“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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s