Common Sense Categories

Common Sense Categories Case Study

An easier method for elementary and middle school students to find books

Troy Community Consolidated School District 30-C

Interview conducted with Brenda Bertino, Learning Resource Center Director, Troy School District

Troy Community Consolidated School District 30-C is located in Will County, the fastest growing county in Illinois. The district was founded in 1949 and includes portions of Joliet, Shorewood, Channahon, Crest Hill, and unincorporated Troy Township. The Pre-K through Grade 8 school district consists of five elementary schools (grades Pre-K through 4th grade), one intermediate school (5th and 6th grades), and one middle school (7th and 8th grades).

Brenda Bertino serves as the Learning Resource Center Director for the school district, and is the district’s only certified Media Specialist. Associates manage the Learning Resource Centers and assist teachers and students in utilizing the Centers’ print and non-print resources.

Bertino has worked as an educator for more than twenty-one years, most of those years as a special education teacher. In that role she learned the importance of tailoring education services to meet the needs of the children she was teaching. When she became a librarian in 2008 she says she entered a whole new world.

New Media Specialist Meets the Dewey Challenge

In her new position with the Troy School District Bertino visited schools to understand how the library staff worked with kids. In one of her early encounters she quickly realized that school libraries were not organized to help kids find what they were looking for. “The Dewey Decimal Classification system has served libraries well for over 140 years,” she says. “But our kids don’t even learn about decimals until 4th grade. So organizing materials based on a decimal system is bewildering to them.” The story Bertino tells to illustrate this disconnect between what kids want and how school libraries are organized involves an elementary school student looking for a book on snakes. Heading over to the 597 area of the library, Bertino pulls down a book on snakes. But because each species of snake was separate based on the numbers after the decimal the task of finding the student exactly the snake he was looking for was challenging.

This was a seminal moment for Bertino. She thought there had to be a better way to organize books by categories in school libraries, but her research didn’t find any other classification system that would serve her purpose.

And so she created her own—Common Sense Categories (CSC). Like Dewey, CSC organizes books by subject. But, unlike Dewey, the organization, categories and subcategories are based on specific grade level curriculum for each building, which puts the students at the center of the organization process. Categories easily expand or collapse as warranted by the district’s various curriculums. Just as each building’s collection reflects the subjects studied, so do the category listings.

Enthusiasm Leads to School-by-School Conversion

Bertino knew she was on to something when she started setting out books in sets based on subjects in the middle school. The books flew off the shelves. Working with staff throughout the district, they focused on how to group books together for maximum discoverability. Over a period of approximately seven months every book in the middle school library was reclassified in the integrated library system (ILS) and manually relabeled with the new Common Sense Categories.

The results were astounding. Circulation in the middle school increased by 45%. Bertino talked to the kids to find out what caused this dramatic increase and resoundingly heard the same thing—we can find stuff now because subjects are all in one place. Or, as one student put it, “Finally, thanks for Googling the library.”

With proven success, Bertino set about reclassifying and relabeling the collections in the other schools. She learned that the categories that worked in the middle school for 7th and 8th graders weren’t right for 5th and 6th graders or for kids in Pre-K through 4th grade. In each school she worked with the curriculum coordinator at the time to ensure the categories mirrored what the kids were studying.

Bound to Stay Bound Steps In

In 2015, Bertino was introduced to Lori Smith at Bound to Stay Bound (BTSB). Bertino explained the philosophy behind CSC and the challenge of converting each school manually. “We had staff, friends, family, and even kids helping in the evenings and on weekends to manually change call numbers and locations in our ILS and apply new spine labels. I love my kids—this was a labor of love for me, but it was incredibly time-consuming and slow going.” Bertino had talked with several vendors about providing shelf-ready books with CSC labels but had been told it wasn’t possible, or, if the vendor was willing to try, they couldn’t get it right. “But BTSB was different. They said they could do it and would do it.”

Bertino agreed to a trial of thirty books with BTSB. The books were delivered in two weeks, and BTSB customer service staff even found two errors that Brenda didn’t catch. “Their attention to detail was very impressive,” she says. “I’d selected a book on cranes sight unseen and, assuming it was the flying type of crane, assigned it to a category about birds. But the BTSB folks caught the error and correctly identified the category as construction, based on the actual book. I was amazed at this level of service.”

Next came an order of about 500 books for an elementary school. This was a school that hadn’t been converted yet. “BTSB was committed to working with us to deliver shelf-ready books with our CSC categories. We ordered our books in November and the books were ready to be shipped to us by mid-December. This was incredible turnaround time and every one of those 500 books came back correctly labeled. It would have taken us months to reclassify and relabel those books manually if they’d come from another book supplier.”

Benefits of Working with Bound to Stay Bound

Bertino says all the schools in the district have been converted to CSC. Small projects will continue to be done but now all books ordered through BTSB arrive shelf-ready, eliminating manual processing. Bertino says in the past all the nonfiction orders had to come through her office to have the labels changed, which could take about a month. Allowing for the delay in shipping from their previous book suppliers and the time to manually process each book, this could mean that if a school ordered in September they might not receive their new books until close to Christmas. “That’s a long time for our kids to wait for new books,” she says.

When asked about the benefits of working with BTSB, Bertino has no difficulty highlighting the differences she’s noticed in just a few months.

  • Books come shelf-ready to their specifications. Bertino says the BTSB website makes it very easy to order exactly what she needs. She uses the notes field to designate the CSC category for each title, downloads the order with the notes into Excel, and sends the spreadsheet with the categories and locations to BTSB.
  • Speed of delivery. “BTSB ships directly from their warehouse so their turnaround time is much faster than our previous suppliers,” Bertino says. Since the books arrive shelf-ready, the time from order placement to on the shelves is weeks not months. “Kids want the new books. With BTSB we get these gorgeous covers and amazingly durable bindings without the kind of delay we had with our other suppliers.”
  • Bertino is still amazed that BTSB could do what others could not. “They were willing to listen to what we wanted. They understood our goals and put forth the effort to meet our needs, customizing labels as needed for each of our schools. BTSB said they could do it and they did.”
  • Customer service. Bertino says BTSB is very customer-service oriented. “They answer the phone and they know who I am—I’m not just a number. They pay close attention to detail and question something if it doesn’t make sense. I like that they’re watching out for me.”

Bertino plans to retire in June 2016. When she does she’s confident she is leaving behind a system that works for educators, library staff, and—above all—for kids. Now that reclassification can be done in a way that is not labor-intensive, she’s even more convinced that Common Sense Categories make sense for elementary, intermediate, and middle school libraries. “I’m not anti-Dewey,” she says. “Our older kids readily navigate Dewey at the public library and when they get to high school. It’s just that words make sense to children; numbers make sense to adults.”

And apparently others are starting to agree with her. As word has gotten around about the work in the Troy School District Bertino has been contacted by others interested in converting their schools. Having paved the way she’s happy to share what she’s learned. And, she says, “Anyone who is changing their classification system should look at BTSB for their quality, responsiveness, and customer service. I wish I’d found BTSB seven years ago!”