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2. Your role as a librarian

An explanation of the role of a public library staff member in a Queensland public library – part of the Manual for Rural Libraries Queensland (RLQ) libraries.

2. Your role as a Librarian

Public libraries aim to provide their communities with easy access to information and recreational resources. A library without a librarian is just a collection of books. It is the librarian who brings it all together. In addition to managing the day to day operations of the library, your role as a librarian includes:

  • helping library customers
  • keeping the library looking attractive and tidy
  • promoting the library within the community
  • engaging with your community to provide a range of activities across all ages
  • maintaining the standard of the collection through requests and exchanges with SLQ Public Library Development. What is involved in doing these things?

2.1 Helping library patrons

Many library patrons just want to browse through the library stock to make their selection. A well-organised and attractively presented collection is important. Books should be arranged tidily and in the correct order to facilitate easy access.
Be ready to suggest 'what to read next', 'what to do next', 'how to get involved'.

  • use Reading lists in the catalogue and Author lists in the PLC website

2.1.1 Shelf order

There are conventions in library shelf order which should be adopted in order to make it as easy as possible to locate books. The appropriate order, for different categories of stock, is given in Section 4. The information required about each book for shelving is usually contained on the spine label.

Adult non fiction spine label
Adult non-fiction spine label

Collections (ANF, AF, Junior, Young Adult) are usually shelved separately. All are shelved:

  • From left to right on each shelf
  • From top shelf of a bay continue from left to right down each shelf of that bay of shelving.
  • From the right-hand side of the bottom shelf, the sequence continues up to the left-hand side of the top shelf of the next shelving bay (to the right of the previous bay).
  • Books should be evenly spaced and each shelf should be no more than 3/4 full.

Shelving order

2.1.2 Shelf displays and boutiquing

Although the above methods of arranging the books should be followed for most of the library stock, a browsing reader will often be attracted to a particularly interesting book displayed face out, so that the title and jacket design catches the eye. In choosing books to display in this way, take into account the visual appeal of the book and only display books in good condition. Book easels are useful for the face out display of books.

Another useful method of display is shelving within subject genres, called boutiquing. Popular subjects, such as, House & garden, True crime, Sport, body, mind & spirit, Australiana, and Biography are more meaningful to browsers than arrangements by Dewey. A colourful sticker above the spine label denotes the subject genres.

2.1.3 Signage

Libraries can often appear daunting to readers and simple shelf guiding or signing can often help them find their way around. Smaller libraries will often only use guiding to highlight different collections (such as adult fiction, large type books and so on) but larger libraries may also include guides at key points within collections (for example, cookery and gardening within the adult non fiction).

2.1.4 Assisting library patrons

Helping readers means far more than keeping books in order. It also means presenting a helpful and welcoming face to library clients so that they feel free to ask for help. Sometimes you will help them find what they are looking for in your own library. At other times, it will be necessary to send off requests to State Library (see Section 6). Remember... it is worth promoting that there are over 300,000 books and non-book materials within the RLQ network, as well as other major resources from State Library, including maps, and magazine articles which are available to you and your readers (See Section 8.6). Only by listening to your library clients, by knowing their interests, by talking to them about what they are really looking for, will you be able to help.

2.1.5 New member orientation

As new members join the library, take time to explain:

  • what services the library provides
  • hours of opening
  • how to use the catalogue
  • the different collections, including eresources
  • conditions of membership
  • borrowing procedures
  • request service

A library brochure detailing these matters can easily be compiled. If time permits show new borrowers over the collection, so they know where to locate particular items of interest. Making members feel welcomed and informed will keep bringing them back to the library.

2.2 Dewey Decimal system

Dewey Decimal Classification is the most widely used method for organising non-fiction items in a library. It is named after Melville Dewey, who devised the system originally in 1876. It is now in its 22nd edition.

The numbers assigned by the Dewey Decimal System are important for two reasons. Firstly, they determine the order the books are placed on the shelf (See Section 4). Secondly, the system classifies items according to subjects which are divided into 10 main groups, each represented by figures.

Dewey said that almost every single subject could fit into 9 broad subject areas and to each of these he allocated a number, from 100 to 900. The subjects left over, which did not conveniently fit into one of these broad categories e.g. journalism, or which covered several categories e.g. encyclopaedias, he placed in a class called Generalia and gave it the number 000.

