Cat.Man. Strikes Back!

I have just completed an ambitious re-cataloging project in Teen Non-Fiction. I’m so happy that it’s done, and grateful that so much of the ‘decision-ing’ was shared with/completed by Marissa, our former Teen staffer, before she left for her new, full-time youth services job down the road… (sniff)

I’ve been given the responsibility of leading our system-wide, cross-departmental¬† Collections team as a part of our current strategic plan process, so the way we organize our stuff has been on my mind quite a bit lately, particularly in terms of improving ease of use for our patrons of all ages, interests and backgrounds. Inspired by the many libraries that are moving away from Dewey in varying degrees and towards something closer to what we did in the bookstore, I’ve been mulling over our options, focusing first on my own areas of responsibility (which includes not only our teen collections, but adult science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels.) After all, if I am going to recommend changes to the way we’ve always done things across the board for the whole library, I better put my (re-labeling) money where my (recataloging) mouth is. I decided to run an experiment on this notion of (vaguely) activity-based collections, starting with teen non-fiction.

(Actually, all this stuff began with a different idea entirely: an attempt at devising a ‘tonal’ method of cataloging teen fiction, based on the feeling a book gives you as opposed to genre…it’s nowhere-near sorted out in my head right now but with so many teen titles blurring, if not obliterating, genre distinctions, I feel like there’s…something to this wild idea. If anyone out there wants to help me figure out a cohesive and efficient way to make this happen, I’m ready to listen!)

mads face
My face when I think about ‘tonal cataloging,’…as well as my soul in GIF-form

Anyway, we are taking all of our teen non-fiction and re-cataloging it into one of four primary, action-based categories: Learn, Discover, Make, and Lives (yeah, not so much an ‘action,’ but it’s an experiment.) Each item retains its Dewey number and when it all finally comes together, each book will have (yes, another new) label that is color-coded for its category and will be shelved in order, within its new category. And there will be bright colorful signage that my summer volunteers have been working on. (They hate Mod Podge now…and so do I.)

I hope it will help our patrons find what they are looking for, not just in terms of subject matter, but by the type of book in regard to the reading experience, be it general, topical information (LEARN), deeper-dives and ‘good reading’ narrative non-fiction (DISCOVER), instructional books for hands-on learning (MAKE) and the ever-popular, assignment-friendly biographies and memoirs (LIVES.) In terms of the fuzzy line between what is LEARN and what is DISCOVER, content is the most important factor, but when it’s close, we are considering the format and letting that be our guide.

I hope this creates a section that promotes browsing with less anxiety for our teens and their adults. Approaching a shelf of books can be daunting, even to those well-versed in Dewey. I want to make my teen collections (and all collections) as intimidation-free as possible.

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Labels! You either love them or hate them…

I LOVE this stuff. I love having my hands in the stacks and finding stray bits of label tape in my hair. I do have moments of doubt about whether or not this stuff (and the similar plans I am working on for adult collections for the entire library system) is a bit of ‘shuffling for the sake of shuffling,’ but this project is throwing me back in time to my beloved bookstore days. We did this sort of thing all the time, in pursuit of improving customer experience and driving those sales numbers. It was called ‘Category Management,’ or ‘Cat.Man.,’ and it was always a lot of fun to work on, even if it didn’t produce the monetary results corporate was looking for. Watching our ‘sections’ shift and grow as I moved from one store (that renovated while I was a supervisor) to another, new one (that I helped lay out, hire for and open) over the five years I worked there was fascinating to me.

MissDimmsdale014
No. Not this Catman.

Cat.Man. was handed down from on-high, as the people in Ann Arbor who made the decisions (I wonder how many of them had M.L.I.S. degrees…) about what went where re-jiggered sections, continuously and endlessly it seemed, at the time. Taking board books out-of-order by author in favor of sections by concept (ABCs, 123s, Animals, etc.), rearranging computer books so they’d be organized by programming language, or getting aggressively detailed about sub-genres of rock music…A big package would arrive by mail with a long list of titles and a deadline, so it was up to those of us in the stores who were in charge of merchandising to fire up the label machines, measure our shelf footage and figure out a way to get it done. Usually this involved overnight shifts and too much coffee (and some of those weird, stuffed-pretzel snacks we sold for a time in the cafe.)

The Cat.Man. experience, for me, was about the fallacy of ‘the right way,’ at least in terms of how to organize stuff. Our store designers kept changing their mind about what should go where, hoping to make things faster, simpler and more sensible to our customers. They walked in with money, and if they walked out with it still in their pocket, something was not working properly. Paying for overnights (and any inadvertent damage caffeine-addled young adults might do to the shelving units) was worth it, if the final result improved ease of use (and drives sales…or circulation numbers these days.) And if one method doesn’t work, you can always try another. (Especially if you don’t mind re-labeling stuff!) Sometimes ‘ the right way’ is just for right now, not forever.

Back then, the work wasn’t intellectually hard to do – the ‘decision-ing’ was out of our hands. While working on this current library project feels a bit like Cat.Man. reborn, this time we are the ones making the call as to what goes where. It feels much more serious, perhaps because I am working with a collection I have built myself over the past 10 years (and I’ve always been extremely sentimental about weeding.) I am doing my best to let the language our patrons use when they ask us for stuff be my guide, in this, as well as our ongoing/upcoming Adult Non-Fiction ‘capsule collection’ project and Fantasy project, which will include a new section where we put all the Star Wars stuff – regardless of format (fiction vs. non-fiction; book vs. video, maybe even despite age level…maybe…) together in one spot. We hope it will make things easier for everyone, but only time will tell.

Here it is:

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I’m going to do some color-coded shelf-taping too, just lining the edges of the shelves to match the labels and signs.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t talk about what a wonder the Dewey Decimal system is, to teens, kids and even adults. The fact that it always seems revelatory to them, however, doesn’t bode well for it’s continued use. While lots of libraries are moving in this direction and away from ‘tradition,’ its still a radical idea for some of our users (and staff.) It’s a (not-so) grand experiment.

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I’m not kidding…

Next up…emoji-based cataloging! I’m serious! I won’t call it that, of course. Tonal Cataloging for YA Fiction. Yeah. I just need to figure…it…out… </Madsface>

 

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