I do want to emphasize that this is not my idea. I’ve seen it popping up in several libraries these past few years in certain collections areas (sports, vehicles) and this summer helped turn a tired and traditionally shelved non-fiction collection into a really attractive and engaging children’s library.
ONLY BIN HIGH INTEREST GENERALLY LOWER ELEMENTARY BOOKS Mostly when I talk about binning I’m talking about lower elementary books aimed at kids who are early readers: simple or high-interest read aloud nonfiction titles and nonfiction early readers. A significant part of our collections have titles that only we or teachers use, or that are used for specific projects, or that are just kind of esoteric. These should be shelved rather than binned. They tend to be bigger and of a higher reading level anyway. By no means am I saying you should strictly level your collection. If you want to put all your drawing technique books (743) together in one bin by all means. The same with sports. I have one librarian who has binned all her 700s but nothing else in her nonfiction. It’s just that you will inevitably have some books that don’t lend themselves to binning. That’s fine, just try to develop a logic for what gets binned and what doesn’t.
IT SAVES TIME Shelving time will get a whole lot easier. Generally, I’m not a fan of shelving-as-horseshoes: enough wins, but binning makes the stake bigger and more visible, and it’s a lot easier to hit it. Less squatting and squinting at call number tags– do not underestimate this, younger librarians… Plus, the kids are more likely to get a book they don’t want back to where it should be. Also, it saves selection time. You won’t have to play mama duck with a raft of ducklings following you around the library quacking subject searches at you. You might spend the first couple of times in the library like this and you’ll always have a few who need help, but it’s much easier for little patrons to remember the placement of one bin with face-out books rather than a small patch of real estate in a forest of spines.
IT’S EASIER FOR THE LITTLES TO PHYSICALLY NAVIGATE Make some bins and you and your students have all taken a first step to making independent library users. For kids who can’t read yet, front-facing books give them an idea of what’s in the bin. For little kids whose fine motor skills are still developing, spine out shelving that slips and collapses is frustrating and discouraging – flipping forwards and back through a bin that doesn’t demand linear order is so much easier, more pleasurable, and quicker and easier to clean up than traditional shelving. Bins can be shared as one kid flips and others look over their shoulders. Don’t overload bins so that the books don’t flip easily or so that they are too heavy or too high for a young one to safely pull off the shelf onto the floor.
BINNING TAKES UP MORE LINEAR SHELF SPACE Bins will take up more shelf space than spine-out shelving. Spine-out shelving developed because it was efficient and the best way to shelve the most books in one area. So, be prepared to weed and shift, maybe a lot. It’s alright, because most nonfiction collections I see could use a good weed and binning will force you to weed more than you probably would. It’s okay. Really. Throw it out.
STICK WITH FACT vs FICTION Don’t mix fiction picture books with nonfiction books. Some would argue that the primary organizer of books should be by subject. I say the primary organizer of books in a library is facts vs imagination. I hear and read a lot about how libraries should be more organized in a way more like kids think. I’m not on board with this philosophy. Libraries— for better or worse— are organized in a very specific way and if our ultimate goal is to teach kids to be independent users of any library, then we need to start from the very beginning teaching that system. Most school and public libraries separate their collections by fact and fiction. So start with that first separator by keeping those types of books in different places. Then, even if you’re binning, use letter call numbers to designate fiction and number ones for nonfiction. You’ve started teaching how to think in terms of library organization and you’ve started building library users.
DON’T COVER OVER DEWEY LABELS Leave them there. Most kids don’t notice them, but it gets them used to the labels being there. You can then use those tags to start teaching that primary fact / imagination division: books with letters on the tag are fiction, books with numbers on the tag are nonfiction. Some of my librarians put a special easy reader color tag on their books with just the first letter of the authors last name for fiction or the first three Dewey numbers on it for nonfiction. Leaving the intact, full call number tag on your books helps you organize them at a more refined and adult level which can be useful for running reports, generating statistics, and finding specific titles (see caveats below on that one).
