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Oakland Public Library's Dewey Pictograms
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Oakland Public Library’s Dewey Pictograms

 "Biology & Evolution"
Oakland Public Library customers have an alternative way of searching Oakland’s stacks – pictograms, reproducible colored images portraying collections within the Dewey Decimal Classification System, a scheme that can intimidate people who do not read well.

Pictograms represent subject areas library customers most often request. A cell, a fish, and a salamander comprise the pictogram for “Biology & Evolution.”  A rabbit popping out of a black top hat is the image for “Magic Tricks.”  Oakland Public Library has mounted 88 pictograms, along with the word in the subject area and the Dewey number in its bookshelves and at the end of shelving units. Shelby Designs & Illustrates in Oakland created the 88 images.

For people with learning disabilities, who make up 17 to 20% of the general population, pictograms not only help them navigate the Dewey Decimal System, the images also change the way these library customers view, and use, their local library. An excellent example of universal access, pictograms also make using the library easier for non-native speakers and adult learners.

California State Library collaborates on Oakland program

 "Magic Tricks"
Oakland Public Library launched its pictograms program by collaborating with the East Bay Learning Disabilities Association and the California State Library (CSL) as part of the CSL’s ongoing support of accessibility programs in California libraries.  The CSL does this through funding from the Library Services and Technology Act.   

The CSL awarded Oakland the $33,000 grant in FY 2003/04 as part of a larger LSTA priority grant called "Public Library Services for People with Disabilities."  The Oakland project was entitled "Awareness and Inclusion: Library Patrons with Learning Disabilities."

State Librarian of California Susan Hildreth says, “Oakland Public Library’s pictogram project represents what California libraries are doing to make their facilities more accessible to customers with special needs.  It’s a great program and I’m proud that the California State Library was able to help.”  

Customers “delighted” with pictograms

Lynne Cutler, Disability Services Advocate at the Oakland Public Library, comments that customers “express delight” at the pictograms.  Cutler says, “A mother and daughter said they wished other libraries had pictograms. A young man who has Asperger syndrome and has worked at our Information Desk for several years uses pictograms when he researches a reference question. Our Children's Librarian says that since they put the pictograms up, the children run straight to certain subjects, like dinosaurs.” 

Cutler says that about 100 libraries (including 3 in Canada) and schools have asked about sharing Oakland’s pictograms.   The Oakland Unified School District has adopted pictograms and the Literacy Committee of the American Library Association (ALA) is considering standardizing pictograms and spreading their use.

Interested parties can view and download the pictograms for the Oakland project from the California Library Literacy Services website at

For more information about the Oakland Public Library’s pictogram program please contact Lynne Cutler at the Oakland Public Library at 510-238-4974 or email at

For more information about the California State Library’s support of accessibility in California public libraries please contact Jacqueline Brinkley at (916) 651-0376 or email at





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