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November 4, 2011 / Christian M.

Taking Hints from the Bookstores

My branch is scheduled to close for renovation …  sometime before the end of this year. One of the changes that will take place is the way that picture books are shelved. One of the Associate Directors has borrowed an idea from another library system. He made the decision (on his own) to follow through on this idea, but has left it up to us  little people to figure out all the details.

So, what is this idea? Well, instead of shelving the children’s picture books (in our case easy fiction and nonfiction) by Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), they will be grouped and shelved by their general topic. Each book will still be classified and cataloged by DDC; however, it will also be assigned to a subject category such as Animals, Concepts, People & Places, etc. This is intended to mirror the way that bookstores organize and display their books.

I have to admit, when I first heard the idea, I was not excited. Initially, I thought this would change the way the books were classified, which would cause too much confusion – especially with the catalog. However, classification remains the same. It just changes the way we arrange them on the shelves.

I can see how this could be useful for the patrons. Most of the questions I receive do not name a title, but instead a topic: “books on fall,”  “stories about shopping,” “books about numbers,” etc. The goal of the new shelf arrangement is to make it easier for patrons to browse the shelves on their own. However, it might make it  harder to find a specific title, depending on what order they in on the shelves within their categories.

So, the next steps in the process are:

  • Decide on the topic categories. Do they have to be the official book industry BISAC subject headings (see here and here)? Or can we use terms that make the most sense to us? I am assuming the selection and cataloging librarian will decide on this.
  • Survey and sort the books. All of our picture books will be sent over to the Central Services Facility while we’re closed. Then staff will have to look through each book and separate them by categories. I’ll probably be helping the selection librarian with this part.
  • Add the category to the catalog record. Should it be placed in the shelf location field or as a prefix to the call number? This will be handled by the cataloging department.
  • Apply labels with the names of the categories on each book. I don’t know who will do this, maybe the processing department?
  • When we reopen, return the books to our library, and then figure out how to shelve them. Will we have signs for each category? If so, how big will the signage be? Should we shelve them spine out or face out? Will they be shelved by DDC within the categories?

I asked the selection librarian if this approach to shelving does not work, then can we go back to the “old way”. She said most likely not. In her experience as a librarian, most administrations won’t admit when changes such as this are not successful. It is up to us to make it work.  We are a small branch, so it won’t be too hard to accomplish. We will be the guinea pigs of the system though, because depending on how well it goes with us, the system may implement the same approach in a few other branches too.

If you want more information about this approach to shelving, check out this presentation by the Darien Library in CT. There are also a few articles below that I found via WordPress.

If you are in a library, or know of another library that does this, please let me know. This is new to me. Right now we seem to have more questions than answers.



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Leave a Comment
  1. Cindy Kilpatrick / Nov 18 2011 12:24 pm

    I spent this past summer doing just that in my K-12 school library. I only had time to do the general collection (Grades 3-12) and have not done the picture books although I’m dying to get to it. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The kids love the look – big signs over the sections – and smaller signs for the departments, which are often only one shelf. For example the ‘Craft’ department in the ‘Arts and Entertainment’ section (which I call Islands).

    I’ve heard time and time again that it’s so much easier to find things. I, for one, can highly recommend it. The K-2 ‘Island’ is called ‘Easy Street’ and the departments will be Dinosaurs, ABC books, etc. I haven’t figured them all out and probably won’t untill I can pull all the books and start physically sorting them.

    As far as finding things goes – an essential step was to reclassify. The call number remained the same but an added field on the spine label shows the island and department codes. So I piled the books by subject, changed the catalog record, printed and applied spine labels.

    Renovation is the perfect time to do this. Get a big space and start making piles! I hope you enjoy the project – a change is as good as a holiday.

  2. LibGirl09 / Nov 21 2011 9:06 am

    Thanks Cindy for sharing your experience. I’m glad it turned out well for you. The more I think about it, the more the idea grows on me. 🙂 I am looking forward to participating in this project.

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