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

Introducing Intergenerational Library Shelving

   April 1st, 2015 Brian Herzog

My library has implemented a few alternatives to Dewey shelving in the past, but we're rolling out something this week that I'm really excited about - we're calling it Intergenerational Shelving.

The idea originated when we noticed the difficulties some families had in using the library. Parents would bring their kids in, often of various ages, and picking up books for everyone required stopping in multiple departments. Wouldn't it be nice, we reasoned, if we didn't cordon people off by age, but instead opened up the entire library for everyone?

Yes! So our solution was to intermix all of the books in the entire library, along these guidelines: books for adults on the top shelves, and books for kids on the bottom shelves. Here's how our approach looks:

intergenerational shelving

As you can see, adult books are on the high shelves - which eliminates adults having to bend way down to the lower shelves to find things. And kids books are on the bottom shelves, so all kids books are within kid reach. The colorful border indicates the age levels.

This system has lots of other benefits too:

  • We're trying to line up adult, teen, and childrens non-fiction books, so all the books we have on a subject - say, the solar system - are right next to each other, regardless of the target age
  • It removes age-related stigmas association with books - adults who want a kids book, either for an easy-to-understand introduction to a topic, or just like reading kid stories, don't have to be embarrassed about going into the Childrens Room (or worse, get accusatory glances for not having a child chaperon)
  • Kids who are advanced readers are more likely to serendipitously encounter higher reading level books
  • Parents are less tempted to dump their kids in the unlicensed daycare that is the Childrens Room while they go off looking to the adult section - now the entire family can browse together
  • This really reenforces the Library As Community Center idea, because patrons who may not have ever mixed before now find themselves in the same aisle all the time: kids series books are shelved under large print, and our senior patrons enjoy hearing from kids what the Rainbow Fairies are up to
  • Reshelving books has been tremendously simplified - all our Pages have now been trained to shelve everything. And, the Circ staff doesn't have to pre-sort carts as items are checked in - everything is just mixed together and the Pages take care of it

This has been such a huge success so far that we've gotten inquiries from retail stores who'd like to copy the model for their own shelves. The local grocery store is considering putting boring foodstuffs on their adult-eye-level shelves, with toys and candy on the low shelves underneath. The possibilities are endless!

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You Can’t Get There From Here (DDC Edition)

   May 2nd, 2012 Brian Herzog

I know I've given the Dewey Decimal System a hard time for its quirks, and have experimented with other shelving systems when Dewey wasn't getting the job done. But recently, I stumbled on another great example of how Dewey totally misses the point - to wit:

Istanbul and Turkey Dewey call numbers

Now, keep in mind this photo was staged - I pulled these books off the shelf to photograph them. In real life, they're about three shelves away from each other.

And that's the problem: Istanbul is a city in Turkey, but Istanbul travel books are shelved in the "Europe" Dewey section, while general Turkey travel books are shelved in the "Asia" section. Ridiculous!

Yes, I know Turkey spans two continents, and the majority of Istanbul is in Europe while the majority of Turkey is in Asia. That's all very clever and precise, but totally fails patrons browsing the shelves. Chances are, someone looking for travel books to Turkey are going to find them and stop, and not think they've got to look for more books in a different section.

I talked to the cataloger at my library and (happily) we decided to apply Ranganathan's fourth law and move the Istanbul books to the Turkey section. But come on - a system is only good as the number of compensations you need to make for it.

Then again, perhaps this is nobody's business but the Turks.

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Fictional Books, And Where To Put Them IRL

   January 18th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Sterling's Good book coverLast month, the Huffington Post linked to a story on Flavorwire about books that originally started as an element of a fictional story, but then were later published as a real book.

I know that sounds a little confusing, but I did recognize most of them*. For the most part, books like this are fiction, and libraries shelve them as such. As the article mentioned though, television shows have also spawned real-life books - Richard Castle's books, from Castle.

However, one of these books recently(ish) caused a bit of a debate in my library - Roger Sterling's character from Mad Men wrote a book titled Sterling's Gold: Wit & Wisdom of an Ad Man. The points of the debate were these:

  • Since this book is "by" a fictional character, should it be shelved as fiction?
  • Since it is about the character that wrote it, should it be in autobiography/biography?
  • Since the topic is business advice written by a successful businessman, should this be shelved with the business books?
  • Since this is derived from a television show, should it be shelved in the television section?
  • Since it is humorous, should it be shelved in the humor section?

