Spread the Nerd

Here at the Nerd Nest, we’re big on nerd pride. We live in a world where it’s cool to be smart, and we want a space in that world where others can share their nerdy interests with you too. Welcome to Spred the Nerd, a guest series where awesome nerds like us tell you about their nerdy area of interest and teach you a little something too.


Today’s Spread the Nerd is brought to you by Alissa of Life on Lakeland.

A Librarian's Guide to Dewey Decimal | Spread the Nerd with Alissa from Life on Lakeland

Ahhh the Dewey Decimal System strikes fear into the heart of library goers everywhere. But really it doesn’t have to – never fear nerds; I’m here to explain the Dewey to you.

First, what is the Dewey Decimal system? Well it’s this really brilliant way libraries (most libraries – some use Library of Congress, which you have to be an Advanced Nerd to figure out) organize books so they’re easy to find. The cool thing about Dewey is that it places like with like (or as us nerds call it relative positioning). So if you get the call number for just one book on a topic you’re interested in you’ll be able to find many more since books on similar topics will be shelved nearby. Obviously, as a librarian it is practically a requirement that I adore Dewey. However, job requirements aside I like Dewey because once you master the system it makes finding things so easy. They’re always in the same place no matter what library you visit (I can never find anything in bookstores; it’s too subjective) and the system as expanded as new topics appear.

This highly flexible system was created in 1876 and has allowed for expansion and inclusion of topics that weren’t around (such as digital photography and computers) when creator Melville Dewey was coming up with his numbering scheme.

So here’s what you need to know about the Dewey. First – it only applies to nonfiction (books that are TRUE). So if you’re looking for a biography, a cookbook, a law book, a self-help book, or a travel book you need to know the number. If you want to find the latest James Patterson book you’ll need to visit the fiction section where books are filed by the author’s last name. Now if you look up a non-fiction book in the library’s catalog or ask a librarian and they give you a call number – that is the code you need to break to find the book.

So you have what librarians named a “call number” something like 613.25 MIC. The numbers refers to the subject area and the letters are the first three of the author’s last name. The longer the call number, the more specifically the book is placed in the subject.
So what do those numbers mean anyway? Dewey is broken into 10 classes, and within each class the topics get narrower. I’ve tried coming up with a pneumonic but have failed. So here’s the quick guide in simple language with favorite topics here at the Nerd Nest highlighted:

We start in the 000s which are books about general knowledge, so you’ll find books about aliens, computers and the encyclopedias here. Jake would want to check out this section for computer help.

100s are all about me (well not me personally, but they are the books about the self). 158.1 is where most self-help (think Dr. Phil) books are located. I’m all about self-improvement so you’ll find me here.

200s are all about God. All books about religion are in this section. In the 300s are books about our interaction with other people. This is where the sociology, politics, legal and financial books are located.

A Librarian's Guide to Dewey Decimal | Spread the Nerd with Alissa from Life on Lakeland

The 400s are language books including foreign language phrase books and English books. It’s the 400s Eliza will want to head to for French phrase books.

Math, science and wildlife are located in the 500s.

The 600s are all about making things happen – medicine, health/fitness, car repair, parenting, and business books are all located here. Since Jonas is all about baking and being a great sous chef for Megan, they would head here for the cooking books in 641, followed by baking in 641.8. Gardening, another Nerd Nest favorite topic, is also here in 635.If you’re using your hands think 600s.

A Librarian's Guide to Dewey Decimal | Spread the Nerd with Alissa from Life on Lakeland

The 700s are about creativity and leisure. This is where Megan can find the scrapbooking books and Jake the photography books. You’ll also find sports, art and game books.

In the 800s are literature– Shakespeare, essays, poems, books on writing (to help Megan with her novel) can all be found here.

A Librarian's Guide to Dewey Decimal | Spread the Nerd with Alissa from Life on Lakeland

Finally, we reach the huge 900s section, which is travel, geography and history. So this would include books about going to France for Eliza (in the 914s) as well as French history (944).

And that is the key to cracking the Dewey code. So check out your local library and show of your Dewey knowledge! You can print out this quick guide or take a stab at memorizing the numbers.


Alissa is a crafty librarian and mom to two girls. She is obsessed with project life and blogs about reading, crafting, and her life at her blog Life on Lakeland. Have anymore dewey related questions? Chat with her on twitter @lifeonlakeland.


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