or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Organizing Books By Subjects, Part II

   April 30th, 2009 Brian Herzog

edu subject booksWhen it comes to reorganizing books by subject, it turns out that getting it all looking pretty on paper is the easy part.

After everything was documented, the first subject we decided to pull out of Dewey order and shelve separately were the test preparation books and college directories (shelved in Dewey 378). We chose this subject to be our first "stand-alone" section because it met a few criteria:

  • Contained enough books so that it wouldn't get lost being on its own
  • Popular enough so we would see quickly how patrons reacted to not using Dewey
  • Specific enough that it didn't really relate to the Dewey numbers around it, and so wouldn't lose context by shelving them separately

We decided to refer to these books as "Education," so all the call numbers would start with EDU. After that, the call numbers would be grouped by type of book (TEST or COLLEGE), and then further specified SAT, ACT, GRE, etc. We're still finessing how to label the college directories, but I think we'll end up with COLLEGE (or maybe SCHOOL?) followed by the type of school: 4-YEAR, GRADUATE, MEDICAL, etc.

Putting it all together, here are a few sample call numbers (including the year makes patron browsing and staff weeding very easy):

All of this seemed obvious, but we ran into our first trouble deciding what to do with books above and below college level. We decided to include any elementary or high school books (such as MCAS test prep, The handbook of private schools and other directories), and also graduate professional schools like Law and Medical schools.

What we did not include, even though we had them shelved in the 378's with education books, were the career tests, like the civil servant exam, NCLEX-LPN, TOFEL, Miller Analogies, etc. We decided to reclassify these into the Dewey 331.702 area, so they'd be next to the career directories.

Having stand-alone shelves for a single subject also means we can put other resources there, too. On top of these shelves we've put financial aid applications and workbooks, course catalogs from local colleges, New England Journal of Higher Education, and signs and bookmarks promoting our online education resources. We're also going to interfile our reference books, too, with prominent REFERENCE stickers on them - we'll see how that goes over.

We're still in the process of recataloging the EDU books, but so far, feedback has been mostly positive. The only complaint I've heard is that the new location (we put them next to the Young Adult section, thinking teens would be the heaviest users of college books) is further away from the Reference Desk than the regular Dewey shelves, so it's a longer walk.

I'm not sure which subject we'll tackle next. Doing this section-by-section is slow, but I think it'll work for us. However, in a recent conversation with a librarian at a nearby library, I learned that they are going to go all-out and redo their entire library bookstore-style. They've developed a list of 21 "neighborhoods" in which to group the books, and although I don't have many details, I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes.

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Organizing Books By Subjects, Part I

   April 28th, 2009 Brian Herzog

cookery signWhat I want to talk about is supplementing Dewey organization in a public library, to help both staff and patrons. But this post got so big I had to split it in half, so part two will be along soon.

I know there are libraries that have abandoned Dewey entirely, and there are movements afoot to develop a more modern system.

These are good things, but take major effort and investment. We've considered doing this in my library, but decided we just don't have the floor space for bookstore-like subjects and displays. So instead, we're going to start small, think long-term, and hopefully a series of gradual changes will ease us into an improved and patron-centric way to organize our collection.

Subject Sections for Staff
Something I've wanted to do for awhile is to make each part-time reference staffer responsible for the different subjects in the non-fiction collection. The staff librarians primarily do the selection, but I also wanted each subject assigned to a part-time person, who would be responsible for weeding, straightening, and shelf-reading. I also wanted them to assist with selection, by reading the reviews in Library Journal (as well as the articles, to keep on top of the field).

To try to make this easy, I came up with a list of Dewey ranges (see below) that fell into each subject heading that Library Journal uses in their book review section. They lined up with Dewey pretty well, but there are a few subjects that always have patrons checking different parts of the collection for very similar (to them) books.

A couple examples:

  • Career Books: resume/interviewing books are Dewey 650-656, but job/career directories and encyclopedias are in Dewey 331
  • Books for the Home are in a lot of places: gardening is 630's but landscaping is in 700's; repair and construction could be in 620's, 640's, 680-690's or 740's
  • And I won't even mention oversize books, the bane of my existence

After I had the list, I counted up the number of shelves we had in each Dewey range, grouped them in logical chunks, and then let staff choose which sections they'd be responsible for. After a bit of finagling, everyone ended up with about the same number of shelves, and so far things are going well.

Links to my subject listing is below - keep in mind I am a reference librarian, not a cataloger, so this is more from an end-user point of view. Another problem are the subjects in which we only have five or six books. I'm sure this won't work for any library but mine, but it's a start:

It's certainly not rocket science, but creating this list let me see on paper how we might need to rearrange Dewey in order to organize books by subjects. And by counting the shelves in each section, I also get an idea of how much space we'll need. This sets us up pretty well to start pulling subjects out of the non-fiction stacks to make more attractive and logical subject groupings, bookstore-style, instead of just having a solid mass of books.

Tune in on Thursday for our first foray into subject section shelves...

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