Library Signage

I love a good labeling system, don’t you? Signage that works makes me so happy, and when our students “get” that our signs in the library are telling them what they’re looking at … ahhh, it’s so satisfying.

Because our library hosts kindergarten through twelfth-grade students, our collection reflects those age and grade levels. Due to the unique limitations of our historic space, our nonfiction collection is a mix of sources suitable for grades 5 and up. This means the DK Children’s Book of Philosophy could be found on the shelf right next to Cathcart and Klein’s Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar. #SuperFunTimes 

There is something to be said, then, for simplified signage. When students get to the shelf, sure, they can take the book down, flip through the pages, and see if it’s “just right”. But on the way to the shelves, walking amongst the stacks, it would be lovely to have indicators that an 8-year-old and an 18-year-old can understand. Inspired by some brilliant signage I saw in independent bookstores last summer, I embarked on a little journey with my 5th graders through the wonderful world of library classification and signage to help make that dream come true.

Photo of fiction signage from some bookstore ... somewhere.
Fiction signage from … some bookstore … somewhere

What you need to make one-of-a-kind library signs

  • Books
  • Foam board or cardboard (I cut mine to 16”x7”)
  • Old magazines (book catalogs work best!)
  • LOTS of packing tape
  • Post-Its
  • Scratch paper
  • Markers
  • Scissors (don’t run with them!)
  • Fishing twine
  • Command hooks (I used these)
  • Hot glue gun
  • A way to make giant letters (we have a Silhouette Cameo)
  • forty-five 5th graders (or students of your choosing)

I get to see our 5th graders every 2 weeks for about 45 minutes. For the signs to truly reflect student voice, I wanted the kiddos to sift through a bunch of books from a certain area (like the 780s or the 910s), and come up with their own words to answer the question, “What are these books about?” I figured 2 class periods would be enough time for the students to come up with their own verbiage (visit 1) and then create a collage that represented that part of the collection (visit 2). In hindsight, 3 visits might have been ideal, as I ended up taping down most of the collages … but I really wanted the signs done by the time the students came back from winter break. Unrealistic timelines = more work for me!

Not only was this a fun art project that introduced students to titles they might not have known we owned, it reinforced the concept of classification (yes, all the books about the Titanic are on the same shelf because … call #s!) AND it encouraged students to use text features as they searched through the book catalogues for appropriate images. I wish you were here with me so I could walk you along the whole activity, but I’ll do my best to outline the process. 

Visit 1: Once the students (they worked in groups of 3) figured out what topics or themes their assigned books had in common, they came up with their own words/terms, which they wrote on Post-Its, and then collaborated to combine their ideas and reach a final word or phrase, which they wrote on a giant scratch sheet of paper. Admittedly, some piles of books were easier to define than others, but it was so gratifying to see their minds work to put concepts into words! 

Can you guess the Dewey section based on the students’ Post-Its? 🙂

Visit 2: Then they scoured old magazines to find images that illustrated their ideas. Book catalogs (think ABDO, Lerner, Capstone) proved to be especially useful because once a group realized they had books pertaining to, say, U.S. History, they could use the text features (table of contents, headings) to browse relevant images in the “Social Studies” section of that catalog! We turned those giant scratch sheets of paper from our first visit into envelopes in which they kept all their collage pictures, as well as their initial Post-It ideas. 

Tables of contents, titles, and headings were actually put to use as the kiddos searched for images!

So I had their collages and I had their words. All I had to do was print out their wording on the adhesive paper, and … everything else. 😆 As I type this, I realize that I could have had the students stick the words to their collage signs themselves … but again, I really wanted to surprise them when they came back from break! I used hot glue and fishing twine to make loops on the backs of the signs (where I also taped their initial Post-It ideas for reference and attribution), and then stuck the Command hooks above the appropriate shelves. The 5th graders get to see their work every time they browse the stacks – and not just them, but every student who peruses nonfiction can see the work of their peers!

I’d love to know how you’ve used student work in your library space. And if you have any ideas for crazy/crafty future projects, please share!