STICK WITH DEWEY— DON’T CROSS IT The goal here, again, is to teach Dewey style organization, not try to simulate how children (and teachers) think about things. You may want to create a “marine life” bin and put your whales (599.5) with fish (597.3) and sea turtles (597.92) and seals (599.79) and crustaceans (594) but you’re making a mess of Dewey and the standard method of organizing animals from scientific kingdom on down to species. If your other animals are not binned by ecosystem (Are your lions binned with pumas or are they binned with “savannah life” and “mountain life”?) So why bin the marine ones together? I’m not saying NOT to do it, I’m just saying be aware that you are making a logical break that will have to be untaught later.
SHELVE YOUR BINS WITH YOUR OTHER NON-FICTION Whether you do just certain areas (sports, vehicles, animals) or your whole collection, keep binned books near your shelved nonfiction collection. Some of those easy, early interest books are not going to fit in bins. You need to keep them somewhere nearby. If you keep books that aren’t of interest or within the reading abilities of younger readers nearby littles who ARE advanced readers or have esoteric interests can find them easier. Older readers can then use more advanced Dewey because they have learned the basics from the bins. Providing Dewey call number cataloging in a spine-out shelving scheme starts to familiarize them with the way books are organized in middle school, high school, and public libraries. It may even give some kids a sense of accomplishment to graduate away from the bin books to the shelf books in the same way that most graduate out of the early readers to chapter books and novels. In our libraries, the way most librarians have physically done this is by putting the bins on the bottom shelf or shelves and moving the books aimed at older kids or that are mostly used for teaching and research purposes to upper shelves.
IT WILL BE HARDER TO FIND SPECIFIC TITLES AND MORE TITLES MAY GET “LOST” The one thing I hate about bins is finding a specific title. A call number shelving scheme gives books an exact slot— well, theoretically, especially given the near impossibility of keeping an active elementary collection in exact Dewey order. But, let’s say I’m in your library and I’m not the person who organized it. I need a copy of Winter’s Tail by Juliana Hatkoff which is about a young dolphin that lost its tail and was given a prosthetic one. If I wasn’t using the catalog, I’d probably assume it was in the Dewey number for dolphins— 599.53. If I don’t find it there I’ll go to the catalog and look it up. Standard cataloging places this book in conservation of a specific animal, 639.97. So, if it’s not lost or out, it’s probably within about 10 spines. If you’ve got bins I have to know to look both on the shelf and in the bins. Further, much depends on your bins and how you’ve labeled them: is it with Whales? Marine Animals? Other Mammals? Fish? Veterinary Care? Zoos and Aquariums? For folks who aren’t you and don’t know the collection, it may be difficult to suss out which bin a book sits in. Bins sacrifice some of the accuracy of Dewey for the convenience of browsing.
TAGGING IN YOUR ONLINE CATALOG You can create codes in your online catalog to designate bins and then code each book to that bin, but then you should also put some kind of shelving indicator (such as a colored dot or picture sticker). If you don’t do this, it’s not worth the trouble of putting it in the catalog. Depending on how many books you get in a year, the processing can take a lot of time. Also, coding everything is not quickly flexible: you may code all your martial arts books to a Martial Arts bin, but over a couple of years those books disappear and you’re left with one. The easiest thing to do is to toss it into another bin (“Other Sports”) but if you’ve got a coding / stickering scheme you need to remember to change everything. Always be brutally honest about your abilities and your workload. If you’re a generally disorganized person you’re not going to get organized by inventing a complex coding and stickering system. If you teach a million classes a week you may not remember every time to re-code and re-sticker every book you shift from one bin to another. By going with bins, you’ll be giving up a strictly organized collection for some ease of use for both yourself and your patrons while still holding down the basics of Dewey. In this case, I think it’s a fair trade off.
THIS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A BIG PROJECT Tailor this to any budget or timeframe. You can overhaul if that’s what you want: invest in bins, create snazzy labels, and dedicate time to doing the job. Be sure stakeholders know this project is intended to teach an information organization system. But you can also start small and experiment. Try it for a few months and collect some data on how well it’s working. For god’s sake, at least bin your sports books. Go ahead. I guarantee you’ll love it— and I give you permission to bin it!
Have you binned? Comments, questions and ideas welcome! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org directly if you have a specific question.