Today was my last day as a teacher at Skybridge.
Today was my last day as a teacher at Skybridge.
Okay, librarians. You’ve got a stellar collection and a devastatingly great catalog; your books are labeled and lined up on their shelves like little Dewey Decimaled soldiers. Now comes (yet another) fun part–how do you get those books into kids’ hands?
One of the most fun methods of book promotion for the crafty librarian is a book display! (Though it’s far from the only way–book talks, book clubs, movie tie-in nights and themed crafternoons are also heaps of fun, and super effective.) Any regular library user will be familiar: book displays are usually situated near the entrance of the library, the circulation desk, or near reading spaces, and are used to celebrate any theme or season–or just to get eyes on some little-loved titles–of the librarian’s choosing. Christmas? Book display! Superheroes? Book display! The color blue? ….BOOK DISPLAY!
Displays are a great way to make your space attractive, to help your collection seem exciting (and relevant, if your displays tie in to a popular movie release or current event) and to draw user attention to showcased items. Librarians should strive to change displays frequently. If you’re feeling daunted or creatively challenged, never fear: there are boatloads of exciting display ideas from your fellows-in-cardigans. Check out just a few here:
At Skybridge, we don’t have a ton of space, so my first display in the fiction library showcased one book each for ten different fiction genres. In theory, this allows for appeal to a wide range of students.
But oh, if we had the space, what wonders we could wreak! *Unnecessary side note: in writing this post, I learned that there is no present tense of the word wrought (it is an orphan of linguistic evolution, the past tense of a now archaic present tense word meaning work). Libraries! You never quit learning. Dazzle yourself with these beauties:
What’s your favorite book display idea? Share below!
Blessed be the catalogers. They do, despite public knowledge (see assumption: librarian = “lady who checks out books at the desk and says ‘shh,'”), exist. I follow a number of them on Twitter—they’re a hard-working, lovely, clever bunch, keeping the clockwork heart of the library ticking away smoothly and giving us all an order that lets us all sort our heads from our feet and breathe a little easier. They also do a job that—bless them—can seem dauntingly complex and more than a little bit dull. I don’t know how they do it. I’m just happy that they exist.
If you use an amateur cataloging software, chances are very good that you’ll be doing what’s called copy-cataloging rather than original cataloging. This is what it sounds like: rather than making up your own records for materials, you’ll find and pull in someone else’s. Don’t worry, it’s not cheating. It’s common practice, like the way programmers will use chunks of other people’s code.
The software I used did allow me to copy-catalog records for most of my books, pulling them from the Library of Congress and Amazon. (In fact, I cataloged only one item, a brochure on a chicken breed called Silkies from the American Bantam Association.) (I am absurdly proud of this record.)
Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my resource post, many records came in incomplete. Namely, a large number lacked Dewey call numbers.
Unexpected challenge #301: Learning to hunt down Dewey call numbers. As explained on the excellent Librarians Unite!, there’s no comprehensive database listing every Dewey call number. They recommend, instead, the following:
|This is how we determine what number we will use.
1. In a new book, the Library of Congress information is often printed in the front of the book. This is the first place to start. The suggested Dewey number will be at the end of the listing and will be a 3 digit number, possibly followed by a decimal and further digits. If this number suits your organizational system, use it.
2. Check in your own system. If it’s a book about elephants, and you already have another book about elephants, use the same number so they will be together on the shelf.
3. Check with other libraries to see how they number the book. You can search for books here http://www.worldcat.org/ and then look for how libraries number them.
4. Try to use the general Dewey Decimal system to determine where the book will fit.
Slowly but surely, the collection began to take shape. This most dramatically affected the nonfiction, which up until this point had been sorted by one category only: er… not fiction. Bit by bit, agriculture began to separate itself from religion. The biographies of Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton nestled up side by side. Our director, walking by the shelf, exclaimed, “Oh, I love this book!” and “Oooh, we have that?”
When I was young, my mom was always infuriated by what she called my dad’s “gray” messes. A gray mess was when there were so many different things jumbled together than none of them were distinguishable anymore: nails and pennies and Band-Aids and hair ties and outlet covers and bottle caps and guitar picks… it all averaged out to gray. When our shelves looked like this:
…it was impossible to see what we had (except for the SAT prep books, because they are purple behemoths) (NOBODY WANTS TO SEE YOU ANYWAY, SAT BOOKS). Dewey’s not a perfect system, but as the chaos began to settle, the collection began to seem like… a collection.
I also had a lot of fun with my catalog. You make the catalog? You make the entries. Which means, for my users, a few Easter eggs:
About three days into this project, I found myself staring at the spines of the books in bafflement. I’ve worked in libraries before, both public and technical services. Thousands of books have passed through my hands—for all intents and purposes, I thought, I was a pro! No sweat! Libraries? I can library the heck out of this library! I can… I can….
Not figure out how on earth they get the labels onto the books.
It’s embarrassingly basic, but it had never occurred to me before. The books I’d worked with in my past library jobs came already physically processed, either by an active preservation department or (as seems to be the increasing trend) by a vendor. By “physically processed,” I mean: the book cover was laminated (or transformed into that monolithic monochrome of which university libraries seem so fond); there was a spine label on the book’s side; stamps on the top and cover page; and a barcode on the back. In short: the book was physically ready to go; I just had to enter some information about it into the computer and it was basically shelf-ready.
