As seen in Edinburgh: The Scottish know how to classify their books.
As seen in Edinburgh: The Scottish know how to classify their books.
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 (re–cataloging) 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!)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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>
It’s been quite a week in Libraryland controversy…but then again, when isn’t it?
Some of the ideas expressed in reaction to the above-linked Book Riot piece have been swirling around in my mind for years now, especially recently as my library embarked on a new strategic plan about a year ago. One of the topics that keeps coming up as library managers discuss it is the idea of workload and who is responsible for what, exactly, particularly in the breakdown of MLIS vs. non-MLIS library staff. I don’t particularly care to weigh in on that here, but since some of the brouhaha this morning has centered around an article about the responsibility of librarians to be widely-read (or not), I find myself gravitating to subsequent discussions and comments on positive and proactive suggestions to address the balance of hobby-reading and ‘for-work’-reading.
Librarianship is one of those professions where everything in your life can be harnessed to make you better at your job. My passion for pop culture has enhanced our thriving teen Fandom group (we are just about to begin our FOURTH YEAR of weekly sessions!) I’ve long been a passionate cross-genre reader. And coming from a big family, I’ve always had young people around me (as well as plenty of what we might call ‘new adults’ when I was a tween/teen myself…but with 100 cousins that’s inevitable.) All these things, among countless others, assist in my day-to-day work.
This is a great thing. When you love what you do, you can’t help but think about it, a lot, all of the time. Great ideas don’t always arrive from 9-5 on Monday through Friday (or 12-7, as the case may be.) Sometimes we bring things home so we can make our work stuff meet our own high standards. We get used to being open, all of the time, to that next incandescent moment of perfect inspiration. But these ‘above and beyond’ activities can blur the lines between your professional life and your private time outside of work to a damaging degree. There is a danger – of a draining of enthusiasm and burnout, of unreasonable expectations, even of a wanton exploitation of your willingness to be ‘on’ all the time.
How much do my personal reading choices improve my job performance? Immensely!
I love reading. I take great pride in my readers advisory for teens and adults, skills I have been honing since I got out of college (hey ya, Borders Books and Music!). I won’t lie – I die a little inside when I see librarians respond to requests for recommendations by saying ‘Well, let’s go to Novelist…” (Novelist is great…but there is nothing like the delight in someones eyes when you give personalized recommendations and those algorithms just can’t compare.)
I realize that’s not fair. Does every librarian have to be a reader? I don’t think so, not even a little bit. (I do think that Reference and Readers Advisory are often conflated in a way that they shouldn’t be.) (I also think libraries should be going all-in on ‘advisory’ in the same way many libraries are in the realm of Maker/Tech so we can take advantage of the giant cultural vacuum created by the shuttering of big-box bookstores…but I can’t start on that now…)
Now, how much of my personal reading should be mandated by the needs of my job? Uhh…
It’s a tricky question to answer. In theory, the answer is a big ‘none-zo!’ But the reality of working with an economically, socially and academically diverse patronage of teens, and parents, as well as with adults, means that if I want to serve my community well, I need to have a broad knowledge of what they want and need to read (and watch, and listen to, too.) There is no way to accomplish this kind of professional development, which is parasitically – in a good way! – intertwined with my own love of reading as a hobby, on work time. I hate to see this question reduced to an online screaming match (Truly. Dial it back a bit…maybe it’s not about you personally…and it is really a time for you to listen for a minute) when there are some positive ways to address some of these issues.
Is there a way to improve our book knowledge (or title recognition, as we called it back in the bookstore) on work time in a way that improves our services (including the way we develop our collections) and is not a burden on our already overwhelming workloads, other staff or schedulers? In pondering these questions a few years ago, I started thinking about something I had heard during a library conference – that a large system somewhere in the middle of the country (I’m so disappointed that I can’t recall where, exactly) with a big collections department held a monthly book study circle, where staff would gather and discuss a genre. From what I gathered, it is not an uncommon thing in the massive county systems that don’t really exist in my neck of the woods. It was a fantastic in-house professional development opportunity and one that I hoped to replicate at our little two-library system.
It took some convincing, but after rallying some allies in other departments, all of whom were already fantastic readers and RA specialists, who also wanted a way to improve and sharpen their skills, we were able to set into motion something that has become one of my favorite work-things: Our very own voluntary Genre Study Circle for any full or part-time staff who are interested in learning more about the wide range of literature we house in the library.
We meet once a month on Friday morning – a specifically chosen, out-of-the-way time that doesn’t interfere with programs, alternating between branches as best as we can. We keep it very strictly to one hour, or at least we try very hard to. Each session focuses on a genre or style as selected when we set our program twice a year, and is led by a different staff member who will present a bit before we start booktalking about the history, current status and popularity of said category. We’ve covered the usual suspects, genre-wise, and now that we are entering our third year, we’re reaching out even further: Fan Fiction! Animal Stories! Celebrity Biography! It is a flat group – no one person is in charge. We take turns leading: alerting staff of each meeting, sending along some suggested titles for those with no idea where to start, taking notes at the session that we make available to staff who cannot attend and sometimes providing themed treats (because…library!)
It’s a wonderful way for staff who might not normally venture outside of their reading lanes to get a taste of something different, and learn directly from their colleagues about more titles in that category. (Do we wish more people would/could attend? Sure…but our group does grow a bit each year, and most people who turn up once keep coming when they can.) It’s a little bit of a crash course and a lot of fun. It’s a positive way to encourage staff, even those who cannot attend, to widen their horizons, at their own pace, by committing to one book a month that is (perhaps, maybe) outside of their (preferred or ‘comfort’) zone.
Almost all of us have been ‘converted’ and have fallen in love with a genre or format we might have never considered. Best of all…we’ve started taking field trips! I feel comfortable saying that we are all better at our jobs because of it. We’ll even be trying something new in our next session that will likely become our summer tradition: An author study, this time on Stephen King. As perhaps the most squeamish person on the East Coast, this will take me very far out of my comfort zone. I’m so excited to begin.
But what I have to say isn’t for her, anyway. It’s for me.
I swallow, and fight to keep my voice even. “I’m not going to stop being who I am just because you don’t like it.”
“And I’m not going to stop talking about it just because you don’t understand it.” Knees shaking, I take a small step toward her. “I’m only going to talk louder.”
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (page 312)
“And I may have only been a teenager, but I knew a truth that he obviously never grasped: the joy you find as a teen, however frivolous and dumb, is pure, and meaningful. It doesn’t matter that it might ferment and taste different when you’re older. That’s the whole point of being a teenager – not worrying about the future.
“And when you find something that makes you happy and giddy and excited every day, us fangirls know a truth that everyone else seems to have forgotten: you hold on to that joy tenaciously, for as long as you can. Because it’s rare to get excited about anything these days. Ask your parents. “
– Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky (page 63)