Pull, Pop, Pet, Bite… How Do YOU Board Book?

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

shutterstock_384472549.jpgSelecting board books for public libraries can be tricky. Every time I am asked to work on a collection aimed at babies and toddlers for a library, I have to pose detailed questions. Do you want pull tabs? Pop-ups? Lift-the-flap? Only sturdy flaps? Die-cuts? Wheels? Padded cover? Finger puppets? Lap-size board? Noises? Touch and feel? Scratch and sniff? (Just kidding about that last one, but they DO get published sometimes!) When selecting, we can include or exclude certain features, using terms like “novelty” and “pop-up,” but those filters only address a limited number of details. Many libraries I work with automatically say “yes” to flaps but “no” to fuzz.

Here’s the thing: collection development philosophy dictates the kinds of board books a library selects—even those intended for babies. Many libraries choose to exclude all of the features listed above, which is certainly the way to go if the goal is to make those board books last. Or so you’d think… While interactive features are generally considered to shorten the shelf-life of board books, they can be critical for stimulating and capturing the attention of young children.

Book-ImageIn her wonderful book “Reading with Babies, Toddlers, and Twos,” Susan Straub writes, “The importance of touch and feel to an infant cannot be overemphasized.” She goes on to explain, “Dragging your baby’s hand across a ‘bunny’s’ fur or a ‘chick’s’ feathers is a lovely feeling for you both. Each furry or feathery swatch prompts you to say something about it. What do you tell your baby?” We emphasize to families that talking with their babies is part of reading and a critical early literacy skill, and these kinds of books can be an important tool. Some parents, especially those with infants, tell us they are at a loss for what to say to their babies. Books like these invite conversation and help develop vocabulary. Parents can teach their children words prompted from their own experience, even in a language other than the one in which the book is written.

Lift-the-flap, tabs, and pop-ups offer the interactive excitement of making something happen in the story. Whoa, autonomy! Magic! They also provide the very young an opportunity to practice patience, manual dexterity, and fine motor skills.

shutterstock_222765934In my opinion, many of the bestselling picture books that publishers choose to release in board book form are not at all geared to the audience. Maybe your three-year-old can’t be trusted with paper pages and picture books offer a sturdier alternative. Okay, I’ll give you that. But otherwise, many of the titles that don’t include interactive features are not actually suitable for babies. This puts caregivers in the position of trying to make storytime stimulating, while using books that aren’t up to the task. Worse, caregivers who don’t have access to interactive titles often give up reading to their babies altogether, bemoaning the inability of their little ones to sit still for a book. Our job as librarians is to encourage parents and kids to find the books they love, so we need to offer them engaging experiences that encourage reading and learning.

When I was a children’s librarian at a public library, our general rule of thumb was that a board book gets about five circs, after which it’s trashed. It didn’t matter if the title was smooth and featureless; it got chewed up by happy, teething readers. So if you’re shutterstock_27090169-with-invisible-borderanticipating such a short shelf-life, you might as well get something fuzzy, or otherwise tactile, to entice and interest the babies for whom the stories are intended. In the grand scheme of a library’s overall budget, board books are a small-ticket item.

At the same public library, we also had a large, rotating collection of Book Babies storytime tubs, with lots of these sorts of books that were non-circulating. Each tub contained 30 copies of a board book title. Three tubs went to each branch each week, allowing for communal reading of interactive books during storytime. This allowed the librarian to demonstrate different ways of using these special books. And, wonderfully, the library had more interactive titles available for families to take home.

shutterstock_311950931Speaking librarian to librarian, my advice is if a library is really embracing programs for babies and the ALA’s Every Child Ready to Read program, it’s worth considering interactive titles.

How does your library do board books?


Gwen Vanderhage - 2.5 x 3


After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.


What is the weirdest thing you’ve encountered or had to do as a librarian?

