Breaking the Fiction – Nonfiction Divide for the Primary Grades: it’s all about your ultimate goal

I currently work in a school serves students in Kindergarten – Second Grade. When it comes to helping them find books in the library, I recently decided I was tired of answering a question with a question.

“Where are the horse books?”  Do you want a book with horse facts or a story about a horse? “Ummm I like horses” 


“I want a story” A short story like a picture book or a longer one like a chapter book?

“A long one”  after seeing them, “Oh not that long, a short one”

Each interaction is interspersed with trips to the computer to demonstrate a search and trips to the shelves to help them find – and typically turn down- each potential title until we hopefully find one that suites their interest. Next week we are likely to repeat the exact same process. I should mention that I like showing my students the search process. I think it’s helpful for them to see me execute a search of the library catalog. The issue is time. Can I help that student find something before either the class runs out or their interest level does. Remember we’re talking about K-2 here. I had to start asking myself, “Is this what is best for the students?” What is the ultimate goal? Is it that they practice looking for things or that they enjoy finding them?

At the primary level my ultimate goal is to help students build connections to information. I think every child should be excited to know that if they are interested in something, the library might feed that appetite. I want them focused on getting as much as they can out of each visit. So, I can either work diligently to ensure that eventually they each get a little something of what they want while possibly learning a traditional library set up, or I can set it up for them to gorge themselves on the information of their little heart’s desire. Problem solved, if the ultimate goal is helping my young students see that there is a world of information at their fingertips in print, audio, visual, and digital formats then the library needs to be organized to facilitate that end goal. Later, when they are hooked on the library and all it has to offer, learning the organizational structures of different libraries will be the obvious means to the end instead of the goal itself.

We started with those Horse books. Now when a student asks about horses I can still have them do a search on the computer, and make a short list of titles. But then I can take them to one location of shelves that are top to bottom horses. We are still testing out the best order but currently have it as follows

Picture Books

Chapter Books

Fiction Books

Nonfiction Books

In the first four months we saw small changes in circulation that I suspect will continue as trends over time. Nonfiction circulation lessened but Fiction (including all levels) increased. I was discussing this with colleagues and the idea that young students really prefer the nonfiction books came up. I know that they do love their informative books but I also ask this question, Do they like them better all the time or is it just easier to browse most of them?

Since horses were successful we followed with two of our other top points of interest – Cats and Dogs. Next up might be dinosaurs. We did keep the traditional call numbers on the spines and just added a sticker for each animal with a color tinted label cover over each one to match the type of book. This way it is still quickly apparent if a books is fiction or nonfiction. This also means that if the experiment is not successful, the books can be easily re-shelved in a traditional Picture, Fiction, Nonfiction system. While I do not feel this format will fit the entire library equally as well as these topics, we are looking to break the dividing lines a little more. We shelve our nonfiction mysteries and unexplained events next to the fiction mysteries- think Loch Ness monster, Big Foot, Bermuda triangle. We will watch how students use the new sections and move forward or adjust as needed in order to suite that ultimate goal. I want my students to see that the library is there for them, right away, every time. No more tricky questions, just answers.


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