A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Color In the Library – Organizing Materials By Color

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on October 2, 2014

Something had to change. Whether it was “helpful” patrons, tired volunteers, or hurried staff, materials were getting on the shelf in the wrong places. Leaving detailed notes for the volunteers wasn’t helping. Strident admonitions from the administration to slow down and pay attention didn’t work. Perhaps the system by Colormarq could help?

Color coding was becoming “a thing” already at the library. We used Demco Alpha Labels on our paperbacks, DVDs, and Blu-Rays. Anything that was red was a young adult material, yellow for adult, green for tween, and blue for children. Our PR person used these same colors as borders around signs for library programming. A subtle blue border meant a children’s program, while yellow was an adult program.

The idea about two years ago was to expand the concept of color coding areas to the entire library. Looking into several different possibilities, it was decided to go with the Colormarq product because it appeared the most adaptable. Not only were we going to use color, but we were going to reorganize the entire collection. Stripes of color were going to help us do just that!

We had been researching libraries that had used a BISAC classification system for parts of their collection and had decided that was what we wanted to do. Colormarq could give us up to five stripes of color so we could have several different levels of color classification. The changeover process has moved much more slowly than we would have liked. Every time we think we have gotten everything included, we discover something we forgot. Trying to decide how to organize both fiction and non-fiction for all reading levels so there are no duplicate color patterns is quite a challenge.

As you would expect, younger patrons are embracing the colors and groupings much more quickly than the adults. Our youngest patrons know that blue-red-lime green is where all the beginning reader books that have cartoon characters are. It doesn’t matter to them that the blue stripe indicates it’s a children’s book, the red stripe underneath means “learn to read,” and the lime green stripe is “seen on tv.” It’s simply where THEIR books are.

Our volunteer shelvers and paid pages were skeptical at first, yet are coming to see the benefits of the color groupings. It’s easier to find things that “helpful” patrons have put back on the shelf in the wrong place. It’s even easier to get some materials back on the shelf because you can look quickly at color strips instead of words in small print on spine labels.

Only a third of our collection is color coded and labeled so far. This coming year is the “year of the label” as our entire staff devotes all their free time and energy at work to completing the color labeling process. And of course we couldn’t say enough good things about Bill Gunn at Colormarq, and how understanding he has been as we keep changing our minds about things! This coming year will be quite an adventure, and we can’t wait to see how everything turns out in the end.

sample color label 1sample color label 2

Melanie A. Lyttle is the Head of Public Services Madison Public Library. You can watch her YouTube channel, Crabby Librarian, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Rv5GLWsUowShawn D. Walsh is the Emerging Services and Technologies Librarian at Madison Public Library.


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