By The Brodart Librariansshutterstock_26690845.jpg

Given that librarians are service-oriented professionals, we encounter our fair share of strange behavior and offbeat requests. For your enjoyment and to start the year off on a lighter note, we have compiled some of our favorite memories of odd people and odder situations that we have encountered over the years in the libraries we have served.

Some of the anecdotes are slightly off-color, so proceed at your own risk… And please share your own stories in the comments section! (Login not required)


Melissa Perkins: “A guy walks into a bar…”

Melissa Perkins - 2.5 x 3This happened when I was completing my internship at a public library. One night while I was manning the reference desk during the evening shift, a man who seemed drunk wandered in. Apparently mistaking the library for a pub, he approached the “bar” and ordered a Bacardi on the rocks. I started smiling and said, “Well sir, we don’t have that, but we do have some books on rocks.” He looked dazed and confused for a few moments until he suddenly realized that he wasn’t at a bar after all. He began laughing. He and I chatted and laughed together in a neighborly fashion, as I quickly but politely escorted him to the nearest exit.


Lauren Lee: “Dangerous Material & Reading Aloud”

Lauren Lee - 2.5 x 3The weirdest request I ever received for reconsideration of materials: Ruth Krauss’ “The Carrot Seed.” A concerned parent was up in arms because she thought the book in question encouraged toddlers to eat raw carrots, and as we all know, “That’s dangerous!” (It should be noted that “The Carrot Seed” is a classic—and harmless—children’s book.)

The oddest printable public service request I ever received from a patron took place by phone: “Go get Volume 4 of The Oxford English Dictionary. Go to page 216 and read me the thirteenth entry on that page.” This happened more than once with the same patron, who always claimed that he had forgotten some detail that he needed to confirm. The entries were invariably words you wouldn’t want to read aloud—I’m sure you can hazard a few guesses. Volumes, pages and entry numbers have been changed to protect the innocent.


Stephanie Campbell: “The Expanding Role of Librarians”

Stephanie Campbell - 2.5 x 3In my first job at a public library, I was approached at the reference desk by an elderly woman who asked if I could remove a scratchy tag from the back collar of her dress. Somewhat taken aback but eager to please, I followed her into the stacks for some privacy and cut out the tag with a pair of scissors. She was then able peruse the large print section in comfort.

A few years later, I fielded a similar request while at the desk of an academic library. Still surprised, but rather unfazed since this was the second such occurrence, I went right for the scissors. This time around, the younger female patron simply grabbed the back of her elastic waist pants and stretched, granting me access to the rear seam and we took care of the offending bit right there on the spot. She then happily returned to her seat at the computer, itch-free.

So what’s weirder, that I was asked this not only once, but twice… or that I complied? Clearly, I take the role of “removing obstacles to library usage” VERY seriously!


Laura Young: “Ghostly Movements & Pranks Gone Wrong”

Laura Young - 2.5 x 3I worked as a student assistant at the reference desk in the main library of a large university. The floor containing the reference area was closed and locked every night at midnight, leaving only the 2nd floor open to students. One year during finals week, we came in to find that someone had defecated on the floor in front of the reference desk. This happened every night during finals week. We never figured out how the person got into the locked floor overnight, and never found out who did it.

In a separate incident, as part of hell week, one of the university fraternities required its pledges to perform a prank in the library. The pledges had to dress up in three-piece suits, cram themselves into a single elevator, and ride from the first floor to the sixth floor and back again. As luck would have it, the elevator malfunctioned and the pledges were stuck in the elevator between floors for four hours—dressed to the nines—before anyone could get them out.


Ann Wilson: “Evil Books”

AnnWilson - 2.5 x 3Back in the Dark Ages (i.e., the 1980s) I was the librarian of a combined high school/public library in a very small, very conservative community. Obviously, both school students and the public (children and adults) used the collection, which sometimes created interesting issues with respect to the collection. One day I received a call from a member of the library board who had just gotten a phone call from an older lady after she returned home from her weekly library visit. The elderly patron had expressed concern to the board member that the library was promoting “devil poetry.” The patron said this topic was not acceptable to the public and certainly should not be promoted to students. The board member was quite amused but asked me to please try to figure out what had upset this lady. I explained that I was quite certain we had no such books but I would of course look around. I could not imagine what the library patron had seen to prompt this outraged phone call, but I soon found it in the New Book section, where we kept the “hot” best-sellers of interest to adult readers. As it turns out, we had just put out Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses.”


