Picture books in bins

I’m reading Libraries Designed for Kids by Nolan Lushington (Neal-Schuman, 2008). It’s mostly practical and interesting, but it repeats the same ridiculous opinion several times. I hear library directors (not my own, fortunately!) repeating it too. Here’s how it goes:

1) Children choose books by their covers

2) You can’t see picture books enough to see the covers on regular shelving

3) Therefore, your picture book collection should go in bins

And here’s what’s wrong with that:

Three-year-olds are not supposed to be the ones choosing the books! Children will randomly grab any old book for any old reason. And sometimes that is fun and interesting and you end up with a book you might not have selected, and that’s great. But most of the book selection needs to be done by a parent or other person who can, you know….read.  Parents and caregivers should be keeping track of which authors they enjoy reading, and noticing which subjects their kid particularly loves (one kid it’s trains–another, it’s dogs). They should be reading a page or two and noticing if the language flows for them, or if the book might be a good bedtime story or a funny middle-of-the-day break. They may want to pay attention if the content will make them want to throw the book across the room while they’re reading to their child–The Giving Tree, anyone?

It is condescension disguised as respect.  They’re pretending to respect the child’s need to choose their own books, but the underlying reason is that they don’t think it makes any difference which book they choose. That bright, pretty cover is all that matters, right? They’re just kids, and just kids’ books, right?

Besides the fact that it makes it impossible or at least intolerable to find specific books when they are in bins, the whole thing is absurd. Are they envisioning the three-year-olds standing patiently in front of the bins, flipping through the covers to select the one that’s just right?  So silly…


This entry was posted in Children's books, Management, Parents, Public libraries, Youth Services. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Picture books in bins

  1. clevinso says:

    I firmly believe the giving tree is responsible for my amputation nightmares… ugh!

  2. Sara McLaughlin says:

    Could NOT agree more! Thanks for expressing the ongoing frustration…

  3. Joel Hahn says:

    Preach on!

    While there’s something to be said for having some choice items face-out and avoiding having shelves crammed so full-to-bursting that you can’t get books in & out, bins are an absolute nightmare in comparison. (Heck, even bookstores don’t use bins for their children’s books–because even *they* need you to be able to FIND THINGS. *gasp, shock*)

  4. Laina says:

    In my library, we simply don’t have enough shelving for all the childrens books, so a lot of the paperbacks go in bins, while the hardcovers are shelved. (They’re organized by author, so it’s not horribly difficult to find things.) And the kids like that when they’re asked to choose books, but when

    • Laina says:

      (Sorry, my touchpad went weird on me for a second and clicked by accident.)

      …when I choose books for Storytimes, I know I choose by subject, not by cover.

  5. Kristy says:

    I am a children’s librarian myself and could not disagree more with this post. Our public library has all their picture books organized face-out in bins and my 4 year old and I love this style of shelving. Both her and I love flipping through the covers while I read out loud the titles. If something sounds catchy, or the cover looks enticing, we grab it. And 9 times out of 10, it winds up being a really fun read. I’m a busy working mom, and we don’t have time to search through the online catalog to find potential reads. The bins make life so much easier. As a mom, and a library lover in general, I think more libraries should make the switch with their picture book sections.

    You say, “Are they envisioning the three-year-olds standing patiently in front of the bins, flipping through the covers to select the one that’s just right?” Would you like me to post a picture of my 4 year old doing just this??? Because she does! And it works!!!

    And I do think 3 and 4 year olds should have a say in what books are brought home. I can’t imagine just bringing home a stack of books and not letting my daughter choose some on her own. She makes a few choices on her own, and I make a few “better quality literature” choices, and both of us leave happy. And yes, some of the ones she chooses are just plain bad. But that gives us the opportunity to have a discussion about what makes a book a “good book” and what strategies we can use in the future to avoid picking another bad one – JUST like I do with my students in the school library in which I teach. Amazing – using a fun trip to the library as a learning experience! And it wouldn’t be possible if I made all the reading choices for us.

    • sdlempke says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Kristy. I’ve come to think that bins have their place to highlight particular subjects–I just don’t like to see the whole collection switched to bin shelving. I agree that a four-year-old needs some voice in what they are reading at home, but I see a lot of the kind of interactions you’re describing at my library too, where we are able to house a great many more books to choose from by using shelves.

  6. Peggy says:

    I prefer shelving in alphabetical order. This said, it all depends on what you mean by bins. Some libraries use bins that have books that face out, and limit it to a certain letter or range of letters within a bin, which makes it easier if you are looking for a particular book. I have seen bins with books just thrown in every which way–which makes it hard to choose. Our board books are not shelved in order, but are in neat rows. They get moved so often that trying to put them in order would be a nightmare. However, we rarely need to find these by title, and when we do we check the size of the book, which limits the possiblities enough that we can find them pretty fast.

    My home library puts paperbacks on wire racks in the Youth Department, with colored tape and the first letter of the author’s last name printed on the sides, and only shelve them by the letter on the side. It works for them, since they have a location that states it is on the wire shelving.

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