Monday, June 15, 2009

Library book shelving: a cautionary tale

I only recently became aware that some libraries are shelving Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman according to its Library of Congress number, 741.5—the drawing/cartoons section.

Yet I want it to be shelved with all the other picture book biographies. The picture book bios of Muhammad Ali are not shelved in sports and the picture book bios of John James Audubon are not shelved in birds...

Libraries can overrule the LOC designation, and indeed some have shelved Boys of Steel in biographiesbut, for example, only 10 out of the 130 or so libraries in my home state.

I wonder if some librarians shelved it in 741.5 only because they didn't realize it is a biography. They don't have time to become familiar with every book they process, given the volume. They see "Superman" on a cover and the shelving response is automatic. Who would figure a book with that word in the subtitle is nonfiction?

What I did not realize until this past weekend is that no picture book biographies (at least none I checked) are catalogued as biography. Therefore, it is always up to librarians (or library distributors) to determine when a book would be better served shelved in biography rather than with the subject. In other words, my original plan to try to get the Library of Congress to re-designate Boys of Steel is, mercifully, unnecessary.

The effect of the book will be limited if it remains in the drawing/cartoons section. Kids who look there typically want books on how to draw. They would not necessarily be surprised to find a biography on Superman's creators there—yet they also may not pay it much mind given their purpose in looking in that section.

I feel circulation of Boys of Steel would increase significantly if it were shelved in an area where more kids regularly browse (often because a biography assignment forces them to). Some of those kids would be pleasantly surprised to stumble upon unconventional picture book nonfiction among the multiple books each on Abraham Lincoln, Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart, and Ashton Kutcher.

Thank you to Marc Aronson at Nonfiction Matters for helping me spread the word about this by posting a slightly different version of this post even before I did, and thanks to Betsy Bird, also at School Library Journal, for offering to do the same.

Librarians! Please reshelve! Picture book biography authors! Check your shelving!

More on this.

6/17/09 addendum: A sage poster on Betsy Bird's blog explained a detail that makes the difference: the Library of Congress adds a "B" to the catalog number if the book is a biography, meaning the librarians are explicitly signaled that the book can be shelved either with its subject matter or with biographies. Thank you, B, and thank you, BB!

1 comment:

Chris W said...

Having worked in a library in high school, I agree that this is a major issue. If memory serves, the art section is a somewhat desolate place where few patrons venture. Moving to the biography section would greatly enhance the book's visibility.