On Creating Bookshelves For An All-Digital Public Library

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Romeo Rosales

Staff Writer

Full time Librarian, father and husband, Romeo Rosales, Jr. holds an MLS from Texas Woman's University in Denton, TX, a B.A. in History from The University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, TX, and an A.A. in History from South Texas College in McAllen, TX. Romeo was born and raised in Pharr, TX, a border town that is part of the historic Rio Grande Valley. He is a contributor for Public Libraries Online, the companion website to the bi-monthly print publication "Public Libraries," the official magazine of the Public Library Association. He is also a published author and when he is not writing, he is spending all of his time with his wife Claudia and his son Azariah. Twitter: @Rrsls10

So, I work for the first all-digital public library system in the country. Our library branches house no physical books; instead, our resources are housed on multiple platforms/apps like cloudLibrary, Hoopla, RBdigital, Lynda, PressReader, BiblioBoard, and many others. I am the Collections & Acquisitions Librarian for my library and it is hands down the coolest job I have had in my decade in public libraries. The no physical books part of my job does not bother me one bit. It’s quite lovely to not have to handle grimy books that have been through dozens of homes.

hands with laptop typing

I evaluate, purchase and curate our digital content for all ages. But unlike a traditional public library that offers multiple locations to display physical books, our ebooks and audiobooks must be carefully curated on digital bookshelves. Every month our digital bookshelves change so that our patrons get a different look at our collection. Since they are unable to walk through stacks and go from physical bookshelf to bookshelf, this is our best chance to highlight books that are overlooked or are older. We usually have anywhere from 12–15 digital bookshelves in any given month. I usually highlight monthly observations while occasionally throwing in my dad joke shelves. These shelves may include color puns or just something I think our patrons will respond to.

You may not think so, but this is quite a difficult task. I am quite competitive and I want our monthly circulation numbers to grow from month to month. If we circulated 20,000 items in March, for example, then I hope to circulate 20,000+ in April. But the truth is, my digital curations are either hit or miss with our patrons. I have one chance per month with these bookshelves to impress our patrons enough that they will actually look through these shelves. If they are not interested, they will skip over most shelves and go straight to our New Fiction and New Nonfiction shelves. It’s quite an interesting task.

So, this is what some of our current bookshelves look like on cloudLibrary:

#Bookface Shelf

This shelf is filled with ebooks and audiobooks that patrons can check out to post their favorite Instagram photos using the #bookface hashtag. The tricky part? Try doing this with a Kindle Fire, NOOK, iPad, or other ereader device. It is much more difficult than using a physical book.

Dystopian Novels Are So 1984 Shelf

This shelf contains ebooks and audiobooks of fiction dystopian novels. Some books featured on this shelf are The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, The Power by Naomi Alderman, Blindness by Jose Saramago and American War by Omar El Akkad. Our patrons really love dystopian novels and psychological thrillers.

National Poetry Month Shelf

In honor of National Poetry Month, this shelf highlights works by amazing poets. This shelf is one of those that is either a hit or miss with patrons. Poetry may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but many of our patrons have been checking these out.

Financial Literacy Month Shelf

You may not know this but April is Financial Literacy Month. This shelf features nonfiction ebooks and audiobooks that bring awareness to financial literacy. Many public libraries across the country host amazing financial literacy programs that make a difference in their communities. These programs and books highlight the importance of financial literacy and teach Americans how to establish and maintain healthy financial habits.

New Fiction and New Nonfiction Shelves

These are what I like to call our “bread and butter” bookshelves. Most patrons naturally flock to these shelves because they feature our latest purchases and new releases from amazing authors. Some books on these shelves include The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero, Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, Women’s Work by Megan K. Stack, I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott, A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum and Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. These are great shelves.

In the past I have added color pun shelves like Orange You Glad to See Me, These Blue My Mind or Red Any Good Books Lately. Those shelves feature books that are color coded according to the pun. I have created shelves for Pride month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, American Heart Month, Women’s History Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, and other monthly observances. The trick is to keep switching these shelves up so patrons remain interested. One of my secrets is to simply arrange these shelves differently week by week. One week they may be arranged by title and the next week they may be arranged by publication date or by the date they were added to the shelf. This gives the illusion that new books were added to those shelves when in reality their order was just rearranged.

So, now you know more or less how the curation of content for the nation’s first all-digital public library works. If you wish to browse our webpage, you can do so here. We are a public library, but we still get looks and questions as if we are some foreign creatures. Many people still want to know what the heck we are and how we function as a library. If you have questions, I would be more than happy to answer them. Happy reading!