Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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What’s on the shelves?

Posted by lpearle on 13 August 2013

Last week I dove into doing inventory – in many ways, my least favorite library activity (my aching back and shoulders! my dusty hands!) , but also in many ways my favorite library activity as it’s a great opportunity to look at the shelves and see where there are gaps, problems, areas that could be moved, etc..

As always, learning a new collection means taking a step back from what you knew about your old collection: comparisons only work if you’re comparing discrete sections, not overall.  So when I see few books on [topic] on the shelves, and fondly remember all the work done to bring the old collection’s books on that topic to a great level, I can’t assume it’s because the new collection is lacking, it may be the curriculum is that different and many books on [topic] aren’t needed.  And the reverse also applies.  Meeting with the different departments and learning from them what they need from the library, and what their ideal collection would be (given unlimited funds and shelf space) is going to be a critical component of my next few months.

Of course, DDC doesn’t help.  I saw books on AIDS in three places: 362.1, 614.5 and 616.9.  Books on Tennessee Williams are in 809, 812, 813 and 818.  If my goal is to make it easier for students to find books, that’s not helping!

In the fiction section, obviously, comparisons can be made.  It’s always interesting to scan the shelves to see what’s popular, what’s gathering dust and what’s unique to that library.  It’s also always interesting to see what’s appropriate in one school may not be appropriate in another.  A few years ago I spoke with a school that did not want books like Junie B. Jones on the shelves because it promoted disobedience to adults.  At another, even though the English department requested Sandman, the decision was that graphic novels weren’t “literary enough” (despite Persepolis and Maus being used in the curriculum).  One well-meaning teen organized a large donation to school libraries, but didn’t know enough to weed Fear of Flying from the ages 10-18 boxes, which made me wonder how many younger librarians would know about that book!  What I have noticed, in working with the various schools, is that few of the librarians actually read YA books.  One librarian I worked with castigated me for not reading “serious” books (I do, but I also read genre fiction, non-fiction, YA fiction, and ABC books – it’s really helpful when you’re doing reader’s advisory!).

If there’s a series “missing”, does it mean that students didn’t respond and it’s been weeded, or that no one thought to buy the books to begin with?  If there’s a lot of a specific type of book, is that because it’s a beloved author/genre, or due to a donation from a departing student/faculty member?  Again, working with the students will help me better fill in the gaps and create a really great pleasure reading collection.

More to follow…

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