Sunday, June 24, 2012

#ala12: Rethinking Your Picture Book Shelves

Sunday evening just before the Newbery-Caldecott banquet, I attended a program called "I WANT A TRUCK BOOK! Reorganizing Your Picture Book Collection to Meet the Needs of Young Patrons and their Caregivers." The three fantastic presenters were Gretchen Caserotti of Darien Library (CT), Deborah Cooper of Stark County (OH) Library District, and Tali Balas Kaplan of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in NYC. All three have recently converted some of their children's collections to a non-Dewey, broad category organization.

How does your library organize the books for children? Dewey for nonfiction, alphabetical order (perhaps with some age ranging) for fiction? That seems to be the default for almost every American library that serves children, be it public or school. But does it need to be? There are some good arguments for reevaluating how you organize your materials, books for young readers in particular:

  • People don't really understand library coding systems. What does that "J" stand for? What is going on with the Dewey Decimal System? Studies show that most people never really learn the way libraries traditionally organize their collections, and they instead just memorize where in the building and on the shelf they can find what they like. Too bad if the library rearranges things.
  • Libraries have two types of users: seekers and browsers. Seekers will be able to find what they want no matter the organizational scheme. Browsers, on the other hand, have a very hard time finding what they want on their own when using traditional systems. Why not employ a system that promotes findability and discoverability?
  • Asking kids in particular to use traditional library organizational schemes to find books is massively developmentally inappropriate. Alphabetical and numerical order are very abstract concepts to kids, and that's once we've already assumed the book-seekers in question can read. Then there's Dewey--kids don't learn decimals until the fifth grade. We're making it rather difficult for our target audience to get their hands on the books we purchase for them.
  • Having books organized in a fashion that makes sense to kids facilitates the development of their own categorization skills. Figuring out how to put things in the appropriate bucket, as it were, is a key step in intellectual development.
The librarians who presented in favor of reorganizing children's collections all decided that the complications of traditional systems made finding books much too difficult for kids, and as a result they developed their own organizational schemes. Some are comprehensive, some comprise just certain aspects of their collections. Whatever specific methods they employed, the recategorized books saw huge increases in circulation. Kids and caregivers both overwhelmingly reported that it was now so much easier to find what they wanted. Isn't that part of the point of providing library services for children? When we're working with kids and often-frazzled grown-ups, shouldn't one of our customer service goals be to make finding things easier?

What are your thoughts on non-traditional and homegrown organizations of kids' books?

1 comment:

  1. During my 20 year career, I have arranged picture books thematically in all 3 of my K-5 libraries. It makes my little borrowers (and their teachers) MUCH more independent. By the time the little ones are old enough to understand alpha-numerical organization, they have generally "graduated" to chapter books and more advanced non-fiction, which are housed (and arranged) traditionally. It's a lot of work to set up at the onset, but I have found that it pays off tremendously in patron satisfaction, as well as ease of reshelving.

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