Library Classification as Art

You know how cats rub their scents on something by stroking their chin and little kitty lips on things? Usually while purring? And it looks like they’re kissing things?

If I were a cat, I’d do that to this amazing senior project:Looking at Libraries: Defining Space Through Content by Valérie Madill, a student at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, BC.

Madill does for books what Deborah Adler did for prescriptions, incorporating design and clarity into something eye catching, inherently useful (from my nooby perspective anyway) and simply amazing.

According to the description page in the website, library books “are lost within themselves and… the cover design has lost it’s presence…. A library is not a bookstore, [sic] books here are stored and classified, not sold; they are sought and they are found.”

Mixing color with the 21 general subject matter classifications, Madill’s system visually updates existing systems with color and centrally-located information. The spine has the classification data; the back has just about every piece of info on a book you could want, from ISBN to publisher.

Seriously. I’m drooling, and I’m not a librarian. That art right there is hot. Librarians, whaddya think?

Thanks to Rebecca for the link.


The Link-O-Lator

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  1. 1
    Mary says:

    I’m all for more graphical representations of book organization.  That’s why I like the new emphasis on web 2.0 and tag clouds to get a quick sense of what a collection contains.  I also agree that Dewey has the capability of disenfranchising people who think all those numbers are too confusing.

    However…I do wonder what my Dad might do with book organization like this.  He’s colorblind!

  2. 2
    flipsockgrrl says:

    Looks lovely – an elegant piece of design. My librarian colleagues reckon it wouldn’t be practical in a university library—too much manual work to produce the labels and attach them to books, and to replace them when the inevitable wear’n’tear occurs.

    Nonetheless, I’m going to try it at home with a modification: instead of the full-on bibliographic information I’ll make spaces for hand-written notes about when I last read the book, whether I liked it, who I’ve lent it to, which pages the best bits are on…

  3. 3

    Ex-Librarian and wet blanket.

    It’s pretty.  But what is the point of putting full citation info on the outside of the book, where it can be damaged?  Do many people use this?  I know librarians do.  But we already know where to find it (in the online catalog.  We put it there).

    I’d say it would be useful for doing citation pages and bibliographies.  But then, I’d slap the user upside the head (library tough love), and teach them to cut and paste info from the online catalog into a citation generator.  Much easier.  No chance of mistakes while handwriting info. 

    Everyone hates citation pages.  Let the computer do the work for you.  Writing it all on notecards is soooooo 20th century.

    The larger the label, the more of the cover you hide.  And some people want to see the cover.  And these labels do seem to be regular paper, or card stock.  It would be necessary to cover every damn book in adhesive plastic to protect them. 

    Or some library supply company would get hold of the idea, and make them prohibitively expensive.  And the processing supply budget should not outstrip the book buying budget.  Not good news.

    Is the classification system just LC, can anyone tell off the top of their head?  Because I could see changing to rainbow colored stickers for the main classifications to make shelving easier.  Go get a cartload of green labels, and take them to the third floor.  The initial sort of incoming materials would go much faster.

    But if you look closely, these books are still organized with a complicated numberins system that you have to learn, so you can find them.  And it’s vertical.  So, still confusing, and you have to tip your head to the side to read it.

    And since it is LC (I’m pretty sure) it is an unholy bitch for finding fiction. 

    You can get colored plastic labels and hire work study students to slap those over the existing system without changing the cataloging.  Not as pretty.  But functional and cheap.

  4. 4
    RfP says:

    1. I can’t believe she obscures half the cover.  She says the LoC system dominates the uniqueness of the books… so she hides the books’ unique covers with paper?

    2. Do those details need to be on the cover?  That’s not an homage to books, it’s an homage to filing.

    3. Color on books is great.  But these Rainbow of books projects are cool because they’re BOOKS as art.  Not someone’s shelving scheme as art.

  5. 5
    Antigone says:

    Is the classification system just LC, can anyone tell off the top of their head?

    Looks like LC; it would help if the books the labels were for were actually the books that they’re wrapped around, but they’re not. For example, N in LC is fine arts and that corresponds to the titles on the pink labels, if not the books themselves.

    I like the colour-coding but I really hate not being able to see the whole title on the spine. Helpful when you’re trying to find one book among many with a very similar title.

  6. 6
    Amy says:

    It is pretty, but I have to wonder about using it in an academic library system where students generally are doing research and looking for a specific book.
      She says that “cover design has lost it’s presence” but I don’t think students are looking up books by their cover and covering it up with a big label doesn’t help either.
      And it is kind of doing a disservice to students. Now they go by call number to look it up, but if you changed to a color-coded system, they wouldn’t have to learn anything other than “follow the sesame street path to the orange section.”
      Academic libraries tend to have books for a really long time going into the hundreds of years. Putting on a giant label wreaks havoc with preservation.
      I’d be curious if it would work in a public library and if people would like it. Which is more of a browsing collection. Publishers spend so much money on covers; to cover up half the book with a label is kind of a shame. Unless it was that book from a while back with the weird shaped butt on it. Then I’m all for labels.
      And now that I have also been a wet blanket, I totally admire her thoughtfulness and innovation and hard work. Sometimes that is missing in this field.

