"The goal (of cataloging) is to help your patrons find what they are looking for. The only thing you should do is what makes the most sense for your readers," - Linda Hoiseth

13th July 2020

We have found that cataloging the collections in our TCLP libraries can be challenging. On numerous occasions we have questioned whether a book should go in the Picture Books section or should it be classified as Fiction Easy. How do we make information easily available to readers, who look for books by specific authors or a subject of interest? Should books be divided by age groups, and how does it work when children of the same age read at different levels? We sought answers to some of our questions from Linda Hoiseth, teacher-librarian at The American Embassy School, New Delhi. Here are the excerpts from the Q & A. 

How does one identify a Picture Book versus any other kind of book? That is, what is a Picture Book?

A picture book is often defined as a book where the illustrations are as or more important than the text in telling the story. (That makes it different from an illustrated book, which could tell the story without the pictures, but the pictures add to the experience.)  Many (most?) picture books are 32-pages long. Picture books may be complex because they are intended for adults to read to children, or they have simple text for emerging readers to read on their own.

Should Picture Books be further divided into fiction and non-fiction?

It depends! As you describe TCLP library and its members, I think I would leave all of your picture books together. 
At AES, non-fiction picture books are added to the general non-fiction section, which is not divided by reading level. We even have some non-fiction picture books in the Middle School / High School Library shelved next to middle grade, young adult, and adult non-fiction. Our thinking is that our patrons are often looking for informational texts for school projects, and when they go looking for information, we want them to be able to find it in a broad range of reading levels to meet them where they are at. 
My understanding of your library is that patrons aren't primarily looking for an answer to a research question, but rather are looking for something interesting to read. If that's the case, then they might be just as interested in a non-fiction picture book about cars as they will be about a fiction book about fairies. If you're concerned that they won't know the difference between what is fiction, and what isn’t; you could put stickers on them indicating non-fiction, but I don't think that's necessary. Think about when your own children learned to read - was it important that they be able to label what was fiction or non-fiction? I don't think it was, but I believe that they developed an understanding of what was a story and what was real.

How is a Picture Book different from Easy Reading fiction, which is also illustrated? In our library Easy Fiction is defined sometimes as books for children who are starting to read on their own, or books to help children learn to read, or books that have more text than pictures compared to picture books. The font is also sometimes larger in Easy Fiction. Sometimes publishers levels books for older children, like Pratham divides its books into Level 1, 2, 3 and 4. However there is confusion when sometimes Picture Books have more text than Easy Fiction. Finally, in the West or in the middle class all over the world, a Picture Book can be complex and above a child's age because the expectation is the child's parents and teachers will read to them. Our young members don’t have similar reading relationships with their parents and teachers. 

This is a dilemma that many libraries struggle with. Let's go back to the principle that the goal is to help your members find what they are looking for. It seems like format is less important than reading / access level. Would a beginning reader in your library be just as happy with a simple traditionally-defined picture book as a leveled-reading book that is also illustrated? I think so. Then perhaps they should be together. It seems like you might be better off separating your illustrated early-reader collection by text complexity rather than the type of book it is. If you put the complex picture books in a section for slightly more sophisticated readers, are they more likely to be found and be useful than if they are lumped together as picture books? I think so.

Should we group books by age level? That is, should there be an adult, young adults, and children's collection? Also, how do you group books by age when children of the same age read at different reading levels? 

Again - the only thing you should do is what makes the most sense for your readers. If you have a very large collection, you might want to divide it into separate sections by target audience. On the other hand, if you have older patrons who have a wide variety of reading abilities, they might not want to walk into the children’s section to find something at an appropriate reading level and would prefer to have books organized another way. Another option is to have the books with different target audiences all combined, with some sort of sticker or symbol to indicate reading level. Remember, your goal is to help your members find what they’re looking for.
You don’t need to group your collection by age. If you decide it’s important to have your collection divided by age, then choose age bands that are broad enough to accommodate a wide range of readers. 

Who should read books for adults and who should read children's books? 

Children’s books are appropriate for everyone. 
Adult books are appropriate for patrons when they decide they’re ready for them. It’s important for readers to take responsibility for their own choices. I teach my students that if they start a book and then come across something that’s not appropriate for them, then they should close the book and move on. 