Fern Hallman: “Can you help me make…?”

Fern Hallman - 2.5 x 3When I was a new librarian, a man approached me at the reference desk with a crumpled up piece of paper. This was long before Google. He told me someone had given him a chemical formula and he needed to know what he could make with it. The note on the crumpled paper read “C21H23NO5.” Since chemistry isn’t my specialty, I told him that if he thought he knew what the substance was, it would be easier to work backwards. After he hesitated a bit, I assured him I wouldn’t tell anyone. He finally told me he thought it was the chemical formula for heroin. Turns out he was right. I did tell him that he probably wasn’t going to be able to smash together a bunch of hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen atoms and go into business.


Suzanne Hawley: “Scary Monsters & a Scarier Mother”

Suzanne Hawley - 2.5 x 3A fourth grader in one of my schools fell in love with a book about movie monsters. The pictures in the book were horrific and full of gore—in other words, the kind of things young boys love to read and look at. The kid had checked it out about seven times and at that point it was overdue. His mother, presumably when going through his book bag, found the overdue notice and asked him to show her the book. When he did she immediately grabbed it and started ripping out pages. She stormed into my office the next day with the torn pages and told me the book was disgusting and she couldn’t believe I had such material on the shelf. She further informed me that it was her duty to examine all of the books in the media center. She said she’d be there early the next morning. She actually arrived at about 2 p.m., went through the books on one shelf and I never saw her again! Her son came in regularly after that and searched for the scariest possible books to check out. Not a word from Mama after that.


Gwen Vanderhage: “Hazardous Activities & a First-time Chef”

Gwen Vanderhage - 2.5 x 3I’d say one of the weirdest incidents that ever happened during one of my librarian shifts was when someone, for some unknown reason, decided to disassemble a large battery in the library. Not surprisingly, the acid from the battery dripped onto the floor and started eating through the carpet. The whole building had to be evacuated as a HAZMAT team moved in to clean up the mess.

One of my favorite questions came from a young woman who desperately needed advice about how to bake delicious cookies to impress a new boyfriend. “Can I use a blender?” she asked. “I have a blender.” Oh, dear… After looking over the recipe she had selected, I gave her my tips and offered advice on suitable appliances to use. The next week, she returned to report on her success and express her heartfelt appreciation. Librarians do change lives! Ha, ha!


Kat Kan: “An Unconventional Library Visitor”

Kat Kan - 2.5 x 3I was still an “emergency hire” librarian (month-to-month temporary hire) in Hawaii, my first library job after graduating from library school. I worked as a technician (paraprofessional) in the Arts, Music & Audiovisual Department of a public library. One afternoon while I was on duty at the reference desk, an older gentleman came out from behind the book stacks and proclaimed, “Young lady, there’s a cat in the stacks.” I started to giggle—it sounded so much like a Dr. Seuss rhyme—but he was very serious and took my hand. “Young lady, I’m not joking. There’s a cat in the stacks. Come and see.” So I walked over to the book shelves with him, and he pointed down; this was a double-sided shelf in the middle of the room. And there, on floor level, between the books, there was a little gray and black tabby kitten. I thanked the man, picked up the kitten, and called for one of my co-workers to bring a box for the kitten. After my shift, I called around to all the staff in the library that I thought might take a cat, but they all refused (most already had a cat, or multiple cats). We also had a cat at home, and a toddler; but I called my husband and asked if we could take the cat home. And that’s how we adopted Persephone, who lived with us for 20 years and traveled with us from Hawaii to Indiana to Michigan and then to Florida. She crossed the Rainbow Bridge 14 years ago, and I still miss her.


