anecdotal librarian

One of the projects I’m enmeshed in this summer is developing a plan to move a collection from one place in the library to another. At least it’s on the same floor. I know, it’s such a traditional library issue, nothing sexy like a a system migration or emerging technologies.

Another librarian–Kathy— and I want to move the growing children’s collection into the static law/government documents collection. Actually, maybe switch spaces completely, if that’s possible. Or weed law dramatically and then either move it to the room where the children’s collection resides, or put it with the Js & Ks in the stacks, yet maintain its special status as a non-circulating collection.

One of the ideas Kathy has is shelving the children’s collection according to the bookstore model. I wasn’t sure what that meant other than a coffee shop, comfortable furniture, and that librarians should wear smocks. But actually, I learned quite a bit from our field trip to Gatlinburg yesterday. Typically the arrangement and display of books is customer-driven, not librarian-driven. And there is a cafe, believe it or not, but not what you might expect.

Kathy learned that Anna Porter Public Library in Gatlinburg implemented the bookstore model in their new library, open since March 2009, and she suggested we take a look, see how it worked, talk to the director, and then determine if it’s a good fit for our children’s collection. That’s just what we did.

appl 031The new library is simply lovely. It’s like entering a bookstore. Or a new, fancy-schmancy library. Their special shelves are wooden and allow for lots of outward facing books, which is one of the tenets of the bookstore model. Another is to put the highest circulating materials to the right. Apparently we’re predisposed to go to the right as we enter buildings or queue in lines at amusement parks. Ms. Temple, the director, put new fiction to the right, so it’s the first thing entering her patron’s greedy hands. And there’s a staff recommends unit, too, which I loved because it gives you more information about the librarians and their personalities and reading habits. But that’s just me. I love to know what everyone is reading. A standard question I ask everyone is: “What are you reading that’s good?”

appl 007And so fiction is treated in the same, traditional fashion, and shelved by author’s last name. It’s the non-fiction that is grouped and categorized by subject. At APPL, they apply stickers to each spine indicating the category in which the book belongs. But then, once the book is in its category, it’s arranged on the shelf by its Dewey number. I’m not certain that Dewey would always play a major role at APPL, or in the other bookstore model libraries.

appl 013There are a few branch libraries in Columbus, Ohio and that’s where Ms. Temple found her inspiration. She visited bookstores to see how they grouped books, for example, keeping humanities adjacent to each other and the same for sciences. Each shelf has those shelf thingies where you can label “metaphysics” and group those books together under that label.

appl 015

Another thing that interested me was that the sections are not sequentially shelved. It’s rather random, but still has some rationale behind it. So you may have 690s right next to the 390s.

The fabulous thing is that the collection is constantly changing within the bookstore model. Wooden shelving units, which are not as long as typical shelf ranges, are on casters so they can be moved and the library easily shifts to all sorts of configurations. Each unit features endcaps where books are easily displayed to encourage readers to borrow them, but apparently the patrons of APPL don’t want to take them because they fear messing up a display.

My question was what problems they would encounter as the collection grew. All the space the outward facing covers take up would be used up as the collection grows, right? Not at APPL. Their policy is to weed everything that doesn’t circulate in five years, so they’re constantly refreshing their inventory, much as a bookstore would.

Interestingly, the children’s collection at APPL was not organized on the bookstore model. It seemed very traditional. They had nice furniture in there, but it was kind of bland for an area supposed to excite children about books and reading.

Another shocker for me was that many reference books were shelved with the circulating items in their corresponding categories, as was all the children’s/YA non-fiction. The demand for reference services is low and so keeping the collection in one tidy location easily accessible for librarians isn’t a consideration. Ms. Temple said she’d circulate those reference items if anybody wanted to borrow them.

appl 026Speaking of YA, they have their own corner at APPL. Appeared to be a good collection of YA literature, graphic novels, and a flat screen television broadcasting Sponge Bob. The collection was arranged around their interests, as well. All the education, animal, music, and video/DVDs spoked out from that corner.

After the tour and talk with Ms. Temple, Kathy and I believe that we could do this with our children’s collection. The only real cost would be buying category-appropriate stickers. Oh, and all the moving of furniture. Shifting of collection can be accomplished by student workers. Yet, we won’t have that slick bookstore look, either. We’ll have to use the 10-12 foot high metal shelves that already live in the law/govdocs area. New furniture would be great, too. But that won’t happen. Lack of money. The upholstered furniture we have in the library is yucky, really. It’s newish, but just functional, not aesthetically pleasing in any fashion.

And we’d like to incorporate a reading tree as a focal point in the children’s collection. It’s just a tree, usually created from a support beam/pillar, where children/readers rest on cushions beneath it’s branches to browse books.

One last thing to mention: I found an interesting article on the bookstore model whilst preparing for our visit to APPL.  Dewey or Dalton: An investigation of the lure of the bookstore delves into the differing service models between libraries and bookstores. But wait. Maybe they aren’t so different after all.

The author, Shonda Brisco, is a school librarian in Texas. She immersed herself in a chain bookstore for a few hours and made several interesting observations. One was that it was too crowded by shelves and displays and merchandise to properly function as a library. Then there was the problem with keeping order. She determined that libraries do it better. But, despite having signs and the books categorized by subject, she still had to speak to a clerk to find a book she wanted.  She concluded that the system itself, meaning Dewey or LC, “isn’t the problem. It’s the way the patron uses it,” and that libraries’ organization schemes are far superior to those of bookstores’.

But her real discovery was that bookstores are organized in a way to make the customer interact with the clerk. I hesitate to use the word bookseller, since those folks no longer exist in today’s proliferation of chain bookstores who employee virtually useless, incredibly disempowered children for cheap labor. The bookstore model is all about making money. The more times the customer must talk to the clerk, the more opportunities clerk’s have to sell you something or offer you magazine subscriptions or candy by the register.

And so, if you think about it, librarians do the same thing. We arrange books in a manner in which we understand. But it’s all Greek to students/users. Unless, they’ve been tutored in using the library via library/bibliographic instruction. Student/patron walks in off the street, is stymied by the opac, stymied by how to find the article they need, and then, finally, they approach the librarian. It’s job security, you see?

All in all, I’m not certain what to think, anymore, about the bookstore model. It’s appealing to the eye. But after reading Brisco’s article, I’m convinced that bookstores and libraries operate on the same model of confusing the customer/patron in order to make them interact with the librarian. And people today, according to studies and the media, want to do it all themselves. Seriously, I’ve always wanted to do it all myself,  so I can’t understand the generational shift.

That makes it seem as though librarians are the stinky kid in class with whom no one plays at recess. How sad. Much to think about here. How to change it, or whether to change it? Who likes the stinky kid?

One thought on “anecdotal librarian

  1. Pingback: retro librarian « adj.librarian

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