How do we catalogue an anthology of poetry, which does not contain the name of the editor(s) but only has the title, illustrator, and the publisher of the book? It is difficult to decide whether to put the name of the illustrator or the publisher or both on the sticker (while using the format: Language - Genre - three letters of the last name of the author) placed on the spine of the book?)

For poetry anthologies without a single author, I usually catalog them according to the editor's name. If that isn't clear, then my next choice is to use the first three letters of the title.

Next, we have come across a book titled ‘The Kidnapping of Amir Hamza’. Here, we are puzzled as to whether to cite the name of the original author or of the author who has retold the story? 

For retellings, I usually catalog them by the current author, unless it's more likely that my patrons will look for the titles alongside other titles by the original author. 

Graphic books are another area of puzzlement. Are all graphic books automatically fiction? If a graphic book tells the story of World War 2 as Maus does (we have it in our library), is it a fictional work since the main characters are mice or is it non-fictional since it is about World War 2? If a comic book is a biography of a real person and hefty it seems to me that it would be non-fiction (especially if the person is not depicted as a mouse). But if it is not hefty and instead is a very simply told work for children, make it a work of fiction? What if a graphic book depicts a real period of history as so many of Joe Sacco’s books do or as Vishvajyoti Ghosh does in Delhi Calm ? Is it non-fiction even though it is full of characters that are made up and imagined scenarios?

I've gone back and forth on whether graphic books that tell true stories should be in fiction or non-fiction in the libraries I've worked in. Again - where will my patrons find them? I put Maus in non-fiction because I'm hoping my students who study WWII will find it, but you might leave it with fiction because your patrons aren't necessarily looking for WWII books. I put graphic biography in the Biography section because I have students who are asked to read biographies, and I want those alternate formats to be an option. But if your patrons are more likely to stumble on them in the graphic fiction, I see no harm leaving them there. If a story is historical but not accurate, I tend to put it in fiction, but I have Joe Sacco in non-fiction. 
Overall, it's definitely an interesting philosophical discussion, and there's no such thing as right or wrong. Sometimes when I have a particularly confusing book I'll walk up to a table of students and describe the book and then ask them - "Who will benefit from finding this book - people who are studying WWII or people who like graphic novels or people who want a biography?"  You may not always have the time to do that with lots of books when you're trying to catalog a whole library, but as you're setting things up you might try this exercise with your team with a selection of books to help you decide what your priorities are. 

With regard to picture books, Koha requires us to identify books as non-fiction (0), fiction (1), or poetry (p). We decided to assign all picture books to fiction even though it made our brains hurt and set our teeth on edge. The decision is so that we can free ourselves from the energy drain of trying to figure out if a picture book is fiction or non-fiction. We decided even picture books that had poetry in them would be given the code for fiction in the catalog, but as you suggested we can place picture books wherever in the library we wish and poetry picture books will be placed with other poetry books for children. Is Dr Seuss poetry? Is a book like Green Eggs and Ham a picture book?

The point is that many books can fall into many different categories (poetry or picture book or fiction), so you get to decide what the priority is for your library. When patrons are selecting books, is format the most important? Or is it content?  Or reading level? That might also depend on the age of the patron and the collection they are browsing. It's OK to have different "rules" about how you categorize in different parts of your library. I wouldn't worry about format - unless you think the books are more likely to find an audience in the picture books section. 
Dr. Seuss books are poetry and picture books and early readers. If you have distinct sections for all three of these categories, then the key question is where your patrons are more likely to find them. In the libraries I’ve worked in, they’ve either been in the picture book section, or in a special featured author section because he wrote so many popular titles.

Final word: “Please remember the most important thing about cataloging and organizing a library: The goal is to help your patrons find what they are looking for. There are no hard and fast rules. The only thing you "should" do is what you think will help your patrons discover things they want to read. Don't worry about making mistakes,” - Linda Hoiseth, international educator, teacher-librarian at The American Embassy School, New Delhi

In the series of conversations with Linda Hoiseth:

Privilege and Libraries
विशेषाधिकार और लाइब्रेरी
Q & A with Linda Hoiseth (Part 2)
लिंडा होइसेट के साथ सवाल-जवाब (भाग १)
लिंडा होइसेट के साथ सवाल जवाब (भाग २)

The Community Library Project
Dharam Bhavan, C-13 Housing Society
South Extension Part -1
New Delhi - 110049
Illustrations provided by Priya Kurien.
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