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5 Tips for Barcoding Your Collection

Whether you are starting on a new collection (we feel for you) or adding to your current collection, you’ll be dealing with barcodes. Maybe you’ve got it down to a science, or maybe you’re overwhelmed at the possibilities. Here are some tips to help you barcode with confidence and plan for the future!

Decode Your Barcodes

Know what you’ll be printing on the barcodes, so you can keep them consistent. A typical barcode label has three important pieces of information:
  1. the site or library name, so it can be returned to the correct location;
  2. the barcode number for identification in your library system;
  3. and the scannable barcode image, because nobody wants to spend their life typing in numbers.
You don’t have to assign meaning to the chunks of a barcode... but you should. It can help you keep track of collections and know something about a book just by its barcode. For example, use the first three* digits to designate the site, the next three for a specific group or collection, and the last six for the record (e.g. 220-008-100056 that is, 220008100056).

*The number of digits you’ll want to use for each grouping will depend on how many exist in that group, with room for growth. For example, maybe you only have six schools in your district at the moment, but using only one digit to designate a site/library would assume no growth in the future… and that’ll cause problems for some poor future librarians. Use at least two, but we recommend three. (Alexandria Note: If your site codes are numeric, you could use those as barcode site designators!)

Use Consistent Lengths

Plan for the future of your library by using at least 9-digit barcodes. You may be tempted to start with barcode 1000. That assumes you’ll never have a collection of over 9999 items. What if several schools in your area become a central union? What if multiple districts combine into a larger district? You really don’t want to jump from barcode 9999 (four digits) to barcode 10000 (five digits)—assuming you then won’t have to re-barcode because you have overlapping ranges (ouch!).

Keep barcodes consistent, even for collections such as DVDs, whiteboards, or things you figure you’ll never have thousands of. Does it hurt to make equipment look like 1100 and 1101 and so forth, when the rest of your collection has 9-digit barcodes? Well, it might not hurt you right now, but it may bite you or another librarian in the future.

The barcodes won’t sort like you expect them to; when viewing barcode out of context you won’t know that 1100 is the barcode and not some other control number; the equipment may be split in a way you didn’t anticipate and end up paired with items that are 9-digit…. Do yourself a favor and make it consistent. You can always say equipment starts with 1 and your first barcode is 100001101. Maybe you’ll only ever get to 100001199. That’s alright. Barcode scanners will scan just as fast!

Designate Ranges

With a barcode such as 220008140056, you might be able to look at that and know it’s a book from Bound-to-Stay-Bound. How? You’ve assigned the range 220008140000–220008160000 to that vendor. 220008160000–220008180000 you give to another vendor, and so forth. What does this do? Along with allowing you to decode a barcode just by the number, it means vendors are unlikely to give you overlapping numbers. Or if you barcode the books yourself, you have some idea of where you can start!

Know How You'll Barcode

Ideally, you’ll get your vendor to barcode the books. This means you give them a range, they print the barcodes, and all your books arrive at your library ready to be scanned in and circulated. If that’s not an option, you’ll want to consider getting the barcodes printed by a vendor who can get the quality your library needs (like protected labels that won’t fall off after two uses!).

Otherwise, you’re printing them yourself. Make sure you print a test sheet first, and print the barcodes in an order you can deal with. You might want to plan to barcode in chunks, just like you would do an inventory.

Also consider double-barcoding by placing a plain barcode label (it doesn’t need to be a fancy protected label) on the inside flap of the book, so that if the outside barcode label gets lost, you can still identify the book in your collection.

Make sure the barcode is in basically the same location for all your books. You don’t want to have to be hunting for the barcode as you scan 10,000 items during inventory.

Document for the Future

Whatever you decide to do, start with a plan so you don’t get stuck in the middle, and make sure this plan is documented. Next year when you get another batch of new books, you don’t want to have to stare at your collection and wonder “What did I do again?” Or you decide to finally take that vacation, and your library aide has to barcode books—you don’t want to come back to a bunch of books incorrectly barcoded, right?

Download our printout and keep it posted near the machine where you catalog!

Good luck with your barcoding! Read our Barcode Your Collection article for more information about barcodes in Alexandria.

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