During inventory, at the end of my first year as a librarian in a K-5 elementary school, I discovered that I had many easy nonfiction books that had never been checked out. (In this post, “easy“ refers to books on or below a second grade reading level.) Many of these books were brand new. The nonfiction section in my school library was not easily accessible to my younger, K-2 students. The books were on floor to ceiling shelves near the fiction section. My library’s picture book section was in the other end of the library.
Because my K-2 students were too young to understand how to use the catalog, I spent a lot of time running back and forth between the picture book shelves and the nonfiction shelves during K-2 check out. While this was great for my daily step count, it created a very chaotic check-out time.
The summer after my first year, I created a user-friendly space for my K-2 students, where easy nonfiction books and picture books were in one location. I reorganized the area where my picture books were. I weeded the picture books to create shelf space for my easy nonfiction books. Since I had more easy nonfiction books than shelf space, I also bought four crates to place in this area. I would put my four largest easy nonfiction sections–ocean creatures, reptiles, pets, and wild animals–in these crates.
During my end-of-year inventory, I sorted through all of my nonfiction books and pulled the easy ones.
After pulling the books, I added a purple “Early Reader” sticker to the spine above the call number on all the easy nonfiction books. This label is a visual reminder that these books are shelved in the “Easy Section” of my library. I did not change the status of the books in the catalog. If students are looking for books on dinosaurs, they know that there are two different locations that book may be.
Next, I labeled the shelves with pictures of different Dewey classifications: holidays, dinosaurs, insects, birds, etc. The Dewey number is also beside the picture. I also labeled the four nonfiction crates. The shelves are low to the ground and easily accessible to my K- 2 students, which promotes independence. If K-2 students want a book about magnets, they go to the shelf where the magnet picture is.
The Benefits of an Easy Nonfiction Section
There are many benefits to having an easy nonfiction section in your elementary library. K-2 students are exposed to the Dewey classification system before they are formally taught it in third grade. Armed with this background knowledge, my third-grade students are much more adept at finding nonfiction books using the catalog.
I have time during K-2 check out to informally teach my students how to use Dewey, instead of running to the other end of the library searching for books. Because my picture books and easy nonfiction books are in the same area of the library, students are no longer aimlessly wandering through the stacks like miniature zombies. They have a purpose and know exactly where to go for the books they want.
Books that had previously been scorned by upper-grade students are now being loved by lower-grade students.
Although it took a few weeks of my summer to make this change, having an easy nonfiction section in my K-5 library was well worth the effort.
Author: Colleen R. Lee
Colleen R. Lee is a former middle school English teacher and Elementary Teacher. She is currently the Elementary Librarian at Greenfield Elementary School in Chesterfield County, VA. Follow her on Twitter @MrsLeesLibrary.