  7. 7
    Joanna says:

    Well, I will be a dry blanket. As a perpetual grad student, half-slips like that would be like seeing the women’s room sign after being in the car for four hours—a jolt of sweet, pure joy.

    Librarians saying that the bibliographical information is all online anyway have not been in the libraries I’m in—as a theology student I’m thrilled if there is ANY kind of electronic card catalog and have rarely worked with one that has even the slightest ability to cut and paste into one of my personal programs. It’s usually more a problem of even being able to read the information in the flickering terminal monitor from 1985. Having a systematic wrap with clear and consistent formatting would save me hours.

    This strikes me as “closed captioning” for book browsing. Everyone screeches about how it obscures the visual content and detracts from an organic appreciation of the medium, until you realize that now you’re not spending half your time whispering “Wait—what did he just say?” There are plenty of book covers, and even more citation pages, that mumble critical information under their breath. I’d be on top of the world always knowing where to look for what I need.

    And for romance novels—ah, that date of publication would get huge thumbs up. How many times have you picked up—even bought—an author’s “new” book only to get home and realize that somewhere on page 6 there was a tiny note that this is a re-release, and that in fact you read it in 2004?

  8. 8
    Amanda says:

    As pretty as her system is, I saw something similar at the ALA conference that involved color coding the call number on the spine of the book.  The purpose of the commerccial product was to make finding the book (and shelf-reading) easier.  I can appreciate the desire to make finding information easier (as a future librarian), but that’s what the LC and Dewey classifications are for, and they do a decent job.  For the most part, students who are looking for information aren’t really interested in exploring the stacks for books as getting what they need to meet the quotas on their papers (I’ve been a college student for 8 years and am just as guilty).  In addition, research is involved and color coding just seems more of a hassle than a help.  Associating colors with subject headings is just as arbitrary as associating it with a number or letter combination.  I think most of this has already been said, but it’s worth repeating.  Regarding citation managers, generating citations isn’t really that hard.  I’m haveing to make the transition from a lifetime of MLA to APA, and once you know what you’re looking at (book with 2 authors in a series with multiple editions) you find your tab in your style guide and plug in the pieces of info.

  9. 9
    Scotsie says:

    As a current librarian, I just wanted to re-echo something that was pointed out earlier … as aesthetically pleasing as this is, it would exclude the color-blind/color-impaired segment of the population.  As a librarian/web designer from a color-blind family, color is something I pay a lot of attention to and it is my bugaboo with web design.  What’s the point if the information isn’t available/readable/“seeable”, etc… ?? 

    This is one of my favorite sites for finding out if a color scheme is accessibility to color-blind users: Accessibility Color Wheel

  10. 10
    Estelle Chauvelin in librarian mode says:

    Since it says “first letter of the call number,” then it must be LC.  Dewey classification will only have letters in the cutter.  This makes this an academic (pun recognized but not intended) matter for me, a public librarian in a place where all the public libraries are Dewey.

    I don’t understand how this is any easier than Dewey or LC, either.  The basic principal behind both of those can be summed up as “numbers/letters go in order; subjects go together.”  How hard is that?  Maybe you don’t walk into a library knowing what number goes with your subject- I don’t think I actually knew any until I started working in a library in college- but you can easily either look it up or ask a librarian to help you find it, and since “numbers/letters go in order,” it’s easy to walk to the place where your numbers/letters are once you have determined which ones you need.

    Numbers are also easier to describe than colors.  (Hypothetical Dewey example because that’s what I can describe off the top of my head.)  If the 200’s were shades of yellow, and a patron asked me to tell her where the Bibles were without walking over and showing her, which do you think would be the more helpful answer: “The two hundred twenties” or “The yellow section; it’s a moderately dark yellow”?  The numbers can stand on their own and the colors can’t.

    Is it easier to look on the back of a book for citation information than it is to look at the title page/title page verso?  Those exist even if for some reason you can’t get it from the catalog.

    Joanna: Gentleman’s wager (is there such a term as “ladies wager”?) that the date on the spine is the same copyright date that you’d most easily find on the title page/title page verso.  If it’s a rerelease of earlier material with a new date on it, it’s probably not going to be any easier to find that than it would be from looking at the book or the electronic catalog.  The cataloger who makes the labels is going to be going by the same sources.  In fact, when there is an electronic catalog, it will be easier to determine whether or not it’s a reprint by looking at that, because you will see other editions of the same book with different dates next to them (if the library owns multiple editions).

    Discrete stickers to help people spot a section are all well and good, particularly for fiction where there isn’t a logical order in which to put genres.  So are signs on the end of a row that proclaim “Science” in addition to “500.”  But it’s not going to make finding things so much easier that it’s worth covering up most of the book.

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