Librarians of all grade levels have heard time and time again the age old question, “Is this the first book in the series?” when students and staff are looking through the fiction stacks on their own. We all have lived the timeless scenario where a student heads up to the circulation desk ready to checkout, only for you to say, “Have you read the first book?” and the deer-in-headlights look tells you they have not. You take a short walk together back to the fiction section and find what you need, but what if the students could save the guessing, and at a glance know which book was #1 and so on?
As I started searching around vendors for already created “series numbering” ideas my research came up short. After checking all of our regular vendors I found tons of genre identification spine labels, but nothing that would give me a way to identify the numerical order of a series and in multiple ways for authors who have more than one series collection. My answer became creating my own way.
I began the creative hunt on Amazon. I was able to find cheap numerical stickers that were a perfect dimension for book spines in 8 different colors including 0-9 with multiple 0’s and 1’s for those longer series collections. The stickers I chose were Jazzstick Small number stickers which come in a 8 page pack for $9.99. I would suggest getting 2 packs depending on the size of your collection. I currently have about 8,000 fiction books and needed a second pack to complete the project.
The Project Begins
Once I had my stickers and about 3 boxes of spine label covers I was ready to start organizing and labeling books! At first I flew through the most popular series books that I knew by heart and moved to the harder and longer series. I would pick a series, pick a sticker color, and label each copy in the series. If an author has more than one series book collection (for example Rick Riordan), I would label each series collection with a different color number. The colors that you see behind the numbers are my attempt at genre-fication without having to move everything in my library; the genre-fication project proceeded this one, so it just worked out to have the numbers on top of the colored labels. To the untrained eye this project sounds like no big deal, but integrated into a work day where I am doing twenty other things, it did end up taking over a month. Along the way I enlisted help from my library staff and a few students from our school book club group to help the work along.
What I Learned along the Way
During this project I experienced some really great after effects of the work that validated the time it took for me to label the books. The first thing it did was help me identify holes in my series collections. As I was going through the collection I found so many series that were missing a book in the sequence. This was a great opportunity for me to reorder things that I didn’t know had been damaged or lost. The second thing this project did was allow me time to weed my fiction collection. As I was labeling books I was looking at each shelf and catching so much more that needed to be weeded than when I just sweep through regularly.
Taking the time to organize my fiction books in this way has really been a time saver for students and allows them to stay on track when reading a series collection. Some examples of student feedback were, “It’s so much easier to tell where to start!” and “I won’t get messed up in the order now, thanks Mrs. Pelayo.” If it helps the students, then it helps me. Hopefully this coming school year students will have fewer errors in reading out of sequence, and will find what they are looking for more easily. I’m sure that I will always still hear “Is this book #1?”, but hopefully this year I hear more of “Can I check out book #2?”
Author: Elizabeth Pelayo
Elizabeth Pelayo is the library media specialist at St. Charles East High School in St. Charles Illinois. She currently writes book reviews for School Library Journal. She is a member of the AASL AAUP Book Selection Committee. Also, she is a member of the nominations committee for the ISLMA Abraham Lincoln Book Award.