rest, we are ready to read literature: poetry, drama, short stories and novels.   Of course, you will have noticed that many of the novels are no longer in the 800s. Many libraries have so many novels that they have put all those books in their own section called Fiction. And many libraries put all the illustrated short stories in a section called Picture Books. But really, they all belong in the 800s.

9.  900 to 999 takes us travelling around the whole world. It is the section for people who have learned all they can about the people and things and ideas around them and are ready to travel. Books about famous people are in this section.  Books about countries of the world and books about the history of the world are all found in this final section of the Dewey Decimal Classification System.


 So, the next time you are in your school or public library, take a look at how it is organized.  If it uses the Dewey system, you know you can quickly find what you are looking for without getting confused.

 [This page may be copied for personal use or use with students if the following credit is provided: ©2014 Sophie Rosen.]  

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Click HERE to find some online games using the Dewey Decimal System.

A few sources of information if you want to learn more:
 “Alexandrian Library.” World Book Student. World Book, 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.
Vega, Robert D. “Library.” World Book Student. World Book, 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.
Williams, James G. “Dewey, Melvil.” World Book Student. World Book, 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.
Wills, Jon. “Dewey Decimal Classification.” World Book Student. World Book, 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.

 If you want to do a presentation for credit, here are the expectations:

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