How to organize a Library (of books)?
March 18, 2012 12:51 AM   Subscribe

How can I organize a whole lot of (8000ish) fiction books in a children's library? If alphabetized under genre is the best way, how can I clearly and easily instruct others to figure out the genre of all the books and which genres should I use? And what should I do about all the hundreds of very skinny emergent reader books?

Any tips on organizing a children's library without a real librarian present will be greatly appreciated. I'm taking charge of doing this after the person in charge of the library at the school I work for left. She organized the library into fiction (sorted by assumed genre or "novel" if she couldn't tell the genre by the title) and nonfiction and young children's books (thin books, board books). They were not alphabetized or sorted in any other way, besides what was stated above, and this resulted in a huge mess!

What do I need to consider when doing this?
posted by pick_the_flowers to Education (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Go to a local library and see how they do it.
posted by karathrace at 1:00 AM on March 18, 2012

No local children's library; I am in Nigeria.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 1:32 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a patron, I've always hated organised-by-genre, because whenever I've heard about a book, I have to look in five different sections before I find it or guess it's out.

I you don't know what you're looking for, genre-sorting it makes it easier to find more of what you liked last time, but at the same time, that encourages you to only read more of the same. Bookstores seem to thrive on genre though, so maybe it's in the eye of the beholder.

At the library I worked in, Children's fiction was handled the same way as adult fiction (which also means kids have already learned how to use an adult library by the time it's useful for them). More specifically, children's fiction was separated into picture books and novels (and hard-page etc picture books for the toddlers), and all were shelved alphabetically by author (except the books for young kids which were a permanent mess, because the kids would undo any order in short time :-)
There was no genre seperation.
At another library, there was also a "young adult" section - fiction falling between kids and adults. Harry Potter would probably go there.

In short, books were grouped by age appropriateness, rather than genre, then sorted alphabetically by author.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:51 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you have any kind of catalog of your books, or are they all just sitting on the shelves with no way of telling what their content might be other than looking through them? Libraries get a lot of help from various information contained in catalog posts - if you don't have those, might I suggest beginning with a fiction/non-fiction split (since your predecessor did that work), maybe trying to catch all the emergent reader books and then keep it to those three categories, alphabetized by author, while you familiarize yourself with your new collection and your young visitors' needs?

Really, you'll come to see what information the kids and teachers at your school need. Make it as easy as possible for yourself at first (putting 8000+ volumes in alphabetic order will take a while, but I'm sure it will be worth it), before considering dividing the collection up any further. Obviously the non-fiction books are the ones where you might want to sort into rough categories - it's also fairly clear if something is, say, natural science or history. There are various classification systems out there that you can look at for guidance once you get that far. (Novels might be better off divided by age/reading level rather than genre, but those are all kind of subjective, and without catalog posts you're looking at a lot of work.

In the end, though, you will be the one person who knows your school and its needs, and you might find that some non-standard solution actually works better for you. It all depends on how much time and help you have to manage the library, and whether it all needs to be done at once, or whether you can adjust things as you go along.
posted by harujion at 1:52 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Isn't this what the Dewey Decimal system is for?
posted by gjc at 2:32 AM on March 18, 2012

I'd go with Dewey Decimel or Library of Congress.

This might be tedious, but the copyright page of the book should actually have recommended genres on it. They're numbered, and near the publisher info.
posted by spunweb at 2:35 AM on March 18, 2012

I worked in a bookstore several years ago. Our organization was roughly:

Fiction broken down by target age range or grade level, then alpha by author within the age range or grade level. The big series might get their own section or shelf (Harry Potter, for example, was so massive there was a dedicated Harry Potter bookcase independent of the children's fiction section). Young Adult fiction was its own separate section entirely just because there was so much of it.

Nonfiction broken down by topic, then alpha by author within the topic, mostly. Some, like biographies, were alpha-by-subject/who the book was actually about. Some might be grade level, then alpha within the grade level (since it makes sense to group all the third grade math together, rather than having a giant math section for grades 1-8).

We also had "bestseller" shelves that were for popular series or titles that moved a lot, just for easier access.

One thing we did when we were short on time but needed to get a section in order was get one particular shelf or case in the appropriate order. Then, as new titles came in, as old titles came back, and as we had time to rearrange, we'd put things in the already-organized section and gradually expand that as we got things organized until, eventually, everything was organized.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:24 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about "training wheels" for library users, a dual system using colored labels and traditional call numbers?

Make it easy for kids to find and put books back in the right place by using colored labels for genre. Genre 1 could use, say, red labels, genre 2 uses yellow labels, genre 3 bright green and so on. Easy books for 1st~2nd grade could have their label start 1" from the bottom of the spine (with the lowest space reserved for typed labels with more specific details: author's name etc.), 3rd~4th grade start 2" from the bottom, 5th~6th grade start 3" from the bottom. Using small colored labels makes it easy to recognized misshelved books at a glance (wrong color), and kids can easily pick out age-appropriate books titles. If you rely on numbers and alphabetical order alone, books can easily become mixed up and hard to find.

If the books are thick enough, you might consider writing the first letter of the author's name on the colored label.

We use colored labels on the graded readers in our library collection for adult EFL students. They seem to work quite well, but YMMV.
posted by juifenasie at 3:38 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

All juvenile fiction was alpha by author where I went to school and at my childhood.library, with picture books and early readers in their own section. Thy had stickers on the spine -- a unicorn sticker for sci fi fantasy, a res dot sticker for mystery, a yellow air for historical fiction, etc. This let you easily scan the combined shelves for something you might enjoy, and you could label books with as many stickers as they needed. And if suddenly sports fiction is the huge thing, its easy enough to add soccer ball stickers to all appropriate books, instead of trying to decide of "The Meystery of Soccer on the Moon" is mystery, sports, or sci fi -- just slap all three stickers on the spine and file it by author.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:16 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are going to shelve by genre you really need to have a good catalog where you can update the Marc record with the genre and a good system for getting the books back to where they belong, if you don't you are going to have an equally messy system. I think too that you need to recognize that a project like this will take a very long time. I am in year three of my current job and while my library is now organized there are still a lot of things that I have't been able to get to.

