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Finding Picture Books Really Can Be Child’s Play

King County Library System, WA

Innovation Summary

The King County Library System empowers children and adults to quickly find the picture books they are most interested in reading.

Problem Statement

Children feel successful when they browse for books in the library and find the ones they are interested in reading. But with traditional shelving that arranges books with spines facing out, it makes browsing challenging not only for a child, who may not be tall enough to see what's on upper shelves, but also for parents who may be frustrated by the time it takes to pull books out, one at a time, to view a cover with their child or read a title. While other library systems had piloted a new shelving concept that arranges picture books by subject rather than author, KCLS decided to take a research oriented approach based on patron input. What would children and parents in KCLS’ service area think of the idea? And how challenging would it be to take a concept that was rolled out in much smaller library systems and implement it across a system as large as KCLS, with 48 libraries covering 2,100 square miles? KCLS decided that improving access to children’s picture books was worth finding out.


To gauge interest and gather information, KCLS engaged Hardwick Research to bring together and work with four focus groups of parents of young children who used our libraries. After analyzing the results, it was clear that parents would welcome arranging picture books into subject categories. To test this, we chose a library that was being remodeled and worked with children’s librarians in a team that also included book selectors, catalogers, circulation, ITS and facilities design to develop 14 broad categories such as Things That Go and Favorite Friends; subjects many children are interested in finding books about. Colors were selected to represent each category and labels designed. Simultaneously, the team worked out how to tag each book with a category while ordering and how to create a subject heading in the MARC record and a shelving location code that would make the book discoverable if searched for in the catalog. To quickly achieve our goal, a new opening day collection was chosen for the library rather than categorizing an existing collection. In addition, and as important as categorizing the books, shelves were redesigned to make access to the books more inviting and improve browsing by children and adults, in essence, to broaden access. The redesign incorporated shelves easily reached by children, more face out display and highlight bins for each category.


After the collection had been in use for five months, Hardwick Research conducted intercept interviews with adults using the collection. The results were overwhelming positive: 58% increase in turnover as compared to the same collection the year before. In addition, patron comments showed just how much they appreciated the new arrangement and that we had achieved our goal of better access: “I found books in areas I wouldn't have thought to look.” “Children can be more independent in the library. We didn’t used to come to the library before, but now this is easier to use.” After reviewing the responses to the intercepts and making several changes to labels and categories, KCLS decided to begin implementing the new system in existing picture book collections. In May 2014, we will begin the process with one library and will use it as a model for how to scale out to the rest of the system over the next several years. The first library’s collection will be matched and compared to all picture book collections going forward and then the task of categorizing the titles that are unique to the next library will begin. Beginning in June 2014, new picture books ordered for all KCLS libraries will have the new subject category headings and the colored category label applied. Lessons learned: create a team involving local staff as well as staff in departments with specialties in collections, cataloging, facilities design, circulation and ITS.