000-099 Generalities (encyclopaedias, bibliographies, periodicals, journalism)
100-199 Philosophy and Related Disciplines
200-299 Religion
300-399 The Social Sciences (economics, sociology, civics, law, education, vocations, customs)
400-499 Language (dictionaries, grammar)
500-599 Pure Sciences (astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, geology, mathematics, palaeontology, physics, zoology)
600-699 Technology (agriculture, aviation, economics, engineering, home business, medicine, radio, television)
700-799 The Arts (architecture, sculpture, painting, music, photography, recreation)
800-899 Literature (novels, poetry, plays, criticism)
900-999 General Geography and History

Major subject fields under each broad grouping have a more specific number:

600 Technology
610 Medical Sciences
620 Engineering
630 Agriculture
etc.

More specific subjects follow:

630 Agriculture
631 Crops and production
632 Plant diseases, pests
633 Field crops
634 Orchards, forestry
etc.

At this stage Dewey decided to put a decimal point, or full stop, hence the term Dewey Decimal Classification. The only reason for doing this was to make it easier to say, for example, ‘Milking is at 6, 3, 7 point 1,2,4’ than ‘Milking is at six hundred and thirty seven thousand, one hundred and twenty-four’.

Following the decimal point, subjects are broken down into classes or groups of 10, and given a further number between 0 and 9:

637 Dairying
637.1 Milk production
637.2 Butter production
637.3 Cheese production
etc.

The numbers continue to grow in length the more specific the subject.

Dewey also made particular combinations of numbers denote particular treatments of a subject no matter where they appeared throughout the scheme. So anytime you see a classification number containing, after the decimal point, the number ‘09’, you know the book is either history or geography. Anytime you see ‘03’ it tells you the book is either a dictionary or an encyclopaedia. These special numbers will always be followed by other numbers which will tell you, for instance, which country, region, State, or historical period the book covers. ‘94’ is always Australia, ‘943’ is always Queensland. We therefore have:

637.109943 Dairying in Queensland

This is derived from,
600 Technology
630 Agriculture
637 Dairying
637.1 Milk production
637.109 Shows the book covers an historical period or geographical area
637.1099 Geography of Oceania etc.
637.10994 Australia
637.109943 Queensland

In small collections it is sufficient to keep the Dewey Decimal number to the broad subject only. The RLQ collection is limited to 3 numbers past the decimal point.

2.3 Library appearance

Think about the impression your library makes - both from the outside and to the people who venture through the door. Does it look welcoming and attractive? There are many inexpensive and easy ways of improving the appearance of a library.

2.3.1 Collections

The stock of your library should be maintained in good condition and should look attractive and inviting to library users. This means that you should keep a close eye on the condition of your stock, regularly removing tatty and dirty books from the shelves (See Section 4.2 on selecting items for exchanges). Items should be weeded from the collection.

It is worth taking a good look at every corner of your library regularly to ensure that it looks as clean and tidy as your readers would like to find it. The local government should employ a cleaner to maintain the appearance of the library or provide closed time for the librarian to clean the library.

2.3.2 Displays

The library can be made to look more attractive in other ways too.

  • Create a display corner with regular "feature" displays; these can include topics of interest in your area or, perhaps better still, topics which might create interest. Displays may be aimed at both adults and children. Accompany displays with relevant and attractive books from your library.
  • If you have a notice board for advertising local events, is it up-to-date and tidy? Contact local groups and make them aware of its availability.
  • Bay end panels for the ends of shelving are an excellent means of increasing display space in libraries and giving old shelving a new look.
  • Think about colour and layout. It may not be possible for the library to be redecorated, but a little thought given to coordinating the colours used in displays, in signs and in library features will improve the overall appearance tremendously.
  • Refer to the Library building and design page for additional inspiration.

2.4 Community awareness

All communities have people who seek out the library and use it regularly. There are many people though who need to have the library and its services drawn to their attention.

2.4.1 Advertising

Consider using the places people visit in your area to display a poster about the library. Arrange for notices to be displayed in local shops, garages, post offices, banks, doctors’ surgeries and other visible localities.

Many doctors and dentists welcome a small collection of children’s books or books on health in their waiting rooms. Accompanied by an attractive poster (which includes library opening times), this serves as an excellent advertisement for the library.

A library newsletter distributed around your community could publicise everything from using eresources and the online catalogue to the content of your children’s activity programme (Section 8.1.3). This information can also be conveyed through a regular column in the local newspaper or via social media like a library Facebook page.

