Children’s nonfiction in public libraries

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Our children’s nonfiction collection has been worrying me for a while! The books were tightly packed, borrowed infrequently and there was no room for front-facing displays on the shelves. We use the Dewey Decimal classification system and as a result, not all books are where you’d expect them – and children and parents don’t want to have to ask the library staff every time they’re looking for something.

The first thing I did was have a drastic weed of the nonfiction and remove all the tatty or out of date books so each bay had one or two display shelves and the whole area looked more inviting. Then I created a new section called History Projects and filled it with all the relevant books from the main sequence. We had no money for shelf dividers so I covered some withdrawn adult fiction hardbacks with black paper and stuck laminated labels on their spines: Egyptians; Greek; Romans; Medieval and Castles; Tudors; Stuarts; Georgians; Victorians; World War One; World War Two. The books have coloured stickers on their spines for easy shelving, but are in Dewey order within each section.

Almost straight away I noticed more children borrowing the History Project books and we’re shelving more children’s nonfiction generally, so it all seems to be working. I think we need to move some of the other books as well and create more shelf dividers, although it’s not always easy to choose the best way to split up the books. For a start, I think pets should be shelved with other animals and poetry and jokes should have their own sections nearer the fiction. We haven’t altered any catalogue records so it will all be easy to change if we find something else works better. Some libraries arrange their books by curriculum area or by age but I think this is too restricting as there are too many cross-curricular books and I don’t like the thought of children (or their parents) avoiding books that are considered too young for them.

Nonfiction is important for children as many (particularly boys) prefer it to fiction. It opens up wonderful facts to them and helps their reading, writing and academic conversation skills. At a time when many bookshops have cut back on their children’s nonfiction (now often dominated by character or tv-based books) and many schools have lost their libraries, it’s even more important that public libraries provide children with books to excite and inform them.

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4 thoughts on “Children’s nonfiction in public libraries

  1. chelbrarian

    Great post! We’re about to weed our children’s nonfiction as well and I love your signage ideas, I will have to show our Children’s Librarian this post. ” …covered some withdrawn adult fiction hardbacks with black paper and stuck laminated labels on their spines…” – That is brilliant!

    1. blackcountrylibrarian Post author

      Thanks! Good luck with the weeding – I was quite ruthless but the collection looks much better as a result. I’m still not sure how to divide the rest of them, but my philosophy is try something, keep it simple (and cheap) and if it doesn’t work, try something else!

  2. anexactinglife

    Great ideas! In the past 10 years, the use of kids’ nonfiction books for school projects has virtually dried up. We are trying to buy as much browsable, high interest material as possible and (like you) display it. Without the obligation to buy school-type material that rapidly dates (such as a book on each country), we have more money for graphic novels, drawing books, joke books and things kids actually like.

    1. blackcountrylibrarian Post author

      Yes, I think we need to start looking for some more unusual, interesting nonfiction – it’s easy to keep buying the same old curriculum books. We have a new book supplier and the book budgets seem quite healthy at the moment so I’ll put in a few suggestions! I like the idea of promoting nonfiction as fun, interesting books to read rather than just as places to look up information that you need.


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