How to Label a Book

Q.  Does ALA have any guidelines or sample policies for labeling books for the shelves?

A. Although the American Library Association has established standards and guidelines for a range of library activities, none of these cover shelf preparation or physical processing of library materials.

Consistent practices, which library users have become accustomed to, do exist nevertheless. Starting in 1911, the American Library Association Publishing Board published 32 pamphlets as the Manual of Library Economy, including one for the "Shelf Department" with instructions for "book-labels" ("An increasing number of libraries now write the call number directly on the book itself using India ink ..."). Similarly, John Cotton Dana, while director of the Springfield (Mass.) City Library, covered the subject in his Library Primer (1900), though he specified round labels, so there were no corners to be turned up.  Melville Dewey included the topic in his Simplified Library School Rules (1912), and Esther J. Piercy included a chapter on "Physical Preparation of Library Materials" in Commonsense Cataloging (1965). At least one early manual provide guidance on how to write instructions for the binder to stamp the call number on a volume.  These, and other works like them, as well as subsequently developed teaching aids and departmental manuals in larger libraries, have set forth a range of practices for marking items with the call number and preparing each item for the shelf.  Each library defines its own practices, with little significant variation across libraries--perhaps due to standardization of the supplies for labeling and other shelf preparation practices over time.

Current technical processing management, however, frequently involves the specification of practices in order to contract for preprocessing from a vendor and the ongoing and iterative process of cost analysis, and the resources for those areas may be helpful for analyzing local practices.

Many, many libraries have published their manuals on the web (searches of < library processing > or < library shelf preparation > will retrieve a selection), and state libraries have also gathered sample policies on a variety of topics. These resources, plus those from the local system or cataloging vendor are useful in defining local practice in this area.

(Note: A corollary question for which we have found no written answer is "how to determine shelf breaks for clear stack range labeling after shifting a collection."  Suggestions welcome!)




Regarding: A corollary question for which we have found no written answer is “how to determine shelf breaks for clear stack range labeling after shifting a collection.”

Karen, we at Backstage are regularly involved in massive shifts during our reclassification projects. The ideal way we’ve found to determine shelf breaks involves a comprehensive map of the library, with formulas for average book sizes that can be adjusted for the subject category you’re working in (law and science tend to be thicker on average than, say, poetry, for example). We do this in Excel, exporting out a line in the spreadsheet for each item on the shelf, and let Excel tell us where the formulaic breaks would be. We can then use some human judgment, and adjust on paper to load shelves a little heavier or lighter to be sure we break in reasonable places.

Even if your shift wasn’t covering the whole library, you could still do this for the section you’re working in - you’d export out only those item records in the ranges being shifted, and map those against the shelving ranges available to you.

We’d be happy to send examples of how our maps work to anyone who is interested, or of course you could contract with Backstage to create a map for you! ;-)