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Finding Materials in the Public Library

In most public libraries, the materials are organized by type: adult, teen, and children’s. Sounds simple enough until an attempt is made to navigate the stacks looking for something. Then the trouble starts. Here are a few tips to help you find materials in your local public library.

The line between children and teen is not clearly drawn. Most libraries will make a basic decision of 12 years and under as children and 13-18 as teens. Although the adult section is labeled such, anyone with a library card can take out any materials that the library holds. That includes children’s and teen materials too. If you give your child a library card think before you sign. Most public libraries will not stop a child from checking out an R-rated movie, adult literature or any other items. Unlike school libraries, the public library does not operate in loco parentis. In other words, they provide access to everything for everyone without restriction.

When in doubt, it’s best to ask the librarian. Although all card holders can check out all materials, extras like computer access often are restricted by area. So, children 12 and under may only be able to access the internet from computers in the children’s room.

Adult Section
Check for non-fiction “neighborhoods.” Sometimes, based on patron preference, certain topics will be pulled from the main non-fiction section and placed in a separate area. Examples include travel, careers, health, and biographies. If you cannot locate a book, see if the entire section is missing. This is often a clue that it is located somewhere else in the library. Most libraries will indicate this in the stacks with signage either on the shelves or end caps.

Fiction may be arranged alphabetically by author or separated by genre. Many libraries are moving towards interfiling all fiction as many authors now write across genres. Spine label stickers are often the best way to check if your local public library is set-up this way. If the books in the fiction section have no picture spine labels, it is a clue that the main fiction collection is separate from romance, mystery, sci-fi, etc. The reverse is also true. Of course, it is entirely possible that the books are not labeled at all. When in doubt, check with the librarians.

Teen Section
Teen fiction is often in its own category but teen non-fiction may be interfiled with adult or on its own. In addition, sometimes new teen materials will be filed in the teen area if space permits. The Teen section is often the most neglected section of any public library. Having a section just for teens is a relatively new development in the history of libraries. Not that it was forgotten, but implementation varies widely.

Children’s Section
Children’s materials are usually in a completely separate department. This is because it is a very different arena than the adult section in terms of programming and patron base. However, the set-up is basically the same: fiction, non-fiction, and biography. Children’s is a bit more specialized with the inclusion of lexile level reading materials, board books, ez-readers, homeschooling and parenting materials.

Other things to note regarding all areas.
New materials in all areas are likely to be in a separate section of the library reserved for them. This allows patrons to see what the library has just acquired. Do not be fooled by the title. These materials are new to the library, not necessarily recently published. This is an important distinction to note.

Audiovisual materials including DVDs, video games, sound recordings and audiobooks are often split only by teen/adult and children’s. The new materials in these formats will also be in the “new” section.

Graphic novels are a relatively new genre and their influence has spread from children’s to teens and now to adults. One should experience the Canterbury Tales as a graphic novel. Middle English never sounded so good. Of course, I’m joking a bit here. But, one of my hopes with this new genre is that people who are not “readers” per se will pick up something like Canterbury Tales in graphic novel form and then be curious about the original. Because it is a relatively new genre, many libraries have created yet another section for this type of material.

Your key to any effective library visit is to take a two pronged approach. Familiarize yourself with the online catalog and make friends with the Reference Librarian. Do not be afraid to explore. The most wonderful finds have been discovered while browsing the shelves.





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