Genrefication in the School Library 101

I have had a few queries about how we went about the process of genrefication, so here goes!

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Genre-fi-what?

Genrefication – is when fiction is arranged by genre rather than by author name in one overwhelming A-Z sequence.

See the post by Jennifer LaGarde:

Five MORE Conversations [About School Libraries] That I Don’t Want To Have Anymore

The section on genrefication was my touchstone – every time I had a twinge of self-doubt during this process I referred back to Jennifer’s comments.

“Simply put, we need to remove the secret code that stands between our students and the resources they need and start organizing our spaces based on what’s good for kids (not librarians).”

The objective of genrefication is to make finding a book much easier for students. In a student-centered Library you want students to spend their time enjoying books not searching for books (which usually means wandering the shelves and feeling frustrated, and taking a book…any book…. because their teacher tells them they have too). Not being able to find books they like is one of the biggest barriers to kids becoming readers.

In a genrefied collection students will discover other authors and books similar to their favourites and it is possible to lead them to other genres by helping them appreciate the crossover factor between them e.g.  “Oh you liked the part in the time travel book where it was set in the Middle ages?…”  perhaps a cue to explore historical fiction. Students ask for books by genre more often than by author “Where are the funny books?” being the request I hear most often.

It is far more fruitful working one on one with a student exploring a genre and its possibilities, within the physical space and distance of a few shelves, rather than trying to remember author and series names on the fly. No more rushing around the shelves with the child in tow – one can calmly talk about the options and make choices right there.

The Genres we are using are based on student preferences – the genres in bold were made first and then sub-genres added later:

  • Funny
  • Realistic fiction
  • Realistic – Sports fiction
  • Realistic – Girlszone (BFFs, Crushes etc )
  • Mystery
  • Historical
  • Historical – War stories
  • Spooky
  • Animal stories [currently this contains animal fantasy e.g. Warriors…this may change to a subsection in Fantasy]
  • Animal stories – Horse & pony stories
  • Science-fiction
  • Action and adventure
  • Fantasy
  • Fantasy – Dragons
  • Fantasy – Based on fairytales

So how did we physically genrefy and change the collection?

My approach was a little unorthodox. I didn’t even bother printing off lists from our LMS to start this project. I had done a few tentative searches but discovered many books had multiple subject headings for multiple genres. I also wanted to approach our shelves as our students do. It was an eye opener for me. Many books are very difficult to  identify by genre in an A-Z sequence and students don’t have the benefit of the inside knowledge we do e.g. when you see a row of spines of books by a particular author it usually equals a particular genre!

Our Fiction collection is small (2500 titles) as we had already split off early readers and first chapter books earlier in the year, so I didn’t think it would be too big a project. I had been living and breathing genrefication for some time before hand. Every time I handled a book I would consider which genre it belonged to and thought long and hard about where titles would be placed based on the preferences and reading habits of the students who liked to read them.

Firstly, I created new collections in our LMS for the main Genres – so as well as the existing collection of Junior Fiction we now had a specific collection for each genre. Please note that initially Realistic, Animals and Fantasy weren’t split further into sub-genres as they are now. The Junior Fiction collection will disappear from the LMS once every book has been changed. The genres also reflect the curated genre collections we have used in our OverDrive collection.

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I walked around our shelves and pulled out all of the funny books and series I recognised and knew. These were kept in alpha sequence on a trolley (cart).

I scanned all the barcodes into the LMS, searched for the matching copies and came up with a set. I then performed a ‘global change’ and changed the collection from Junior Fiction to Junior Fiction Funny. Immediately after this (to avoid duplication and rescanning), I ran a report and generated new spine labels for the set making sure this was in alphabetical order according to the cutter number and printed it off. As the books were still in alpha order by cutter, it was easy peasy to add the spine labels (which were in alphabetical order too).

