Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Guide to Getting Lost in Your Local Library

Sometimes I feel like a bad bookworm. I wasn’t one of those children who came home from the library with twelve books tucked under my arm and finished them all in a week. (Though I did order books and frequent the bookstore a lot.)

In fact, my first recommendation from a librarian turned out to be a negative experience. Thirteen-year-old me ended up with a bunch of books I didn’t enjoy and other than the occasional check out, I didn’t speak to another librarian for—oh—seven years or so. That was before I learned that everybody has different opinions, and readers should consider who the recommendation is coming from as much as the recommendation. Now that I volunteer at my local library on a weekly basis, I go out of my way to check out at the desk so I can say hello to the librarians working there. (That and the self-checkout machine is evil.)

Since I spend a lot of time at my local library, I thought I’d give a quick overview of what it’s like. You can relax, I may mention the Dewey Decimal System, but I’m not about to break it down for you. Feel free to Google it if you so wish.

Help! I can’t find my book!

Sometimes it’s hard to find books, even when you’ve looked up the section and number. Books get misplaced in the oddest places. I’ve found nonfiction in the young adult section and children’s books in the middle grade section. It’s confusing as all get out. Then some books simply get moved over a shelf, or an author’s series is split up, so readers may think they’ve checked the whole shelf when they haven’t. Then there’s the time books get shoved behind other books and then hidden by the army in front of them. This last one usually happens with particularly popular shelves.

And librarians and library volunteers are there to help you. They know the shelves and the places books may disappear to. For the most part, anyway.

Worried about interrupting a librarian or volunteer to ask for help? Don’t be! As a volunteer, I can tell you, shelving can get pretty monotonous. Sometimes, I need a break. And helping a patron is the perfect opportunity. When I first started to volunteer back when I was living in Italy, the volunteer coordinator told me to imagine the patron I wanted to help while I was alphabetizing (aka sight reading) books.

In other words, whom do I volunteer for?

In my imagination, I volunteer for those college students who are looking for some light YA during their vacation time but don’t want to spend the entire day stuck in the library since they do enough of that at school. I volunteer for the middle schoolers who want a good, quick read but may not be familiar with the Dewey Decimal System. I volunteer for the parents who bring their young children in, who sit their kids in their laps and read them picture books, who listen to their kid tell them, “I love you, Mommy/Daddy.” And yeah, I guess I volunteer for the loud high schoolers as well.

Who in their right mind decided to split up the trilogy between the middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) sections?

Did you know that young adult and middle grade aren’t actually genres? They’re just categories designed to help out readers. (Then there’s New Adult, but that’s so ambiguous, some librarians don’t even know it exists.) But… sometimes books get mixed up anyway.

When I was reading the Inkworld trilogy, back before I bought my own copy of the books, I found Inkheart (book 1) and Inkspell (book 2) in the MG section but Inkdeath (book 3) in the YA section. When I asked the reasoning behind it, the librarian informed me that sometimes, parents may request a certain book be moved up a level because of the content. Though it can still be a bit odd, considering Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is still in the MG section even though it reads like a YA book.

Suffice to say, books are shelved where they are for various different reasons. 1) Fiction vs. nonfiction, which should be obvious until you delve into poetry and plays and nonfiction books on fictional worlds. 2) Target audience. Some books are marketed for certain audiences, and even if they’re targeted wrong, that’s how they’re shelved. 3) Content. If a later book in a series is more mature, it may be moved to a section for an older target audience. 4) Other. Take a wild guess. I once found the first book in a series in the YA section, and the second in the MG. Maybe the librarian didn’t know it was a series?

As a volunteer, it’s my job to put the books back in their proper place so readers can find them easily. But I am considering a degree in library science so I might better understand libraries and one day work at one.

All things considered, the Dewey Decimal System may be confusing at first, but it’s not bad. If anything, it’s much more convenient than organizing an entire library by book color. While fun for personal shelves, I can only imagine the chaos that would ensue from that in a public venue!

What on earth is nonfiction?

Poetry is shelved under nonfiction. Unless it’s a novel in verse, then it’s under fiction. Unless it’s a novel in verse based on someone’s life. Then it’s under biography, a subsection of nonfiction. Because poetry.

To truly understand nonfiction, you must first become a dragon and then decipher the human psyche. (Then tell me how it goes because I’d like to hear what it’s like to fly!)

All joking aside, you could probably just ask a librarian. And to decipher this question, I tried asking several librarians, but they have been unable to answer my question about the logic behind the nonfiction section. (I lean more towards the fiction spectrum. Sadly enough, you don’t find many books on dragons in the nonfiction section, except perhaps books on dragonology.)

The way I see it, the nonfiction section follows more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

Looking for like-minded individuals?

Libraries are more than just a way to find new books. They’re also a great way to connect with people. *gasp* Before you introverts duck behind your bookshelves, let me assure you that you only have to interact with other people if you want to. My local library happens to have an adult writing group, a young adult writing group, a LEGO group, a young reader group, a WWI fiction group, you name it!

So if you’re a writer looking for somebody to talk to about stories or looking for a critique partner, check out your local library. If you’re a reader tired of reading books and sharing your thoughts with nobody… You guessed it! Visit your local library.

And if your library doesn’t have a particular group, why not ask a librarian about starting one? If you even take the initiative and offer to coordinate the meetings for librarians who are particularly swamped, the librarian will likely be more than willing to help connect you with like-minded bookish friends!

Read Books

To truly get lost, as my sister would say, “Open a book and never leave.” Ever.

Let’s chat! What are some of your tips for traversing a library? Where’s the strangest place you ever found a book? Are you a part of any groups at your local library?

My 4th blogiversary is coming up this week.* Squeee! As a result, next Sunday I’ll be answering any questions you might have, whether they’re about Word Storm, books, or my stories. Ask away!

That and I’ll be hosting another giveaway. So be on the lookout!

*Today I’m celebrating 150 blog posts!


Literary references: Cornelia Funke’s Inkworld trilogy and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


  1. I confess I don't have a local library anymore so I've been like...only twice this year (when visiting sisters 😭) but I USED to be in and out of the library weekly! With STACKS of books. haha. I never had trouble finding things though because I'd just look them up on the computer catalogue and then go hunting.😂Unless it'd been hopelessly miss-shelved, but that rarely happened? My annoyance was more when I returned books and they didn't scan them properly, so they'd be reshelved but my card would still say I had the book *cue frustrated eyeroll* HATE getting fines unfairly!!

    (Also eeep so so many congrats for it nearly being your blogversary!!)

    1. That's so sad you don't have a local library anymore! I think over here, without a bookstore with English books, I would shrivel up and die.

      Oh, my goodness. Not scanning in has happened to me too! Technology is EVIL sometimes.