Reorganizing the Picture Books- Finally!


This summer was BUSY! Sure we had the usual summer program hustle and bustle, but we also reorganized, or genre-fied, our picture book collection! I’ve wanted to to do this for a few years, but with limited staff it was impossible. Enter, the state library!

This year, my library welcomed one of three MLIS interns who came to Alaska for eight weeks, thanks to funding from the Alaska State Library. (Our Friends group pitched in housing.) The internship made this program happen. Period.

Families tell me they are thrilled with the reorganization because they can more easily browse the picture book collection. Some have already discovered new-to-them books as they were looking for books about Alaska and the North, for example. Kids are happy too, and quickly adopted the new system. Just the other day, a little boy, age 2, came into the children’s library and said “Claudia, where are the macheeen (machine) books?” Together we walked to the browsing bins tagged with gold stickers and the word “Go” where families can find books about things that go (trucks, cars, airplanes, hot air balloons, bicycles, etc.).

Why did we make the change

I first heard about libraries’ efforts to reorganize their picture book collections at ALA Annual in 2012 when I attended a session called “I Want a Truck Book! Reorganizing Your Picture Book Collection” led by Gretchen Caserotti, Deborah Cooper, and Tali Balas Kaplan. I agreed with all three presenters that kids, especially the youngest, struggle with the systems we’ve traditionally set up for organizing books. We make it easy for adults, not young children, when we organize books by the first letter of an author’s last name, as in our case. I want little ones to confidently select books, find ones they love, and come back for more! I also want them to help me put books away in the right bin when they are done with them. We’ll teach them the DDC and how to find books by author as they grow.

I flew home from California ready to start moving picture books! But, alas, the realities of time and staffing settled in.

What now?

Over the next few years, my library’s director and I talked about the idea of reorganizing our picture books frequently and discussed how families searched and how we could also make finding picture books pretty easy for staff and volunteer shelvers once the reorganization happened. We also needed to figure out what we needed to make the transition happen without closing the library, making staff work long weekends, or removing all of the picture books at one time.

In terms of a plan, we already had a few things going for us.

  • Our picture books (about 2,500) lived in browsing bins. We liked this arrangement because it already made the books (face-out) more accessible for pre-readers and readers than if they were on shelves, spine-out. In fact, we also bought face-out bins for our beginning readers a few years ago which makes for a friendly transition for emerging readers moving from one part of the children’s collection to the other.
  • We used a colored dot system for the picture book collection and wanted to stick with it. The colored dots helped pre-readers find sections of the collection (and the colors provide a literacy talking point for families). Although the problem we had with the colored dot system was that some parts of the alphabetically-organized collection had grown to include 16 sections of books, T-Z for example,  with 20-25 books per section and this was an unwieldy number of bins to search through for 1 or 2 books.
  • We were a stand-alone library, so we only had one picture book collection to transition.
  • Other staff members were supportive and were willing to help with the process.
  • Other libraries had transitioned their collections, shared their process in blogs and presentations, and were willing to answer my questions (thanks Mel!).

What did we do next?


Then we found out about the internship, came up with a real plan, and applied. Our plan included a draft schedule of categories, the who, what, and when of changing spine labels, what we wanted on the spine labels, and how we were going to remove parts of the picture book collection during one of the busiest parts of the year. (The internship was only offered during the summer.)

Once William, our intern, arrived, learned about book processing, practiced assigning categories with me, and got the appropriate permissions in our ILS, we got to work. The process took about 6 weeks to complete. We did this project while the library was open, picture books were still circulating, and our summer program was in full swing. At no time were all of the bins empty and during this whole process we had good circulation numbers at the library!

Picture Book Bins and New Book section image

Reorganized picture book bins with ‘New Books’ and storytime area in background. Board books now live on bottom shelf of ‘New Books’ area (left side).


As you can see from the schedule at the top of the post, we ended up with 16 categories. We identified categories we liked (many are similar to other libraries’ categories) based on families’ search behavior and sections we wanted to highlight (Alaska & the North). Then we figured out how many bins we had and estimated how many books would be in each category. Again, there are about 20-25 books per section/bin. In this calculation, we also figured two extra pieces: we moved the board books from some of the lower sections so we had more space to work with and brought many of the folk, fairy, and traditional tales from the 398’s to the picture bins if we thought they were a better fit there. A few of the categories changed in some way (grew, changed name, etc) through the process which in our situation was pretty easy because we’re small.

Each category included at least 4 bins (2 bins on the top and two right beneath). The maximum number of bins was capped at 10, versus 16 previously. We wanted that number to be even smaller to make searching for specific titles easier, but we made this work. So far it has been fine and is much easier to find specific books than before the move. Here are the final categories and the number of bins filled with books in that category. The total number of picture book bins is 114.

  • Adventures = 4
  • Alaska = 4
  • Animals = 8
  • Celebrate = 10
  • Concepts = 10
  • Families = 10
  • Favorites = 8
  • Friends = 8
  • Go = 8
  • Growing = 10
  • Movement = 4
  • Nature = 6
  • Rhythm = 6
  • School = 4
  • Tales = 10
  • Wordless = 4

A couple of things to consider:

  • We place books in categories based on the central idea of the book, starting with the LoC Subject Headings associated with the book. Those are so handy, aren’t they?
  • We did NOT include a multicultural section. We incorporate diverse characters, settings, authors, illustrators, and topics throughout the collection.
  • We did not include a miscellaneous category. We wanted to be very intentional about the books and their placement so nothing got lost in a catch all bin.
  • We wanted the categories to be general enough to capture a wide variety of books related to the topic.
  • We did include a ‘Favorites’ category because some characters are just popular and need to be in one place (Curious George, for example).
  • We can plainly see which categories of the collection need more books and which categories have plenty or need to be weeded! The ‘Go’ category is always empty (books are always checked out) and we need more books with things that go. The ‘Families’ and ‘Celebrate’ categories have plenty for now!