But doing it myself! This was a new thing entirely. I crawled around on the internet a bit, found nothing expressly useful, and finally just got old-fashioned and pulled out a ruler, feeling like a veritable Laura Ingalls Wilder of the physical processing librarianship world. I measured the spine label of a nearby book, and placed an order for self-adhesive labels. (You can find the specifications for them in the RESOURCES entry. I also made a template for them, which I’m happy to share—shoot me a comment below.) Then I shot a bear, rendered the lard with Pa, and we all sat around the fire with our newly labeled books and prayed for good plowing weather.
|Choosing a Font: In Which I Am the Invisible Hand
It’s startling to realize how many decisions influence every item you encounter, every day, that you completely take for granted. Look at the back of your shampoo bottle. Somebody chose the margins for the ingredients list. Somebody else put a lot of time and thought into the pattern on the box spring of your mattress. The human thought that has gone into every object you interact with every day is so baffling that it’s impossible to consider.
It’s even more shocking when you find yourself on the other side of that divide–which, in making a library, you will. Look around your space. You know all of those decisions that seem completely arbitrary? Somebody has to make them, and that somebody–dizzyingly, wonderfully–is you.
For me, this moment arrived when I sat down to type up my first(!) spine label and realized… I didn’t know what font it should be. And more than that, there was no font it “should be.” There was the font that I (not a graphic designer) was going to decide that it was, because I was the DIY librarian, and there was no one else to make this decision. It was stunning and beautiful and silly and a little heady. Because let’s be honest: is the shelf label font something that the students will care, or even think, about? No. But it is something that they’ll interact with every single day—and that will be, on a subconscious level, a small element in their greater conception of what a library is and how it should look and behave. It’s not just the difference between Times and Comic Sans. It’s the creation of the identity of something that will live (hopefully) far beyond you and (even more hopefully) lodge like a small tender seed in your students’ hearts.
(In the end, we went with Arial Bold, size 11.)
Using the call numbers generated by my catalog, I printed the labels and placed them on the books. Then I put the books in order, and….
I am being real with you, future-librarians: this was a deeply emotional moment. Stepping back and looking at my first shelf of spine-labeled books, I had the sudden sense that there was an undercurrent in the library that hadn’t been there before. Not just a sense of authority or validity: a sense of belonging. Looking at these books, presented the way I’ve seen books presented in libraries my entire life, it felt suddenly like the books did not belong to me. Like, instead, they belonged to Libraries Generally: a sense of something greater, bigger, more active and vast and alive than just me and my little school on the edge of the Texas hill country.
It’s very difficult to explain.
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:
(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
|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|
(If you’re confused, grab a book from the same section of the library and copy its label’s formatting.)
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.)
Way back in the very beginning of Operation Skybrary, I rolled up my sleeves and stared down the four heaping shelves in the English classroom. They contained about five hundred books between them, a vague mélange of fiction and nonfiction that the school had haphazardly accumulated over the years. The library was filled with real literary gems. But it was also filled with books that seemed to have appeared purely by accident, as though a book god once sneezed and inadvertently populated our shelves with musty 1980s problem novels and comic books in Japanese.
The collection was little used by the student body—partly, everything was so crammed in and disorganized that the individual identities of the books were rendered invisible. Additionally, the presence of so many out-of-date or developmentally inappropriate texts were devaluing our users’ view of our entire collection. These problems were only exacerbated as donations began coming in. It was time for a weeding.
Weeding is the way libraries keep their collections relevant, current, and usable. For those tiptoeing into the profession for the first time, especially those entering librarianship out of a reverent love of books, the prospect of getting rid of books may induce chest-clutching and hang-wringing. I’m sorry, my darlings. Ready your spoonsful of sugar so that you may swallow this medicine: INDIVIDUAL BOOKS ARE NOT PRECIOUS. A healthy, relevant, usable collection (and, by extension, a happy, engaged, informed community) is.
In weeding my would-be collection, I used the popular MUSTIE criteria:
M= Misleading: factually inaccurate
U= Ugly: worn beyond mending or rebinding
S= Superseded by a new edition of by a much better book on the subject
T= Trivial: of no discernible literary or scientific merit
I= Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the library’s community
(E= Elsewhere: the material is easily obtainable from another library)*
*E is in parentheses here because the Skybrary is not part of a school or public library system, and therefore items are not easily obtainable by this library from another library. (But without it, the word is MUSTI, which seems like the name of a high school sitcom character in the 90s.)
There’s a lot in this little acronym, all of it useful. Old and beaten paperbacks of easily obtainable classics were pulled from the collection. So, too, were business books written before the advent of e-mail, an operator’s manual for a riding mower, and a travel book about beautiful Czechoslovakia.
The most difficult letter to navigate is, at least in my mind, the I: “Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the community.” This may include books that are not academically or developmentally appropriate for your students. It may also include books that your students are capable of reading, but just plain aren’t interested in. Breastfeeding guides, witty comedies about the misadventures of dating in one’s 40s, or books on middle management may fall into this category, for example—or not. Get to know your community, and have a sense of what’s of interest to this age group.
Remember, a great librarian engages in what is commonly referred to as the CREW method: Continuous Review, Evaluation and Weeding. Your library is a living, breathing entity. Checking in on it regularly, rather than once a year, will keep it healthy.
What’s the best thing you’ve weeded? Share below!