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Dewey Decimal Shelf Labels : How to Print and Make

Let’s face it: No matter how much instruction we give, many students (and their teachers and parents!) simply do not understand the Dewey Decimal System. I can remember sitting through Dewey lessons when I was a kid in school. For whatever reason, the few Dewey lessons I had in school weren’t all that interesting for me, which probably explains why I did not really understand Dewey myself until I went to college. And even then, I didn’t truly understand it until I actually became a school librarian who worked with Dewey every day.

Need a Dewey Decimal lesson for your older students? This PowerPoint story works great for students in Grades 5+. It imagines your students have survived a zombie apocalypse and now have to try to rebuild civilization from scratch. The PowerPoint introduces Melvil Dewey, then walks students through each of the ten Dewey Decimal classifications. Middle schoolers love it, and it helps them remember the 10 major Dewey classifications.

See the Zombie Apocalypse Dewey Story on TPT



Even if you have the best, most-engaging Dewey lessons, you will still have students who didn’t listen and/or don’t care. So how can we help these students–likely the ones who need the most guidance in finding books–navigate the nonfiction section of our libraries?

For school librarians, this is a no-brainer. We label those shelves, and we label them like crazy!

How to make your Dewey Decimal Shelf Labels

If you are a new librarian, or if your library needs a Dewey section face-lift, you do not have to create the labels from scratch! There are lots of labels available through library supply vendors, as well as on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Today, I want to show you how to display your labels once you have them. While the labels themselves aren’t too costly, most of us do not have extra money in the library budget to buy the holders needed to make the labels “stand up” on the shelves. One holder may only cost a few dollars, but you’ll need lots and lots of holders! Even a $3 sign holder will be super-pricey when you need to buy 100 of them for your shelves.

Never fear! In my recent FaceBook Live, I demonstrated two ways to create your own label holders using items you likely have sitting in your library or school storage areas. I have embedded the video below, and I hope you find it helpful as you plan to label (or relabel) your nonfiction Dewey areas.

Make your Dewey Decimal Shelf Labels stand up and stand out! 

Here’s a list of some items you can upcycle to make your shelf labels stand up vertically on your shelves. If you need to, ask parents to donate these items! Most people are happy to help keep unwanted trash out of the landfills.

  • Capri-Sun boxes (put a brick or some rocks inside to give it weight)
  • old VHS tapes (thanks to Kathryn G from Made for Learning for that recommendation!)
  • outdated encyclopedias
  • old hardcover textbooks
  • weeded books of the same height
  • binders (I recommend 3″ wide so you can really see the labels)
  • cereal boxes (again, you’ll need some weight inside–try rescuing paper from the recycle bin or using weeded library books)

For all of these recommendations, hot glue is your friend! Gluing the books, VHS tapes, or binders together will help stabilize them on the shelf and make wrapping them much easier.

To cover your new sign holders, you can use dollar store wrapping paper, butcher paper, brown packing paper, or even old gift bags. If you use wrapping paper, I recommend using a different color or pattern for each Dewey section. This will help them stand out to students and make it easier for you to say, “Check for that book in the 500s section–it’s the one with the green labels.”

Hello, Makerspace!

Don’t have time to make label holders out of your discarded materials? Make it a makerspace! Designate a couple of tables in the library, put out the supplies, make a sample or two, and let your students amaze you! They’ll enjoy making something useful AND they’ll probably learn a Dewey Decimal number or two in the process. WIN-WIN!!!

Need some Dewey Decimal Shelf Labels? I have some!

If you do need some pre-made Dewey labels, I have created over 150 of them. They come in color and black line versions, as well as in horizontal and vertical print formats. Print the color version on white cardstock, or print the black line version on colored cardstock.

See my Dewey Decimal Shelf Labels on TPT


What other discarded items have you upcycled for your library shelves?


  • We do not use our Dewey Dec. System for shelving we orginize as to topic which probably flys in the face of conventinal libraries. We do use the Dewey on Book Tags at the bottom of the binding. Do you know of any label (avery etc.) or just a template for doing these. Right now we do them by indelibeil marker and then tape them to the bottom of the book binding. It would be great to just print them out. If you do not know of anything I will attempt to make my own with some Avery Labels and Excel. THX

    • Hi, Paul,
      I am not sure I understand what you mean. It sounds like you are looking for an Avery label template that just has different Dewey numbers on them. Is that correct? I don’t have anything like that, but maybe someone else knows of something.


  • What kind of tape to you use to attach the labels with the dewey number to the spine? Is there a special heavy duty tape for this?

    • Hi, Paula,
      I have used clear book tape or clear label protectors, both from Demco.



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