Sticker, Stickers, and More Stickers

Homer, Alaska is not the place to buy a variety of dot stickers. We had a bunch on hand that we repurposed
from the previous system, but we needed more. We had to order the new colors and then had to order more. This took time and made us a bit nervous, but some colors just didn’t look as good in hand and some were too similar, less distinguishable on the books. Gold and silver were too similar, for example.

You will see on the spine label that we kept the 3 first three letters of author’s last name. This was something we wanted in case we need to fiddle with the organization at some point without having to redo spine labels. With limited staffing, we didn’t want to spend resources on reprocessing books en masse. The ‘P’ stands for Picture Books which refers to the section and replaced the ‘E’ that was there before


A coworker and I weeded the collection pretty heavily last Spring in anticipation of the big move. However, during the move we weeded even more! It felt good to freshen up the collection. I am still ordering replacements for tried and true books that were beyond repair.

Reorganizing Picture Books Sign imageSigns

Throughout the process we posted signs, talked to families at storytime, and chatted with families as we met them in the children’s library about the move. We added “coming soon!” signs to empty bins, especially when we removed a lot of books at one time.

The schedule of categories is now posted on the end of each row of book bins for families’ reference. The colorful dots are eye-catching and often make families pause before starting their search. The signs and the reorganization are another step towards supporting successful independent searching and finding.

12 thoughts on “Reorganizing the Picture Books- Finally!

  1. Our library is one of 12 libraries in the county library system. Books are shipped back and forth between the libraries daily except for weekends. As a former Early Ed teacher, I can see the benefits of organizing a collection this way. I also know how difficult it can be to categorize books. I had the opportunity to establish a school library in the preschool I taught at. Our collection grew from 3 tall book shelves of picture books categorized by themes to a classroom size space of bookshelves filled with books. I chose to categorize some books by theme, such as holidays and seasonally books. The rest of the collection was by author. I received some resistance to this way of organization from a few teachers because they were accustomed to the themes.
    I am curious how other libraries, such as ours, make this system work best for them. Hold requests, for example, are constantly being fulfilled. Each day a holds list is created and completed at least 4x a day at our library. How do the search the catalog for books especially from particular authors? Does it take the same amount of time to shelve and pull books? Do you gain any floor space by housing the books bins? We would like to create more cozy nooks or seating areas for families but the floor space is limited.

    • Hi Patti-
      For us, shelving is pretty fast because we can group the books by the color of the spine label sticker which corresponds with a subject. BUT we do have more books circulating each year and they have to be shelved – more books equals more time shelving. Pulling holds takes about the same now as it was before we reorganized, in part because we have always had picture books in bins. The groupings are just by subject instead of author’s last name.

  2. I’d love to hear an update about your categories! Is there anything you have changed or would like to change? Which categories are most popular and which ones see the least circulations (in general)?
    Thanks for any info!

    • Th categories have stayed the same, but a few are more crowded than others. Keep me on top of the weeding! Things That Go is almost always empty, which allows me to do some more calculated collection development from sight. Celebrations is predominantly Christmas, and I leave those out all year, but I actively search for other kinds of celebrations to add there. I am also conscious of just how many Christmas books we have and need.
      Our wordless books and picture book tales (including traditional and fairy tales) circulate better now that they have their own space.
      We don’t have any more bins, or bin space, so we’ve made space for world language books on shelf next to the bin area. That has been a huge hit. In response to sudden uptick in picture books that talk (with CD or Vox books, we separated those out again. We’ve moved those picture books over by the audio books and music CDs, but still in the kids room.)

  3. Hi Claudia,
    Where did your library purchase your browsing bins? We are looking to buy some for the elementary school library where I work.

  4. This system makes so much sense to me. I’m planning to do this in my elementary school library, but have already faced uncertainty when categorizing. Can you share how you used the LoC SH in your process? I’m having some difficulty navigating the site. Thank you for sharing your process!

    • Michele,
      One way you could work is to create some sample groupings or categories and check the LoC headings listed in some of the books to see if they inspire categories. Considering LoC subjects might make the process easier if more than 1 0r 2 people are involved in assigning books to categories and if you have a decent size collection.

  5. I don’t work at an official library, but I’m interested in doing this for our home library since our picture book collection has become a little lending library for all the kids on the block. My husband thinks putting dot stickers on the spines of the books will ruin the books. How do you put stickers on your books without fear of “ruining them”?

    • I love the idea of your home library being a lending library for the whole block! What a great way to support your neighborhood and model community sharing for kids. In the library, our circle labels are stuck on plastic book covers (fitted over the book jacket) and then secured in place under clear strips to keep the stickers on the books longer. (Public library books might get more use than your block library, not sure!) For at home use, you may want to try a removable circle label. If you are worried about the sticky residue left by a circle label, Scotch brand adhesive remover. It’s very effective. Have fun!

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