Over the years, as students are doing research and as new books have arrived for the collection, it’s become clearer and clearer that the 300s (“Social Sciences”) are the junk drawer of the library shelves.
Sometimes, it’s the fault of the catalogers at the Library of Congress. Years ago, at a previous school, I purchased the series “The President’s Position: Debating the Issues” and discovered that half the series was in 973.* (American History) while the other half was in 321.8 (Presidents). Which meant, of course, that I had to figure out where my students would best find the books. Sometimes it’s the fault of the publishers for not providing enough information to LoC (the book Islam and democracy in Indonesia : tolerance without liberalism is really more about Indonesia and Indonesian politics than the religion, yet it was supposed to be shelved in the 200s). Some things just baffle me, like finding a book on Watergate in our True Crime section, or a book on slavery in among books on Woolworths and LLBean (yes…. but really, no). And that’s only a few of the books ordered over the years.
In going through our collection at Milton, we noticed little things, like Marcus Garvey being in three different places. And we knew that we had more on China that was in 951, but students weren’t using those books because they were scattered around the collection. So, in a burst of energy and excitement (or boredom, you decide) we tackled the junk drawer. It’s difficult to do as a solo librarian, but if you have a team? It’s really instructive to have the conversations about topics like slavery, LGBTQ issues and history, abortion, etc.. It’s also helpful to go through the shelves and really look at things from a non-librarian’s perspective: where will our students best find the materials? is it more useful here… or here? And that’s not even starting to take into account the fact that OCLC occasionally changes DDC (we learned that 329 had been discontinued, but we had several books there. Whoops!
Our overarching goal is to ensure that the books we have are both useful and findable, which sometimes means adding to the MARC record. Yes, it took a long time to get through the 300s… this time. And yes, it’ll be an ongoing project. The overlap between the 300s and other areas of the collection is huge, much like the overlap between the junk drawer in the kitchen and other areas of the house. We now have a Google Doc that enumerates our cataloging norms so we can, as we get new books or find things on the shelves, put them together. It’ll also help as we look at which books we need (at one previous school, to support the 11th grade History class, we had many books on the Treaty of Versailles but when that project ended, we didn’t need as many as we’d had, freeing up shelf space for other topics we needed for their new research papers; at another, there were nearly 1,000 books on Nazi Germany, many of which could be weeded or moved back into other areas of the collection when the course on the Nazis ceased to be offered).
To paraphrase a popular commercial tagline, what’s in your junk drawer?