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


LCSH: Fallery–Sky

   October 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

cookery signThis announcement was making the rounds yesterday on Twitter, and it seems to qualify as the-sky-is-falling type news:

The Library of Congress is revising their "Cookery" subject heading [pdf], saying:

The use of the term “cookery” will be discontinued in these categories of headings. The term “cooking” will be used instead in most cases.

The "Cookery" example was always the go-to citation for demonstrating how traditional library institutions were out of date, and how Web 2.0 tagging filled a need by linking together books and information based on the way people actually think and speak.

LibraryThing.com has led the way in much of this innovation and development, showing the old timers better ways to serve library patrons. This Cookery change shows that the powers that be are paying attention. So does Ebsco's release of NoveList Select, which mimics LibraryThing for Libraries' functionality by putting NoveList data right into the library catalog (where our patrons already are), instead of making them go somewhere else for it.

People often refer to these traditional library vendors and institutions as dinosaurs, but they seem to be learning from and closing the gap with the inflatable rhino.



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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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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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Maybe LCSH isn’t so bad…

   December 20th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Insulation and Weatherizing book on Amazon.comIn preparation for this colder weather, my library had a book display about home insulation, heating efficiency, and weatherizing. This prompted me to purchase a few new books, but I found something I never expected.

When looking for books similar to what the library already has, one of the tools I use is Amazon.com. That might be library blasphemy, but between Amazon's various suggestion services, its subject categories, and a greasemonkey script for directly checking our catalog, it's a quick and dirty way to find what I'm looking for.

As you might think, it's certainly not 100% reliable. But this time, I happened across one book with subjects that puts even "cookery" to shame.

The book in question is Insulate and Weatherize, by Bruce Harley. My library already has a copy, and I was looking at it on Amazon for updates. But I was astounded when I came to their subject listings (keep in mind, this is a home improvement-type book on insulation and weatherizing a house):
Amazon Home Insulation Subjects

"Cloning?" "Babysitters?" "Juvenile fiction?" And my favorite, "Life on other planets?" I know Amazon's sole function is to push as much stuff as possible at visitors to maximize sales, but come on. At least it was good for a laugh.

amazon, amazon.com, chelmsford, greasemonkey, headings, libraries, library, public, subject, subjects



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