We ultimately chose the last option, and shelved it at 818.6 (which was also the C-I-P suggestion). According to WorldCat, that seemed to be the most common Dewey number, but not the only one:

  • Hamilton/Wenham (MA) Public Library: 659.10207
  • Greenwich (CT) Library: 659.1
  • Syosset (NY) Public Library: 817.54
  • New York Public Library: 818.5402
  • Cuyahoga County (OH) Public Library: 818.602
  • Greene County (OH) Public Library: 791.457
  • Anderson (IN) Public Library: 817

And those were just the libraries on the first few WorldCat results pages that were using Dewey.

But you know, within this genre, I'd actually like for Dewey to write his own book.


*My favorite book-within-a-book is the Books of Bokonon, from Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. It never fully made it to real book status, but it has come close.

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/5/10

   September 11th, 2010 Brian Herzog

back pain artA patron comes to the desk and asks where the books on back pain are. I get up to show him, but he says he can find them himself, if I just write down the call number for him. So I write 617.564 on scrap paper and he was off.

A few minutes later he comes back and says he needs help after all. He found the books okay, but it turned out they are all on the bottom shelf and his back hurts too much to bend over.

We have a laugh at the irony, then I pull them all and put them on a cart, so he can take them over to a chair.

This is another example of an unintended side-effect of Dewey, and also the second shelf-height-related incident I've helped with. I wonder how long before we achieve the trifecta - is it possible for books to be too "middle-shelf?"

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Reference Question of the Week – 4/26/09

   May 2nd, 2009 Brian Herzog

beating a dead horseI wasn't actually asked this reference question this week, but I have answered it more than once in the past. I use it here because the scenario below illustrates the point of this week's posts.

Patron: I'm remodeling a room in my house - do you have any books on that?

Why, yes, we do. Usually when people ask this question, what they're after are the interior design-type books. These are good for ideas on paint color combinations, decor, furniture, etc, and are mostly shelved at Dewey 747.

I take the patron over there, and after flipping through a couple, the patron says,

Patron: I like the ideas in these two. But neither of them actually tell you how to paint - are there books that will show a beginner like me how to do it right?

We have those books, too, but they're in a different section. I shuffle the patron over to the 645's, but I also need to show her the 698's, because there are some how-to books there, too.

While I'm pointing out these books, the patron continues,

Patron: We've already started painting a bit, and spilled paint on the carpet. Will these books tell me how to clean that up?

Well, no, I don't think so... those books will be in 640.

Patron: Oh, and we noticed some cracks in the drywall, which we'd like to try to repair. My husband is pretty handy, so he thinks he can handle it. And one of the outlets isn't working, so can you show me where those books are?

Now we're back to the 690's for the drywall books, but need to cross over to 621 for books on wiring. The patron says thank you, and is excited, because we have books on every aspect of her project. But as I turn to leave, she takes my arm and says,

Patron: Before you go... well, I'm lost. I've forgotten where the first books are you showed me, and the 'how to paint' books - can you show me where those are again?

I know her project is involved, but the basic question is fairly straight-forward: "where is the home improvement section?" My issue is that Dewey doesn't have one - it has at least four.

Patrons have difficulty finding library resources because we make it difficult. All of these books, since they are related, should be shelved more closely together than this. Why is it that books on dogs (636) are between the electrical books (621) and the home improvement books (645); and between the home improvement books (645) and the general construction books (690's) are books on writing resumes (650)? Arrgh.

Don't worry: no dead horses were beaten during the writing of this post.

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Shelf Reading Guide

   August 30th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Library ShelvesQ: What's the most important job in the library?
A: The lowly Page.

Pages are important because how well they do their job dictates whether or not a book can be found on the shelf. A library is dependent on its organization system (whatever it might be), so the process for getting returned books back to the right place on the shelf needs to be pretty close to perfect.

Pages are the first step in that process.

The second step is shelf reading. Books get mis-shelved. Patrons pick up books and put them back in the wrong place. It happens. This is why it is necessary (however dreadful and tedious) to shelf read a library's collection from time to time.

Dodie Gaudet, on her blog Quick T.S., provides a nice Guide to Shelf Reading. It's kind of a recap of what is taught in library school, but distilled to the important parts, including suggestions and useful links.

Although I dread a massive shelf-reading project, we can always use one, and this might actually prompt me to begin.

libraries, library, page, pages, paging, public libraries, public library, shelf reading, shelf-reading, shelving

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