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How to Teach Library Skills

Updated on September 24, 2012
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How to help your child get more out of the public library

The local library offers a lot of advantages to young people: there are books to read for pleasure, resources to discover for schoolwork, and many wonderful items in different mediums that are entertaining and life-enhancing. However, young people can't take advantage of these resources unless they know how to find them. This is where you come in as a parent. Here are some steps that you can take to help your child make the most of his or her public library experience.

Look around, and find out where everything is

Your toddler may be attracted to the cartoons in the manga section, but she isn't going to understand them and she might rip the book. Your teenager might find the picture book section embarrassing. If you want to help your children be comfortable during their trip to your local library, take a few minutes to figure out the layout and know which areas are most appropriate for your children. Here's a quick guide to some of the sections your local library may have for young people's materials.

Picture books - These are typically illustrated books with lively, imaginative stories that parents can read to their children in preschool and early elementary school. The picture book section might include books that won the Caldecott Award - an award given out each year to the picture book published in the United States which is honored for having the most outstanding illustrations. Here's an example of a picture book - "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown.

Important tip: Most picture books are shelved by author.

Easy Readers - These are sometimes confused with picture books, but they have a slightly different purpose. Easy readers generally have very simple stories and short words in short sentences. They are developed to give very young elementary school children some practice reading. One of the most successful authors of Early Readers was Dr. Seuss, who created "The Cat in the Hat."

Important tip: Most easy readers are shelved by author.

Board Books - These tough, sturdy little cardboard books are designed to be the perfect size for little hands to grasp, and very hard to tear up. They are meant to be used by babies and toddlers who are just learning how to handle books. They usually have bright, vibrant colors and very simple language on the pages. Many picture books are sometimes made into board books, as is the case with this much beloved story - "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle.

Important tip: Board books may be shelved by author - but don't count on them really being in exact order when you find them on the shelves!

Juvenile Fiction - Also known as "Chapter Books", these are novels written for children between the ages of about six and twelve. In this section, you might find books that have won the Newbery Award for being the outstanding fictional book of the year for young people. One example of Juvenile Fiction is the beloved classic, "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White.

Important tip: Most chapter books are shelved by author.

Juvenile Nonfiction - These are books about real things in the world around us - books about history, science, sports, art, music, even cooking. If your child has to do a project for school, chances are pretty good that he or she needs to find a nonfiction book. One of the most famous nonfiction series is "The Magic School Bus" books. Mrs. Frizzle and her students aren't real, but the scientific concepts they discuss are.

Important tip: Nonfiction books are NOT shelved by author. Nonfiction books have Dewey Decimal numbers on the spine. Those numbers are part of a very elaborate method of organizing all the knowledge of the world, and those numbers actually mean something - but we'll touch more on that later.

Graphic novels - These are not your grandpa's comic books. Today's graphic novels often have adventure and suspense. This is often the most popular section of the library. Graphic novels are so popular that some publishers have put out history books and science books in graphic novel form to be more appealing to young people. Here's a terrific example of a graphic novel science and history book: "The Cartoon History of the Universe", by Larry Gonick.

Important tip: Graphic novels are often shelved by author or series. This one is likely to be in the Dewey Decimal section.

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Learn how to use the computer catalog

So, now you know what kinds of resources are available for your child at the library, and you should have a very general idea of where each kind of book is. Now it's time to do some more in-depth research. If you want to know where a specific book is, and whether or not it's available, you can find out by using the computer catalog. You can search by author, title, subject, or even keyword. For detailed step by step instructions on how to use the computer catalog visit my hub entitled "How to Use a Library Cataloging System".

And... here's Melville Dewey, reading a book.  Of course.
And... here's Melville Dewey, reading a book. Of course. | Source

Learn how to understand the Dewey Decimal System

OK, so you've taken a lay of the land, you've decided what book you want, and you've gone to the computer catalog to find it. You know the book is in the library, and it's out there waiting for you. All you need to do... is find the books at your given call number.

Now what? You've got this five digit number written down. If you were looking at the book I highlighted in my last hub, the call number is probably something like 531.14. Huh? Does that mean anything? Actually, yes, it does. The Dewey Decimal system was created by Melville Dewey as a way to organize knowledge. The Dewey Decimal System is divided up into ten different categories:

  • 000 - Generalities. This is where you will find encyclopedias, almanacs, and the Guinness Book of World Records. It's also where you find the Loch Ness Monster!
  • 100 - Philosophy. You can learn a lot about how people think in this category. It's also a great place to look for optical illusions.
  • 200 - Religion. Whether you want to learn more about the Bible, the Koran, or Greek Mythology, this is where you are going to go.
  • 300 - Social Sciences. Find out about the government, or money, or the armed forces. This is a quirky thing about the Dewey Decimal system - this is also the section where you will find fairy tales.
  • 400 - Language. Whether you need help with your spelling or you want to learn Swahili, this is the place to be.
  • 500 - Science and Math. Here's where that book of science experiments is! You also go here to get help with algebra homework, or to learn more about volcanoes, the weather, plants, rocks, and all wild animals.
  • 600 - Applied Science. The 500s tell us how the world works. The 600s tell us how we use the world, in the form of technology. This is the section for machines, the human body, recipes, and how to make stuff. The 600s can also teach you how to care for your pet hamster.
  • 700 - Arts and Recreation. Yes, somehow, the Dewey Decimal system has found a way to put books about football and books about the orchestra in the same general area. This is where you go when you want to have fun.
  • 800 - Literature. Come to the 800s for poetry, jokes, riddles, and... Shakespeare.
  • 900 - History and geography. If you want to know what happened, when it happened, and where it happened, chances are you will wind up here.

Of course, these are just the ten main categories. Each of these is subdivided into ten smaller categories. That explains how football and classical music can be in the same general area; music will be found in 780, while football is at 796. Check out this complete listing of all Dewey Decimal categories.

So now, you have figured out the lay of the land in your library, and you know how to use the catalog to find the Dewey Decimal number. You even know that the number has meaning! For more educational fun with the Dewey Decimal system, try this tutorial, written by kids, for kids.


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    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Great hub and a lot of info! Good examples of books and the categories they belong in. The Dewey Decimal System is a great review and will help those that don't understand it. Well done! Voted up!