My entire library is now arranged on a modified bookstore model. Fiction and nonfiction are shelved together in sections (called ‘Islands’) and subsections (called Departments) according to broad themes. It only took a year, but I have finally completed the reorganization of the K-2 ‘Island’, which has been known as “Easy Street” since before my time.
Shelving for the rest of the library took up the entire renovation budget except for one 2-stack free-standing range for Easy Street. Working with this and the existing shelving, I sectioned the picture books into 32 departments, which had to be distributed among the 7 tall and 6 short stacks as well as the new shelving that fits 24 tubs. For a list of the Easy Street departments, click here.
If I could, I would have them all in bins or tubs since they are natural face-out display and the kids just seem to really like them. However, working with what I had was OK too, since the old stacks are nicely divided to keep the books upright in small sections.
As I sorted the books I weeded heavily to eliminate any dingy or dated feel. From tightly packed shelves with ratty spines almost more eye-catching than the bright new ones between them, little fingers can now easily pinch and slide individual books out to give their typically quick evaluation of the book by its cover – the inevitable, if regrettable process.
As I mentioned at an earlier stage, I did not eliminate the Dewey Decimal numbers, but feel quite sure that they will be dropped in the near future. Nonfiction and fiction are grouped together within each shelf or bin. The books in the tubs are randomly mixed. In the stacks they are shelved with the nonfiction first and fiction following. Stories follow information books.
Dividing fiction and nonfiction materials is less and less important, given the proliferation of fact and concept-based fiction and narrative nonfiction. Critical thinking is always necessary to determine what information is researched and what can be attributed to an author’s imagination. My primary teachers are completely on board with this, being used to combining fiction and nonfiction in their teaching. They think it’s great that, for example, math stories and nonfiction are now together on one shelf.
Apart from periodicals and tubs of standard format readers kept separate from the themed sections, the departments range from the 2-stack, 329 book “Me, My Friends & My Family” to the 1 tub, 18 book department “Building and Construction”. (One of the many benefits of this project has been how obvious the need becomes to develop certain areas.) Many books could have been placed in more than one department. I tried to determine the primary theme to place each one. Thus fiction books with animal characters could be in one of the animals departments if the theme related to the real-life needs or habits of the animals, or any one of the others if it was about friendship or community, etc.
For the first month or so, I won’t obscure the signs with any display books. I designed the signs in Publisher to have a large image or a couple of images that students will hopefully identify with. Apart from the department title, I also typed a list of subjects included within the section for older students, program assistants and teachers, ensuring that connections to curriculum and common classroom themes were always included. The department abbreviation appears in a bottom corner corresponding to that on the bottom of the spine labels, assisting with shelving.
Although my mandate for library classes is not lesson-based, I intend to feature one department during each weekly library class. Showing a fiction and nonfiction book and reading aloud from either or both, I will encourage the children to identify the commonalities and differences. Students will need to think critically to separate fact from fiction while becoming familiar with the Easy Street departments.
Unfortunately, I could not complete this during the school year and put over 65 hours of my own time into it over the summer. (I do have a life, but it’s flexible.) It took me that much time to sort, read when necessary, weed, reclassify and relabel over 3,000 books and to make the signs. Being the sole person in the library during the school year, daily assistance to students and staff naturally took precedence. The bits I got done on this project barely made a difference. Not being the kind of person who can leave such a project incomplete, it was worth it to me to get it done over the summer.
The reaction of our Division 1 teachers during our first work day last week was very positive with absolutely no objection to the new arrangement. The grade 1 teacher was effusively enthusiastic. She has been teaching for over 20 years, is an inveterate library user and assures me that this is a better system.
It helps to remember that when Melville Dewey set up his amazing system of classification, patrons requested and librarians located the books. The success of the browse is absolutely essential in the modern library where patrons of all ages are encouraged to peruse, touch and make discoveries for themselves.
Click here to see Easy Street after it has been decorated.
Read the whole series of this project here.