Out of the Storage Closet, Onto the Shelves: A Photo Essay

I am a lucky dog.  I got a position as a school librarian in a great school (and positions like this are rare, even in not-so great schools), wonderful faculty and administration, and we’re all moving into a new building in the winter and, in anticipation of that move, a new collection of books will be ordered.  Around 10,000 for 600 students to start, all cataloged, processed, covered and placed on the shelves by the delivery people.  I wake up every morning feeling like I’ve won the lottery.  So it seems only fair that I got to experience the task outlined in the photos below.

Long before I arrived, my school lost literally everything during Hurricane Katrina – furniture, books, building.  Underwater.  Since then they have been in a serious of temporary locations and always without a library.  I was hired knowing that I wouldn’t have a library to work in for a semester, and until we moved into the new building my library instruction would focus on internet research skills, digital citizenship, and copyright/fair use.  I’d have a class set of laptops but no books.

When my literacy coordinator told me that there was a closet-full of books accumulated over the past few years that nobody had gone through in a while, we decided to take a look.  We found a stacks and stacks of books, including many excellent titles sent by the Junior Library Guild or donated by schools from around the country after the storm (look closely and you’ll see some good ones).  It was a mini windfall.  We had a library!  If we could get it out of the storage closet, across the street and in some kind of order.  I was going to be able to circulate books before the new collection was ordered!

The job seemed quick enough at first, but steadily grew into weeks of work.  It actually ended up being a lot of fun.  Kind of a crash course in guerrilla cataloging.

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Step 1: With four volunteers, carry 2000+ books out of the closet, down a flight of stairs, and across the street to the temporary library in 95 degree New Orleans heat.  Dump books on the floor.  

Step 2: Separate the books into three giant piles: easy books, fiction and nonfiction.  Alphabetize the easy and fiction by author.  Sort the nonfiction into the ten main Dewey classes.  This is as good as it gets in the temporary library; there are no spine labels.  If I can keep the science books somewhere in the 500s over the next few months, I’ll be happy.

Step 3: Not pictured – Write a four digit code inside the cover of each book.  Type the code, author, title and Dewey number into a Google Doc spreadsheet.  This is my bootleg OPAC!  

Finesse the piles into rows and stacks as we go.  Begin to worry about shelves.  Where will we get them?  How will we transport them to the room?

Step 4: Pat Austin, my wonderful UNO professor, hooks us up with some portable plastic shelves, loaned to us by one of her colleagues.  Easy to move, easy to put together.  

Continue cataloging the books into Google Docs.  This takes forever.  I’d rather shlep books again.  My fabulous parent volunteer enters books with me, which we can do because it’s a Google Doc!  This speeds things up.

Step 5: Measure the stacks of books to determine how to layout the shelves.  The middle school science teacher decides to tackle the problem of keeping books from falling off the sides.  She hunts down cheap wooden laths at Home Depot that can be cut and then slipped through slots at the end of the shelves.  Now we have a picket fence look that actually works really well.  Continue cataloging in Google Docs.

Step 6: With around 1900 books after weeding, the books go up on the shelves.  The nonfiction is against the brick wall below.  The fiction is on the island in the center of the room.  The fiction shelves are divided in half with books on both sides.  

The easy books are against the opposite brick wall, shown below.  There’s also space for a class to sit on the carpet in front of these shelves for story time.  It’s starting to like a library!

* * *

This was a big task.  It was also a great learning experience.  There were several times I felt like Melville Dewey himself, trying to figure out how on Earth to organize knowledge.  Things that seemed so cut and dry in library school become major debates in your mind.  Trying to devise an efficient cataloging system that will be able to track what we have and who has it was also a lot of fun.  Really, since I became a librarian, everything I do is inspiring, challenging and fun.

I also learned, as I initially suspected, how completely cool and supportive the people are that I’m working with.  Administration, teachers, parents, people who came to help on their summer off because they knew I needed the help (I never had to ask for it) and because they are excited about having a library.  Collaborating with them on even this simple project was very rewarding.  It’s exciting to watch your ideas get better and better because of interactions with smart, committed educators.

Again, lotto lucky.

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As an editorial note, I’m have to apologize in advance for grammar, punctuation, spelling mistakes, etc.  I have so much I’d like to write about and so little time to do it.  If I’m going to be doing any blogging over the next year, I’m just going to have to let the proofreading go.  I have debilitating perfectionist tendencies, and I always feel like I can’t start writing because I won’t have time to craft a polished piece.  Piece of what?  Anyway, it’s kind of liberating to not worry about it.  Besides, if my mom isn’t even reading this blog than I can probably get away with it.

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