2.4.2 Contacting groups

Make contact with your local community and its craft groups, sports clubs, local history groups, youth groups and health support groups to make them aware of what the library can offer in their interest area. Suggest they visit the library for one of their meetings. As well as telling them about the library, it is the perfect time for finding out what they want from the library too. A short book list, highlighting titles likely to be of interest can drum up publicity for the library among group members too!

A local library does not need to restrict activities to catering for existing groups. The library can play a part in generating new interests within the community, by arranging and holding meetings with guest speakers. The librarian can include a short presentation on what the library has in the same subject area, or simply illustrate this with a good display.

For those libraries situated in shire council buildings or community centres, make sure local groups are aware of meeting rooms' availability. Events can be held in these areas which can lead to greater awareness of the library’s resources.

2.4.3 Schools

Make contact with yours! Children are your present and future library users and now is the time to capture their interest.

Most schools will welcome your approach and will seek to work with the local library to foster reading amongst children. Run a book competition... there are so many things you can do. Visit the local school or invite schools to visit the library and use the opportunity to promote the library’s services. School assignment research or library tours are useful visit opportunities.

Playgroups, day care centres and other organisations catering for the under 5s will all appreciate the opportunity to bring children to listen to stories or to hear the librarian tell stories at their centres. Storytelling kits can assist your programming.

2.4.4 Activities

In the school holidays, what better opportunity for attracting children to use the library than a "fun" activity? It does not have to be sophisticated - often the simplest ideas work best. Craft activities present unlimited opportunities, from face painting to pasta jewellery making. Members of the community are often happy to volunteer assistance with activities, especially when your library is busy.
Ideas for library services to young people are provided on the Public Libraries Connect website.

2.4.5 Publicity

To ensure that whatever you do, you reach the widest audience, try talking to the staff of your local newspaper and radio station. They will probably be happy to include a feature on the library occasionally, or to include library activities in a "what’s on" column. Choose activities or competitions which make good "news", include a photo and you will have a better chance of getting into print. Most newspapers will write a story for you. However, do not be discouraged from writing your own releases. All that is needed are simple, clear sentences outlining the activity and you will stand a better chance of being correctly reported. Remember to get permission to use any photos taken of participants.

Let your community, let the world know where you are.  Make sure the library, its services, hours of opening and contact numbers are listed on the Council's website.  Include unique information pertaining to your library. Some libraries have their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

2.5 Bringing it all together

In addition to all the points listed, you will have lots of ideas of your own on maximising the impact of your library. Some ideas will work and some may not - but do not be discouraged by a flop. We have all tried things which have not been highly successful, but might well be just the idea that will work in another library.

2.5.1 Sharing ideas

Get to know the other librarians in your region and you will be surprised how much you have in common. You will be able to share ideas and workload. For example, if you each make a display and swap them around among your libraries, you will minimise the work, but maximise the impact.

  • talk over common problems and share ideas on possible solutions
  • design combined promotional activities

It is important to remember that working together you can draw on each others’ strengths and support each other where necessary. Several informal networks operate throughout the RLQ and if interested contact SLQ Public Library Development. We may be able to put you in contact with a local group. Alternatively, simply phone, email or visit your neighbouring libraries.

2.5.2 The final word

Above all, remember that in the end, it all comes back to you. If you present a welcoming face, if you show you are willing to help, and if you take every opportunity to promote the library when you are talking to other people in the community, then the library will usually be a success. Think of yourself as a public relations person, there to project a good image, and you will not go far wrong.

The way your library is presented and the friendly and efficient way you help your readers are your best promotion.

And finally, SLQ Public Library Development is there to help. You will have lots of ideas of your own but if you want to talk them over, or if you want to know what has been tried elsewhere, get in touch with us. We would be happy to hear from you.

Tips to remember

  • when you answer the telephone say where you are and who you are
  • always include your correct library details on your email signature
  • invite your local councillors to see and try some new technology or launch a display or program you have put much work into
  • as well as regular written reports invite the CEO to the library and tell him/her how things are running
  • always remind your borrowers that they are part of a much larger library than just their own and that State Library is there for their needs
  • know your collection and be prepared to refer borrowers to their next best read
  • always open according to your advertised hours so your borrowers will not be disappointed. Ensure adequate notification if there is unavoidable variation to opening hours.
  • keep promotional material, like information leaflets, up to date, including changes to opening hours, phone numbers and new services.
Last updated
30th August 2017