As for dewey and loc, those are mainly for nonfiction, not for fiction.

I have run 2 libraries that were in a messy state when I started work. In the elementary library I split fiction into picture books and chapter books, picture books had a yellow sticker on their spine and chapter books a blue sticker. Non-fiction had a variety of colors depending on the Dewey number. For little thin books those were stored by series in magazine holders by series, board books lived in a basket (we didn't have many.)

At both schools, there wasn't an computer based catalog when I started, at both I used Library World which is a relatively cheap catalog system that is cloud based and allows you to pull Marc records for free.

Feel free to memail me if you want.
posted by momochan at 5:02 AM on March 18, 2012

Do they have to be on shelves?

I work at a facility for kids (not a school) and we have much better luck putting the 'first readers' (and, actually, almost all books of any type) into a skinny box all facing forward, so you would flip through the box (and therefore look at covers) to select a book vs. just looking at the skinny spines. (The boxes then sit on tables on on shelves a little below eye level.)

We divide books by little kids - big kids, and then by subject - so all dinosaur books are together, all books about seasons, all books about going to school (both fiction and non-fiction sorted by topic) which seems to work well for younger kids. We don't sort anything alphabetically, since the goal of our little library is to get kids to pick up (and take home, for free) a book, not read it and return it.

If you have good internet access, we do find that the website Library Thing is super useful for helping to tag and track the books we have. It took a little while to set up, but the ability to tag books there means that we can find things a lot of different ways.
posted by anastasiav at 7:51 AM on March 18, 2012

My library organizes the childrens' wing first into two main categories: Fiction and Non-fiction.

Non-fiction is fairly easy after that, because it just follows the Dewey Decimal System and adheres to whichever cataloging database the library is subscribed to.

Fiction, however, is broken down first into reading-levels. There are separate sections for

- board books (infant-toddler appropriate, these are the books with thick cardboard pages)
- picture books (usually hard-bound books with full-page illustrations and very little text that parents read to their children)
- readers (these books are usually sub-categorized by their publishers to help new readers improve their skills)
- fiction (chapter books, novels, series like Geronimo Stilton, etc.)
- teen fiction (OMG He Kissed Me! books, dragon warriors, etc.)

Within each of those divisions the books are organized alphabetically by Author name and if there are several books by one author then by title.

This scheme allows readers to easily find books that are appropriate for their reading level, then sift through those on their own to find a title that appeals to their sensibilities. That first step of directing a patron to the appropriate section is easy because you don't have to know anything aside from the age/reading level of the child.
posted by carsonb at 10:17 AM on March 18, 2012

I am not a librarian, but when I was a teenager I worked in the children's section of a small public library. We organized books similarly to carsonb's scheme, using spine labels to help everyone see where things should be shelved:

All children's non-fiction was shelved by dewey decimal number.

I don't think we had any board books.

Picture books were in one section, roughly organized by author's last name (all the As together, all the Bs together, etc., but not strictly alphabetized).

"Easy readers" were in their own section, also roughly alpha by author's last name.

"Juvenile fiction" (chapter books aimed at children up through about age 10-12) were in another section, strictly alphabetized by author's last name.

Young adult books (chapter books aimed teenagers) were in another section, strictly alphabetized by author's last name. Some of them also had genre stickers on the back to make things like sci-fi easier to identify at a glance. I'm not sure where the stickers came from, but they were probably ordered from our regular library supply company (Brodart, if memory serves).

What do I need to consider when doing this?

One important consideration for you is how readers find books. How often do they come in knowing the book that they want, and how often do they come in just wanting to browse? If they come in knowing the book that they want, do they know the book because they borrowed it from this library before and they want to borrow it again, or because they have heard of the book's author and/or title and want to find that specific book? I think it's standard for children's libraries to at least break down the collection by the intended age or reading level of the audience, so that parents with young children can look for picture books and teens can look for young adult novels, and so forth. Within that breakdown, it's only helpful to organize things by author if the users of the library (with or without the guidance of a librarian) would ever be looking for a specific book. Even if they don't know the author, it may be helpful for them to know they should look on the same shelf where they found the book before. (Note: "users of the library" can include the library staff—another reason for granular organization is to allow staff to locate books and inventory the shelves in a systematic way.)

Another consideration is what other aids to book-finding you have available. Is there a catalog of any kind? Are you going to want to be able to look up a specific book and then zero in on its physical location quickly? If your readers tend to be browsers, do you have ways of displaying selected books appealingly so that readers can see the covers? (Some kinds of shelving allow you to turn a few books facing out, or you can use props / book stands to hold books up for display.)

Another consideration is sustainability. If you don't have staff checking the order of the books regularly (where I worked, this was called "shelf reading"), then you probably won't be able to keep books in a strict alphabetical or Dewey decimal order; entropy will happen. Genre stickers or other really clear visual indicators make it a lot easier to keep books grouped together. If your hundreds of "very skinny emergent reader books" are so skinny (like magazines) that the title or author is not displayed on the spine, don't even try to organize them by author or title; finding, re-shelving, or organizing those books would require pulling each one off the shelf to read its title or author from the cover. That's way too much work and the organizational scheme would quickly fall apart. If you need to subdivide a collection like that, use color-coded stickers or tape (for reading level, genre, or whatever) that will show up when you look at the spines on the shelf.
posted by Orinda at 5:50 PM on March 18, 2012

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