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Heroes in a Half Shell: What the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Taught Me About Being a Librarian

I grew up in the 90's, which means that I was born in the 80's. Thus my peers and I were the target audience for the opus that is The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles empire. When I began my first stab at weeding the juvenile* fiction section at my library, I was thrilled to discover a set of TMNT picture books in pristine condition. Yet no one had ever checked them out. As the turtles would say, "BUMMER, DUDE."

Maybe the Turtles were past their prime? I decided there was no harm in trying to get them more attention. If in the next year, they were still on the non-circulating report, they were goners. But I suspected that even if actual kids were unfamiliar with the Turtles, there had to be some nostalgic parents out there excited to relieve their childhoods. 

The first thing I did was change the books' cataloging from J fiction to Easy**. Then I gave them their very own spotlight in the picture book section. And they have combined for more than 80 checkouts in the time since being re-cataloged. That's pretty solid for books that were shelf-sitters before.

Ranganathan was right. Let's go through his Five Laws of Library Science
  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader. 
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

And maybe we can re-write them to be the Five Laws of Ninja Turtle Library Science: 
  1. Ninja turtle books are to be read. 
  2. Every reader might enjoy a ninja turtle book. 
  3. Ninja turtle books have readers. 
  4. Save the time of the reader by putting the ninja turtle books where someone might find them. 
  5. Ninja turtle books are growing organisms. They need to be cultivated: acquired when there is demand and (sniff) weeded when there is not. 
So what did the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles teach me about being a librarian? 
  • If your patrons can't find a book, you might as well not have it. Market them! 
  • Keep series books together even if they have separate authors. ESPECIALLY if they have seperate authors. 
  • Never underestimate Turtle Power's appeal to multiple generations. 
  • "Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza." --Michelangelo 
*Libraries should not be calling kids juveniles anymore. It only encourages them to be delinquents. 

**I don't think we should be calling picture books Easy either. Kids learning to read struggle and labeling something as Easy is destructive to their efforts. I would prefer Picture Books or Beginning Readers as appropriate. And even that isn't perfect because I frequently pull books for adults learning to read as well. 


  1. shelly in Illinois5/21/2012 1:02 PM

    I love your post today!! You are spot on about the "Easy" books and I try to refer to them as picture books as much as possible. But all those call numbers. yikes, I would hate to change them and to WHAT?
    Keep up the good work! You're AWESOME DUDE!

    1. Thanks, Shelly! I agree that recataloging picture books is a nightmare scenario. We're a medium library and we have more than 5,000 "easies!" Uggh.

  2. I don't particuarly like the juvenile or easy designation either, but I had thousands of books with "E" spine labels. The solution in my library was to go with the term "Everybody" books. It was there when I got there 10 years ago, but I liked it and stuck with it!! :)

    1. I like that solution! Unfortunately our labels say EASY on them. :/ I used to work for a library that used ER for the "easy readers" and in that case I think I'd just term them "emergent readers."

  3. What a fun post Anne! And it's so true about books. We really do need to market our materials because even if we have it, if people aren't finding it, that is trouble.

    You've got me rethinking my picture book collection too. My spine labels all say E (as in Easy) author last name. No one knows what the easy stands for but it is definitely setting a precedent and that is not a good thing for kids struggling to read.

    1. We used to get in trouble in my elementary school for saying something is "so easy" so I think it has been burned into my brain. What's easy for one person is hard for another. Everyone is a genius at something, but it's not always reading.

  4. This was delightful. I sigh every time I have to explain to a parent that we don't have X grade books all together because everyone reads at their own pace. And get angry when picture books become "baby books" and chapter books are somehow "big girl or big boy books."

    With picture books, I have a mix of labels. The old style are E, first letter of author's last name, the new ones say Picture Bk, first five letters of author's last name. So much easier to locate books on the shelf with more letter of the last name. I am looking happily to the day when all the old style ones have gone away (since we don't have the staff time or supplies to relabel the whole collection).

    1. Oh don't get me started on "baby/big kid" books. Everyone looks to be read picture books. I know because I force people to listen to me read them all the time.

      I think a gradual relabeling of the picture book collection is probably the way to go. There are just too many to change all at once! It was a pretty big project when we separated out easy readers from regular picture books a few years ago, and that's a fraction of the collection!

  5. Loved your post.

    As for categories, I like to use Board Books, Picture Books, Early Readers and Junior Fiction...

    1. Thanks, Janet. I definitely think "picture books" is the way to go. It seems to be the way most patrons refer to them, in addition to not placing judgement on their difficulty level.

  6. What a great post. My last first grade library tour, I told the kids we had "easy" books under the window. That they were not baby books but rather books that were easy to read overnight or across a weekend. Much better reception. Thought about changing them to "quick books" but that may mislead some to thinking it related to computers / programs. So, I'm just working on changing the description for easy.

    1. I like the idea of emphasizing them as "easy" not in difficulty but in other ways.


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