Librarian Reacts to Change, part I

edvard munch scream
Oh no! The horror! (“The Scream,” Edvard Munch)

A periodical typically indicates its purpose and intended audience, and Lucky Magazine is no exception.  Emblazoned on its cover is the phrase “Lucky—The Magazine about Shopping.”  Now that’s something I can get behind.  I like to keep up with trends I am not going to follow.  No hottest coat for chilly days or “ridiculously good riding boots” for me.  Clearly, the intended audience for this magazine skews younger than I; nevertheless, it’s a fun read.  As a librarian, how can I resist flipping through the pages? The content within may hold the answer to my next reference question.

I saw something in the November issue that almost made me scream, and not in a good way.  It profiled Brooklyn boutique owner Jen Mankins. Even when she was a youngster, Jen was encouraged to select her own home décor.  Young Jen had sophisticated yet whimsical taste.  Color and texture meant the world to her then, as they do now.  To demonstrate this, a photo shows how she organizes her bookshelf artfully, sorting the books by color.  BY COLOR!!! What?!!!

(Original photo by Paul Barbera)
(Original photo by Paul Barbera)

As the British would say, I was gobsmacked.  I’d never heard of a concept so outlandish.  I was informed that the arrangement of books by color is a common organizational practice used in home libraries.  I still couldn’t believe it, until I found evidence of it all over the internet.

Pretty as this scheme is, it is also impractical.  How would the owner of such a collection find a title? (Jen wants to bake a pie.  If only she could remember the color of Joy of Cooking, so she could find that recipe!) I foresee this method of sorting books leading to delays in information retrieval (as well as a surplus of sad, overripe peaches wishing they had been transformed into pie).

My cookbooks, many in number, all reside with their friends.  My stained glass pattern books are adjacent to the mosaic craft books.  In my house Paul Simon cohabits with Judy Collins, and they make beautiful music together. My home library is arranged by theme. I always can find the book I want when I want it.  But I am not a particularly complicated person; my reading interests are few.  Check out how Matthew Wigginton Conway organizes his library here (and get that fresh, smacked in the gob sensation).

Larger libraries also arrange their books thematically.  Our early library experiences familiarized many of us with the Dewey decimal classification system, frequently used in elementary school and public libraries.  Dewey identifies a book by a three digit number (from 000-999) which relates to the book’s subject matter.  It is followed by a unique decimal representing the book number, which distinguishes it from all other books on the topic.

Find Shirley Jackson's short stories here
Find Shirley Jackson’s short stories here

While fiction books could also have Dewey numbers, public libraries routinely segregate their fiction.  Books in the public library are labeled with the letter “F” or “FIC” to designate that they are fiction, followed by the author’s last name or initial.

Like a bookstore (but without the coffee bar), the public library also “merchandizes” its material by displaying the same genre together.   For example, romance fiction will be shelved separately from science fiction.  The purpose of shelving like items together is to increase the visibility of these items, and hence, to increase their circulation.

Have a favorite genre?  (Sure.  Scandinavian whodunits.) If there were shelves filled only with this genre, a person would be willing to read even unfamiliar authors’ books (provided these books were translated from the Swedish). In other words, you can satisfy your reading needs just by browsing the shelves.

Have a favorite author?  Where to find his/her book in the public library is more problematic.  Stephen King’s latest book, Joyland, can be found in MYSTERY, his other works with regular FICTION.  When hot off the press, his just published work would most likely be found in an area reserved for NEW books. His titles with enhanced font sizes are held in a section designated LARGE PRINT BOOKS. Any day now, my friend Stephen could write a ROMANCE, and then you would be required to search one additional location to find this fiction.  What about his non-fiction book, On Writing? It is housed in two areas: adult and YA (young-adult) BIOGRAPHY.    You will wear out considerable shoe leather in your effort to locate the books of an individual author at the public library…

Continue on to Librarian Reacts to Change, part II →

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Contributed by: Carol Schapiro, Librarian, Midtown Library

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2 thoughts on “Librarian Reacts to Change, part I

  1. Shoshana Yehudah March 11, 2015 / 9:46 pm

    Love the article! I learned something and was amused. Can’t wait to read Part 2.

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