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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Call to Action: Shelve Series in Number Order NOT Alpha Order

The Call to Action is back, and while today’s is not as serious an issue as some of the others in this series, it is a huge pet peeve of mine and one that will greatly improve your service to leisure readers. But, it is kinda of an annoying amount of work [with a HUGE customer service pay out].

Here it is: Stop shelving our series in alphabetical order. Who reads a series in alphabetical order?!?! NO ONE! 

Look I know we shelve books in alphabetical order to make them easier to find and it’s what we do, but series are almost always read in order. Yes we are obsessed with alpha order in libraries, but here’s a shocking news alert... Sometimes it is not the best way to organize our materials.

We want people to enjoy browsing the library for their next good read. We want to show them that we care about their experience. So, then we need to actually put the books out in a way that helps them to find what they want.

Now sarcasm aside, I also know that many library employees will react poorly to this suggestion. I know this from experience. They will act like changing the way will shelve books will physically harm them. Seriously. I have used the following lines on my actual coworkers before when they screamed at me or freaked out at my “cray ideas.":

  • Calm down. No one is going to die here. We are talking about moving some books.
  • They are not your books. You do not own them. They belong to the people of this community. So let’s put them where those people who own them will best find them.
As you can tell, I didn’t make any new friends with those comments, but I did make my point. We need to think less about our “rules” or “how things have always been done,” and instead think about what makes the most sense.

I am happy to say that I have been spreading this Call to Action all over the country in my live appearances and I am starting to see that more and more libraries are listening.  At my regional training last week, we had multiple libraries who have made the switch. A few of them shared how they did it. Some did everything at once, which is a huge project for Tech Services. But others said they began by marking the new books. As they came in, they added the series number to the call number sticker and then went back and did all the books in that series. So they tackled it one series at a time.

In terms of how to mark the series, different libraries do it differently. Some simply keep the call number sticker the same and have a brightly colored series number sticker that goes on the spine. This is the easiest way to do it as you don’t have to change every record and can simply pull the books and slap a sticker on. This way, you also don’t HAVE to shelve them in numerical order which is sometimes a compromise you have to make depending on your administrators. You can keep shelving in alpha order because the numbers are there. This does get a little more confusing when an author has multiple series. In that case, libraries have told me that they make sure to use a different color for a different series. So one author might have three “1s” on three different books, but one is on green paper, one on blue, and one on red.

However, the best way to do it, the way that gives the most access points- from the shelf to the catalog- is to add the series info to the call number on the book and in the catalog. Here is an example of what it would look for Louise Penny’s Still Life:
Gamache: 1
And this would be what A Fatal Grace would look like:
Gamache: 2
Now “Still Life” will be shelved appropriately before “A Fatal Grace” in series order. This fixes the non-intuitive alphabetical order rule which flips them. Also by using a shortened version of the series name, we can keep like series grouped.  In Penny’s case she only have one series for now, but who knows what will happen in the future. Plenty of authors have multiple series [I’m looking at you James Patterson and Nora Roberts]. Picking a shortened version and being consistent in using it is perfect.

Also, while Louise Penny does not have a stand alone book as of yet, by using a series name with the number you also have a way to shelve any standalones a series author might have-- and for many this is the case. Those without the series designation, would be shelved first and then the series all together as alpha rules would demand.

So please consider making your series more intuitive on the shelf. Yes, it is a lot of work at first, but it really is the best thing for our patrons.

For past Call to Action posts, click here.


Donna said...

And if you can't managewhat Becky suggests, at least mark in some way (we use a small, green dot) the first book in any series. This will help you find the right book if you are suggesting a new series to a patron and it will hopefully prevent you from weeding the first book in an ongoing series.

Becky said...

Great idea Donna. And if you do this on your own and collect data on how much better those green dot books are circulating, you might be able to build a case for the larger cataloging project!