I then added the appropriate colour code for the genre. The orange dot has been used in our library to identify Junior School Books. We are still using this as if and when the Middle/Senior Library genrefy it would be desirable to use the same colour strips (e.g. they could use the same blue for science-fiction as the Junior Library and add an appropriate label sticker for a sub-genre of dystopia – keeping the genre collections continuous between the collections and presenting a cohesive experience for students graduating from Junior to MS/SS Library). In a Middle/High School Library I would consider using themes as well as genres.

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I pretty much followed this process for each genre. If I discovered something that belonged to a genre I had already done – these titles were put in small piles and processed in batches. (The books currently on loan will be processed each day as they are returned).

After I had pulled out the books where I was confident about the genre they belonged to, then it was then a matter of going through the books that were left on the shelf and checking them individually – I used the Auckland Libraries catalogue, GoodReads, Publisher websites, consulted with colleagues and asked students for their opinions to help with this.

Tackling one genre at a time made the process feel far more manageable than pulling every book off the shelf and kept the overwhelming piles to a minimum. It also felt more strategic than tackling a single shelf at a time. By batch processing the spine-labelling and stickering for each genre it  was an efficient process and easier to coordinate help for this task. (This approach would work for a Library wanting to gradually genrefy – choose the most sought after genre first and work through).

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I left Fantasy until last as it was not only our biggest genre, but also had the most titles that could possibly fit into other genres (in particular, spooky, and science fiction). I split off books about Dragons and those fantasy titles based on Fairy tales, as we get asked for these often. The main Fantasy genre still looks large (it is 1/3 of our fiction) so I am considering splitting off the titles based on myths and legends. Many books were weeded during this process – but some books have been given a second chance at life. If they remain unchecked at the end of 12 months after exposure within a genre and promotion they will be weeded.

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One of the immediate benefits is that I can now see  exactly what we hold in each genre and what state it is in. As a result, we will be purchasing more for the sports fiction and the spooky collections and reducing the number of fantasy titles purchased this year. It will be interesting to see the number of loans vs the number of titles in any genre. Seeing a genre as a whole makes weeding a breeze!

If a student or teacher is uncertain about where to find a specific title it will be necessary to search the catalogue. All fiction is now clearly identified in the online catalogue with the genre included in the classification:

for example….

J F FANTASY RIO

J F SCI-FI FAL

Each genre is colour coded and each new spine label includes the genre name. If a genre is split into sub-genres then a picture sticker is added. Misfiled books are now very obvious to our student shelvers. (Redoing the spine labels for every book in the new style and tidying up misplaced orange spot labels etc has given the whole collection a fresh look). As we went through this process I also doubled checked to see if we were missing parts of a series and reordered them and I weeded vigorously at the same time.

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We are still using the first three letters of an author’s name to keep an author’s books or series together within a genre.

Some authors are now shelved in more than one location (e.g. you will find Michael Morpurgo stories in Animals, Historical and War stories and Jacqueline Wilson in both Realistic-girlzone and Historical). This is a positive thing as it is a great way to introduce students to another genre.

What still needs to be done before students arrive back from vacation?

Signage (the black wire stands on top of the shelves are waiting for new BIG signs) and we need to make QR code links to connect the physical genre collections to the digital titles we own in OverDrive.

Watch this space!

Other links:

My previous post on the sports fiction genre

See Michelle Simm‘s posts on genrefication in her library

Mrs ReaderPants

Tiffany Whitehead

Library Grits (Diane Mackenzie) – roundup of school library rockstar resources on genrefication

Jennifer LaGarde’s article was also published in a special edition of SLANZA’s Collected Magazine. I recommend a thorough read of this for examples of other innovative changes happening in NZ school libraries. See also the brief article about genrefication at Cambridge Highschool.

School Library Journal

Labels: Book Protection Products (Auckland NZ)

5 thoughts on “Genrefication in the School Library 101”

  1. Thanks so much for this helpful blog Ali. I’ve decided to take the plunge! Love the idea of creating a system more suited to the community. And creating categories that match their interests. WooHoo. Thanks again. Anna

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