“I’m only taking pictures of spine labels—honest”: Educating Non-Librarians about Libraries

By Lauren Lee, M.Ln.

shutterstock_610103249Have you ever thought about conducting a spine label scavenger hunt? I wanted to inject a little fun into our training exercises for some of our new non-librarian staff, so I concocted a list of 20 types of items that they had to find and photograph over the course of the fall. I must be a frustrated teacher because I was totally absorbed by designing questions and scoring answers. I wanted to be sure that they had to walk into and take a closer look at all the major parts of a public library collection: all age ranges, all classifications, old books along with new—the whole gamut. I wanted them to notice how spine labels serve as addresses for the books, with each line being a key to the content. And since the questions were designed to require exploration in more than one library, they also got a chance to see how spine labels (and thus collection organization) can differ from library to library.

The most in-depth tasks proceeded further than the spine labels. I had them find examples of a picture book, a reader, a chapter book, and a juvenile fiction book and then photograph the interior pages. I asked them to notice how text and illustrations evolve from one level to the next. This may be children’s lit 101 but it doesn’t come naturally, even to parents of emerging readers.

longest dewey with borderAnother daunting challenge was finding examples of series Cutters and talking about why libraries might use this practice. Some of these staff members might be responsible for doing series authority work at some point. Incidentally, I am surprised that more libraries don’t use series Cutters. I would if I ran the zoo.

Other items to find included manga with volume numbering and new books that had special branding (merchandising with signage and stickers other than just “NEW”). For fun, I asked them to photograph a lurid romance cover and we rated them on a “sleaze scale.” They also had to document the longest Dewey number they could find. The “winning” number had 8 places past the decimal and gave us the opportunity to talk about how Dewey numbers are formed.

Of course, I gave extra credit questions for the overachievers. They had to find LC classification (apologies to our friends at LC libraries), Cutter-Sanborn, a special local collection, and an unusual fiction genre. Some of them had to travel outside the area to find these.

book hunter posterThe assignment brought out everyone’s competitive side. In addition to the required photos, I also received images of bookmarks, posters, and even “Ben the librarian with his bobble head collection.” My thanks to any of you who served as safari guides when Brodart representatives were in search of the elusive juvenile sports biography in your library, or if you heard someone say “I’m only taking pictures of spine labels–honest.”

Feel free to comment with your creative ideas for training. I haven’t come up with my next assignment yet. What kind of training do you provide for your non-librarian staff?




Lauren Lee is approaching her 40th year as a librarian, with more than half of that spent at Brodart. Although she rarely gets to select now, she loves life on the road, visiting as many public libraries as possible. Click here for more.


Grant-Seeking 101

By Richard Hallman, M.Ln.

shutterstock_326576381Someday, when flying cars are rusting away in museums and the last sword has been beaten into whatever a plowshare is, there will be plenty of money available to libraries and librarians. Until then, librarians and the organizations that support them will probably have to keep looking everywhere for the funds needed to fix leaking roofs or buy 3D printers.

But the money is out there. It’s just a matter of knowing where—and how—to apply for it.

Show Me the Money

In addition to being a member of Brodart’s Collection Development team, I’m a librarian at Foundation Center South in Atlanta. FC is a nonprofit, headquartered in New York, which researches philanthropic giving, including grants awarded to libraries. Here are a few examples:

  • In 2017, in Vandalia, IL, the Charles Ruemmelin Foundation gave $750 to the Evans Public Library for “Children’s section shelving.”
  • In 2016 in Connecticut, the Thomaston Savings Bank Foundation gave $1900 to Morris Public Library for a color printer/scanner.
  • In 2015, in Los Angeles California, the Cathay Bank Foundation gave Friends of the Chinatown Library $13,000 to “Develop community awareness…” and “Raise funds for capital improvement….”

shutterstock_583376662That money can come from grants made by foundations and government agencies. Some foundations announce grant opportunities with deadlines. The ALA keeps a running list of such grants here: http://librarygrants.blogspot.com/. The blog is run by two librarians who wrote a book about getting grants for libraries: “Winning Grants: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians with Multimedia Tutorials and Grant Development Tools.”

Proposals: Prepare Your Outline and Find a Grantmaker

But there’s more money available to enterprising librarians who learn about the giving priorities of grantmakers and use that knowledge to craft proposals. Grant proposals are well-organized, well-researched arguments that say, in essence, “Here’s why you should give us a specific amount of money, and this is what we’ll do with it.” You can view a sample proposal outline here: http://www.hotwinds.com/Grant_Prop.html

shutterstock_500238862So how do you identify grantmakers with money to award? Many of you work in libraries that offer a richly gratifying database called Foundation Directory Online. Libraries all over the country make this resource available for free. Plug a zip code in here to find the nearest library to you: http://grantspace.org/find-us. FDO, as users call it, is produced by Foundation Center.

Foundations award grants to nonprofits. Most local library foundations and “friends of” groups are nonprofits. Foundations also give grants to government agencies, including schools and libraries.

Further Preparation and Tips

How to get started with that grant proposal? Use the database mentioned above. Read up on tips from successful grant writers like this librarian in Florida. http://renovatedlearning.com/2014/10/13/10-tips-for-writing-grant-proposals/. Check your holdings for books on grant writing and check out these two free classes you can take in person, live online or recorded from Foundation Center’s Grantspace web site:



There are plenty of additional resources on FC’s grantspace.org website.

Here are a few additional tips on securing grants:

shutterstock_113190907Start local: Most people believe you’re more likely to get a grant by hitting up foundations in your city, metro area or state.

Study up: Your grant proposal should send certain messages like, we read a lot about you, we know what you stand for, here’s how helping us helps you. Follow all of the grantmaker’s stated rules.

If at first you don’t succeed: Don’t be surprised or discouraged if your first proposal doesn’t get the green light. If possible, ask what you could have done differently. Try again with the same or another grantmaker.

So find those grantmakers, write your proposals, and don’t give up. The future is waiting—flying cars and all.

Richard Hallman, M.Ln.


Budding collection developer Richard Hallman finally set aside his dreams of becoming a rock star, movie director, and/or famous novelist to embrace librarianship. Click here for more.