Paul Duckworth: “Analog Wikipedia”

Paul Duckworth New - 2.5 x 3Many years ago, before the Internet, I was staffing the reference desk at the main library where I had been employed for a few years. A colleague told me I had a “call on line 1.” I dutifully answered it and identified myself. Before I heard any voice on the other end, I detected the background noise of laughter, a song playing faintly, and muffled conversations. Then a man came on and asked me if I could settle a bet he had placed with his friend. They were at a bar and his request was important. He maintained that hummingbirds migrated from the southern United States across the Caribbean each year by hitching a ride on the backs of other (presumably larger and stronger) birds. Was he right, he asked me? I took down the number of the drinking establishment and assured him I would call him back shortly. Between chuckles, I wondered where in the world I could find a printed source that addressed whether or not this type of migratory behavior was utilized by hummingbirds. All the while, I restrained myself from phoning back and saying, “You idiot, of course they don’t hitch rides to migrate such a long distance. That’s absurd!” I quickly came to the conclusion that I was not going to find a printed source to refute his claim and so I needed to contact an expert. I called the local office of the state conservation department and found my answer. Then I called the patron back at the bar and broke the bad news to him. All in a day’s work—and never provide an answer without a reliable source to back it up!


Happy New Year from Brodart!


Shelving, Collection Usage, and Your Library

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

Have you ever wondered how your collection “stacks up?”

The following figures, which represent how most Brodart customers approach opening day collections, are the target proportions you should aim to achieve when building a collection from scratch.

Pie Chart #1 - NEW

Pie Chart #2 - NEW

Pie Chart #3 - NEW

Of course, every library is different and should reflect the wants and needs of the community it serves. But chances are, your usage reports, re-shelving carts, and catalog searches will mirror the same general ratios shown above.

So how do general collection ratios influence strategies for displaying your materials? Good question! In short, your existing shelving should support how the collection is being used. In the absence of the space or money required to install more shelving, you can move collections around the building, which both highlights individual collections and frees up space in the stacks for areas that need to grow.

shutterstock_108584921Although slatwall and display kiosks are better for merchandising your collection, the fact remains that most libraries still rely on stacks—rows upon rows of shelving units—to arrange the bulk of their materials. The above guidelines are great when you’re planning a new space, but what if you want to rework an old one? How should you juggle the competing needs? How do you do justice to every subject area while growing those areas that enjoy the most traffic? At the end of the day, our primary goal as librarians is to help patrons find the titles that interest them.

Arrangements need to make sense so that patrons can self-direct. That said, fixed shelving units and the layout of your building may dictate the sizes of the collections and how they are arranged. Aside from weeding, how can you make more room for those popular 600s and 700s?

Breaking out collections is one way to overcome shelving obstacles. Here are some examples.

  • Biographies and classics can stand alone; they need not be housed in the physical rows where they belong according to Dewey classification
  • Reclassify and move your short stories to fiction, or vice versa
  • Pull out your paperbacks for a dedicated commuter collection
  • Interfile all books by a particular author, regardless of bind
  • Pull all the language learning materials, test prep, or travel guides into a special section
  • Dedicate stand-alone locations to mysteries and/or sci-fi/fantasy

There are pros and cons to all of these approaches. However, the needs and preferences of your patrons should guide your decisions.

shutterstock_394779487Once you’ve determined your priorities, sketch out a new layout. As the saying goes, “measure twice and cut once.” What type of material do you want to move? Do your materials and shelves follow standard dimensions? Take into account the measurements of both where the materials sit now and their future location. You don’t want to get halfway through a move only to find that a collection won’t fit in its new destination (i.e., those art books that are too tall and/or too deep) which would require reducing the number of shelves. Be prepared with signage to alert patrons about temporary locations until the dust settles.

Don’t be afraid to make major changes or be daunted by major moves. With a little pre-planning, shifting projects and relocating other materials can progress smoothly and manageably. And your collections can meet traditional expectations while embracing current usage.

Here are some resources to help you with measurements and standards:




Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.