An exceedingly dull post about technical processing

Every new project requires that you reinvent the wheel a number of times; the smaller and more specific the project, the funkier and more esoteric your wheel. Inventing the technical processing wheel was, for me, time-consuming and occasionally headache-inducing. If you’ve been following the project step by step and are ready to catalog your own books in Readerware, congratulations! I’ve invented the wheel for you. It looks like this:

Not like this. This will not get your books processed. (image credit:

Not like this. This will not get your books processed. (image credit:

(If you’re not, please go outside/read a book/write a letter to a friend. What follows is, though useful, very technical and EXTREMELY NOT FUNNY. xx, k)

How to Process Books

  1. Add the book to the catalog.
    1. In Readerware, choose “Auto-Catalog.” Make sure that Library of Congress and Amazon are selected, then use the barcode reader to scan the ISBNs of the books in one by one, and hit “next.”
      1. If there is no barcode, or if the program gives you an error, you can try manually entering the ISBN and hitting enter. If there is no ISBN (this only happens in very old books—honestly, we should not be acquiring books this old except in very special cases), put the book to the side.
    2. The program will generate a list of books based on your ISBNs. Double-check the list to make sure it got everything right.
      1. Sometimes the program will mismatch an ISBN, and you’ll end up with a weird item you don’t actually have. Delete these records.
    3. For books without an ISBN, or books that Auto-Catalog couldn’t find: search for the books on Amazon. When you find the record, drag the icon next to the URL onto the “drag & drop” button in Readerware. The item will be created in Readerware.
      1. There’s a tutorial here:
    4. Congrats! You have added your book to the catalog.
  2. Optional: clean up the record
    1. If your book’s title or author are misspelled, or formatted weirdly, you can click the green arrow next to the record to enter editing mode. There, you can fix the record.
  3. Generate a call number and location.
    1. There are two ways to do this:
      1. Slower: go into the record itself. Enter a location in the location field, change the ISBN field to Dewey, and enter a call number. Or:
      2. Faster: from the main screen, click the Editing Mode button, then modify the location and call number.
    2. How To Generate Locations and Call Numbers
Genre Location How to Generate Call Number Example Call Number
Fiction Library FIC + first three letters of author’s last name FIC ROW
Graphic novels Library—Graphic Novels GN + first three letters of series title GN SAI
Short stories Library—Short Stories SS + first three letters of author/editor’s last name SS BOR
Poetry Library–Poetry POEM + first three letters of poet’s last name (editors for anthologies) POEM GLU
Reference Library–Reference REF + Dewey call number REF 423
Mature Readers Mature Readers M FIC + first three letters of author’s last name M FIC PLA
Nonfiction History Room Dewey call number, + first two letters of author’s last name. (See “exceptions,” below.) 027.009 BA
Plays History Room–Plays PLAY + first three letters of playwright/editor’s last name. PLAY BEC
Oversize nonfiction Oversize—History Room O + Dewey call number + first two letters of author’s last name. (Same rules as nonfiction.) O 613.25 BU
  1. Weird exceptions:
    1. Nonfiction: Readerware sometimes generates Dewey call numbers for you, but often will not. In this case, look up the book in the Austin Public Library catalog and use their call number. If APL does not have that particular book, search for a book on the same topic and use its call number. (It feels like cheating, but I promise, this is how Dewey works. J)
    2. If anthologies of short stories, poetry or plays belong to a series (e.g., The Best American Short Stories annual series), use the first three or four letters of the series name (e.g., SS BEST).
  2. Generate a spine label
    1. Take the list of books you just processed and export them to a spreadsheet.
      1. Go to File, Export Database, select “selected books,” and export the following fields: Title, Author, Location and Dewey Call number.
      2. Click “next” until it generates a spreadsheet.
    2. Open your spreadsheet, select all of the Dewey call numbers, and drop them into the spine label template.
    3. Formatting the spine label:
      1. Select all, and set the font to Arial, size 11, bold.
      2. Set left margin to ½ inch (it should be here automatically).
  • Align call numbers to the left-center. (Left on the x-axis, and centered on the up-and-down, or y-axis. This option is under “table tools” in Word.)
  1. Finally, format the call number so that each piece of information rests on its own line, breaking Dewey numbers at the decimal. It will look like:


(If you’re confused, grab a book from the same section of the library and copy its label’s formatting.)

  1. Shelve it!
    1. Print your labels and affix them to their books. I like to do mine 1/4″ from the base of the spine. Cover with a clear label protector (or colored, if you’re doing genre- or some other kind of fancy labeling) (known in the industry as FANCYPANTS labeling)
    2. Shelve your books in their section in alphanumeric order!
      1. For letter-based call numbers (fiction/plays/poems etc), just go in alphabetical order by call number: FIC BOO before FIC BYA.
        1. When several authors have the same last name, alphabetize them by first name as well. (Laurie Halse Anderson’s books will come before M.T. Anderson’s books, even though their call numbers are both FIC AND.)
      2. For number-based call numbers, go in numerical order.
        1. A trick! After the decimal, go in order by digit. This means that .300 is less than .45. Yes, this is perplexing (we had to do a quiz on this to shelve books at my undergraduate library–a test that, purportedly, no one got a 100% on). Just go digit by digit. Is 3 less than 4? Yes. Then place it first.

…told you.

Documentation like this is actually hugely helpful to write up. Not only does it firm up the process in your mind, but it helps all volunteers, assistants and predecessors process materials—potentially leaving you free to come up with displays and programming. (Known in the industry as “the fun part.”)**

**Just kidding, catalogers. I love and appreciate all that you do. Please, please keep doing it.

What do you listen to while you do technical processing? Share below? (I like Radiolab.)


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