“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.


The Visible and the Invisible

By Lauren Lee, M.Ln.

10679235_mOne of the absolute pleasures of my job is the “requirement” that I visit libraries (and librarians) each and every month. This year so far, I have been to 29 libraries in nine states. Attending four conferences added two more states to my running total, while vacation added both a state and a library (yes, I even visit libraries when I’m on vacation). And if our only blizzard of the year hadn’t intervened, I could have added one more state and two more libraries! What a privilege it is to see so much of what our profession has to offer!

Highlights have included:

  • Collections that made me say “I’d love to be a patron of this library”
  • Nonfiction collections that looked vibrant and alive
  • Creative displays to encourage passersby to pick up books on impulse
  • Colorful children’s rooms with incredibly creative artwork (and children engaged in play and reading)
  • Maker spaces with recording studios and the now-requisite 3D printers
  • Music rooms with instruments and listening spaces
  • Incredible architectural details in buildings both new and old (and best of all, buildings that blend the two together)

Anyone who thinks public libraries are dying has not been to a public library lately. If they had, they would have seen people waiting for the doors to open, children crowded in for story-time, and ranges of shelving for books on hold for avid readers. They certainly haven’t heard the statistics for digital media downloads or the constant replacement of test preparation materials.

Many of my visits take me to “lower levels” or separate buildings, where technical services departments lie hidden away. The general public has no idea of the labor that goes on here behind the scenes. They don’t see the pallets of boxes or the “corrals” of book trucks (sometimes even cleverly named!). They don’t understand the intricacies of OCLC records or RFID encoding. They may even think that all those colored dots and labels are just for fun (while vendors ponder whether they are a unique form of torture).

44906029_mSo, let’s send up a cheer for invisible technical services workers everywhere! You order, you unpack, you catalog, you process, you de-process, you organize, you pay bills. You make it possible for materials to be found by their readers/viewers/listeners. You may be changing lives and you don’t even know it. Thank you for your hard, and sometimes tedious, work!

I will close with a reference question that arises from my constant perusal of spine labels: Why do some libraries use “X” as the call number prefix for juvenile (I’m talking about you, California)? The most common prefix is “J” for juvenile. I’ve seen some C’s for children’s titles. However, no one has been able to explain to me why “X” was chosen. If any of you can shed light on this technical services mystery, I will be forever grateful. And maybe I’ll come visit your library. After all, there are still a few states that I haven’t visited.




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.

Just a Librarian

By Lauren K. Lee, M.Ln.

18867960_lSometimes I get to be “just a librarian,” not a librarian/bookseller/trainer/salesperson. Attending Library Journal’s Day of Dialog last week was one of those times. I’m pretty sure that I attended the first one in the late 1990s. I spoke on a panel about opening day collections in 2005. I don’t believe I attended in the last eight years or so. It felt good to be back. I saw the familiar faces of Barbara Hoffert, and Francine Fialkoff, and Nancy Pearl, and Marci Purcell.

I came away from the author and editor panels with a very long list of books to read and a tote bag full of advance reading copies. More importantly, I came away feeling more like a librarian—even a reader’s advisor (“Oh, Amber would love that book!”). When I hear an author tell a good story about why they wrote a particular book, I am immediately intrigued. The same is true for hearing about a mystery set near my home, or for an editor explaining why a title becomes a “lead read.”

As one who loves selecting adult nonfiction, I am not surprised that the nonfiction panel was my favorite. I find the storylines and the way they unfold to be every bit as captivating as fiction. For instance: A woman tries to solve the mystery of why her cousin became a victim of the juvenile justice system. A director has to learn more about the story behind the play she is directing. A contemporary single woman is fascinated by the Vogue editor who talked about “extra women” and the advantages of the “live-aloners.”

On to fiction. How can you resist the “first sentient sourdough starter” as a main character? Or the story of a drug that addicts the user to work? (Has someone been slipping me that one?) The author of this last one had the best quote of the whole day: “I went into fiction to tell the truth.”

The word of the day at Day of Dialog was “trope.” Guess I had better learn to use it in a sentence soon.

Don’t we work in a wonderful profession? We get people’s thoughts brewing, just like that sourdough starter (or the first batch of kombucha I just made).



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.