When David Rothman started Teleread, he had a dream of establishing a national digital library. Today, I wished that dream was a reality—I spent most of my morning in Librarian Hell, as part of the annual school clean-up now that classes are done for the year!

Here was the problem: children had brought back library books they had signed out during the year, and teachers had also brought back all the books they had been hoarding in their classrooms. But since classes are done, we did not have any parent volunteers around on whom we could pawn off the shelving! We had a stack of books literally a person tall, and they all had to be processed and dealt with and shelved. To give you an idea of how chaotic this was, here were the different types of books we were dealing with:

– If the book had a bar code, it had to be scanned back into the system before it could be shelved. So, books which had not yet been scanned had to be kept in a separate area from books which had already been scanned but had not yet been shelved. Two of us (the gym teacher and myself) did not know how to do the scanning procedure, as we do not teach subject areas which require the use of the library (I only teach French, and I manage my own resources) so we had to wait for someone else to come along if we wanted to clear those books away.

–  Occasionally, we would stumble across a book which for some reason did not have a bar code. These went into a special pile. None of the five teachers who picked at The Grand Shelving Project throughout the day were quite sure what would happen to this pile or whose responsibility it was to deal with it. I suppose that when the principal completes her annual post-cleanup inspection, she’ll make a decision, but I suspect those books will stay piled up in the corner of the library for most of the summer before someone decides to do something with them.

– If the book was a picture book, it was to be shelved alphabetically by author—if it was fiction. The shelves for this type of book had additionally over-flowed from their original location and so continued on a non-adjacent shelf in another area of the library. Authors whose names ended in A up to about half of M were in one area, and the rest of M up to Z were in another. If the book was a branded book such as ‘Disney’ it was sometimes filed under D for Disney and sometimes filed under the name of the actual author, so you had to check the bar code to find out where the book was supposed to go. 

– Additionally, the Robert Munsch books were a special exception and had their own shelf, not near the other ones, because teachers like to access these books frequently. There was a special exception to THIS special exception, for the three copies we had of the Munsch anthologies, which were over-sized and so did not fit on the shelf reserved for the Munsch special area. These special books were filed in the ‘reference’ area elsewhere in the library.

– Picture books which were non-fiction were shelved in a separate non-fiction area, alphabetically by author’s name but within the Dewey Decimal System classifications. So, first you had to find the shelf with the right Dewey number, then you had to file it by author from there. The exception to this was non-fiction picture books relating to a subject which is covered by the provincial curriculum. These books were not ‘non-fiction’ but ‘reference’ and had their own special area.

– In the book was a chapter book, it was shelved in yet another special area, alphabetically by author’s last name. If the book was part of a series and more than one author was involved, this meant that the series was often not shelved together, unless an astute teacher figured out what was going on and made an executive override.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it took five teachers working diligently from 10 am past lunchtime and into the wee hours of the afternoon to get through all this! How much easier would it have been if even half of the books were electronic? My public library loans out ebooks, even those for children, and it must be so much easier. The ebook simply expires when the loan period is up and automatically gets added back into the system. No nagging people to bring it back to you. No manual labor in shelving it and getting it back where it belongs.

Save the picture books for the little ones, sure. But for the bigger kids, the ones who don’t need pictures, I’d love to see a school library pursue some ebook options. It would make the year-end cleanup so much easier for us teachers, that’s for sure!

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. although i emphathize, this is NOT about print vs. ebooks. this is simply a disorganized school library. first of all, there should be NO special sections. secondly, where was the media specialist/librarian? third, why is the classification system, dewey, used so haphazardly. fourth, why doesn’t everything have a barcode so that it can be inventoried?
    it makes me want to run in their with my barcodes and scanners while screaming at the top of my lungs, “you wouldn’t let your students get away with this!!!”
    sorry you were in library hell, but a competent, involved media specialist will fix this problem, not less books. hail to the librarians!!

  2. Or, as our public library Children’s Librarian said one time, “If you can’t find it, ask. It could be in a million different places.” That included Children’s Fiction, Chapter Books, Easy Books, Holiday, Board Books, Series, Colors, ABCs, and special cubbies.

    There are reasons for this, and for the arrangement in the school library, but if you don’t call it “home” as a work place it is a screwed up mess.

  3. Having worked in libraries from when I was in elementary school, including public, school, and medical research libraries, none of this sounds like that big of a deal for most librarians. It does sound mismanaged, but perhaps someone should have been put in charge when the librarian was let go instead of making it a free for all for the teachers.

    I’ve been in IT for over 14 years now and can say that organizing digital information can be just as challenging as the physical.

  4. As a school librarian, I’m sort of appalled. As Robyn said, this isn’t about print vs ebooks: it’s about poor management, and a crappy financial situation if you can’t afford a media specialist. I could have done the job you’re describing myself in the time it took 5 teachers with no experience or training to do it, and quite possibly in less – because a lot of your problems wouldn’t have arisen in the first place.

    This doesn’t prove that digital libraries are superior, it proves that it’s actually REALLY important to have a media specialist.

  5. I agree with Aviva – i think this demonstrates the importance of librarians and our role within schools… take this as a warning to any school who wants to cut their library-media specialist !!

  6. what robyn and aviva said.

    running a library is a full-time job, often for more than one person. that is, if the library is worth a d@mn – and the fact that the materials are being used seems to say something about that. it also makes me wonder who the h3ll is updating the collection. is one of the ‘office ladies’ doing collection development and materials ordering? what happens if there’s a mis-ship? can she read a catalog record. and hey. who’s cataloging the material so you can know what you, have what you lack, and find what’s relevant?

    and you think e-books are going to *solve* the problem? i want to be a fly on the wall while the gym teacher negotiates the licensing agreements.

    running *any* library is a full-time job, often for more than one person.

  7. That is the problem – no LMS. When districts remove those highly qualified personnel there is always a problem. Thank you all for picking up the slack but you are not trained to do this. Do you have a union, what state are you in that does not mandate a librarian?

  8. Thorn- bingo on the office lady doing the ordering. The big push is usually the Scholastic book fair—teachers can make a wishlist and have parents buy them stuff, and then any ‘points’ we earn get used to order any wishlist items not obtained by donating parents. Additionally, the teachers (myself included) each get $500 for the year which they can spend as they see fit on books or other items. If they do buy books, they are supposed to give it to the admin to barcode before it gets shelved. Often, they just hoard it in the classroom until they are required to empty the classroom at year-end, at which point the gym teacher and myself (with no rooms to clean up) get stuck with the shelving and wonder where the bleep all the books with no bar codes came from 🙂

    As for my own books, when we *did* have a library specialist, she used to insist on barcoding and shelving them in the library. But once she left, my stuff became my own problem because they needed the shelf space for other things. So I have a cupboard, which moved twice. Last year, I shared a spacious one with the gym teacher 🙂 This year, I have a less spacious one and I spent much of clean-up week scanning the scannable ones into my computer because half of the cupboard is too high for me to reach and I would not be able to access them once they had been stowed. So I have some books which are ‘shelved’ in a dedicated space which is not the library. And I have some books which are PDF computer files, with the originals in what amounts to cold storage high above the treetops 🙂

    It’s a private school, so no union. We do our best 🙂

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