Almost five years after reorganizing our picture book collection we recently decided to commit to a plan and dig in to a full-on rethinking of the children’s non-fiction collection. The project, called Operation Awesome NonFic Reorg (at least that’s what I call it in my own mind) began about two months ago and is on target for completion this August.
Brainstorming with coworker and fellow ALSC blogger Elisabeth Gattullo, we began sketching out ideas for the non-fiction section about a year ago. Our goal was to address a problem our patrons had been complaining about forever: how to easily find non-fiction books for elementary-aged children. We have recognized for quite some time that the traditional Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) was not child-friendly. And frankly, not too parent-friendly, either. We researched how other libraries had reorganized their non-fiction for children, visited a few wonderful libraries and spoke to some truly passionate, innovative librarians who had ditched Dewey. I was incredibly inspired by the librarians at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Manhattan who developed a Dewey-alternative system called Metis.
Although we seriously considered ditching Dewey completely, we ultimately decided on a hybrid model. We wanted to make our collection accessible and inviting for children and their grown-ups. We wanted our patrons to enjoy browsing non-fiction books in the same way they love browsing through fiction. We also knew that we needed to retain strong findability for users searching for a specific subject or title. This hybrid classification system enables us to refine and adapt DDC in ways that make sense for elementary-aged children. We can group like subjects together (Yes! Animals and pets CAN be shelved side by side!) and address Dewey’s antiquated tendencies to be Euro-centric and misogynistic. We opted to keep the DDC shelf addresses, thereby preserving the one thing Dewey does right: locating specific items in a physical location nearby similar items. For our community of library users, this hybrid compromise was the right decision.
We settled on nine distinct sections:
- STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)
- Then & Now
(There are also sections for Kids Poetry and Kids Bios, which had previously been separate collections.)
Each section is colored-coded; a small matte color label adorns each spine at the base, clearly identifying its designation. Each of the above sections has the location built into its call number. For example, the call number for the book Penguins by Lynn M. Stone is Kids Animals 598.47 Stone. The “Kids” prefix indicates the general area in the Children’s Library. “Animals” further specifies the section within the Kids collections. The DDC number gives it a precise shelf location. All of this is further aided by the color-coding on the spine labels and signage which enable better findability and browsability.
Since we will be open to the public and the collection will be actively used during this project, we had to plan carefully for the retro-fitting and conversion process. We purposefully chose to do the majority of the work during June and July, when our non-fiction circulation is typically at its lowest. This will enable us to physically retro-fit and scan the vast majority of the books in our collection. We are going through each shelf systematically, handling each and every title and making a decision about which of the nine sections it should live. Once that decision is made (for tough cases we put it to a quick committee vote) we apply the new labels and then scan the barcode into the appropriate record set in our ILS (we use Polaris.) After that each book is placed back on the shelf in traditional DDC order. Once the entire collection is labeled and scanned, we will move the books into their new color-coded groupings.
By the start of the new school year, our more friendly, child-centric non-fiction collection will be complete. We anticipate a strong increase in circulation and general use. Ultimately, we anticipate seeing happy children browsing and searching in the stacks, expanding their knowledge and discovering wonderful new titles.
Feel free to pose questions in the comments section below- this is a work-in-progress and we are happy to share our successes as well as our failures! Learn & grow!