Tag Archives: Genrefication

Genrefication and avoiding ‘bias’ in collection development – is it possible to represent all interests?

This is me musing after the discussion today on the SLANZA listserv and following on from last weeks thought provoking thread there, about the reading (or non-reading) habits of teenagers.

Our Library collections have been lovingly built up by many librarians over many years, but declining issues in the fiction collection in the upper part of the school library and changes to the visiting and borrowing habits of classes demands a different strategy. Any changes we make in our libraries have to be with future readers in mind, not just those we have now. Similarly, philosophical changes aren’t a one size fits all fix. Genrefication is not the answer for every Library.

Collection development feels like an art as well as a science but so is how we organise our collection, especially if it is large and well established – I sometimes wonder if it would be easier when starting a new library collection from scratch?
So how does one achieve real balance in a collection? Is the answer to get more student input into book choices…but how do we do this when many senior students don’t even set foot in the library unless it is for a curriculum specific lesson or to study? How formulaic and specific can ones budget allocation/collection planning documents be, so that we force ourselves to be committed to a more diverse and ‘even’ book buying strategy across all genres (whether separated out or merged)?

It’s easy to underestimate how much prior understanding we librarian ‘experts’ have about books when we are browsing or looking at our shelves. We are familiar with both our own collections and the authors and series within them and it is like having secret knowledge e.g. we recognise that a specific author writes a specific kind of book (usually), but if the spine is unappealing or hasn’t been designed well and doesn’t indicate what’s inside, it’s not going to stand out to a student in an A-Z sequence as matching his or her favourite genre or style of book.

I’m trying to see our collection through a student’s eyes. Most of our readers come in and do not want to consult the library catalogue before choosing – ‘discovery’ and quality metadata are really valuable but of little use if not consulted properly. Displays only go part of the way too, as not all readers are coming up often or regularly enough to see them all – it’s serendipitous if they stumble across THE book in a display of genres or theme…this is despite promotions, emails, and toilet door marketing etc!

I’ve selected and purchased for our collections in the past by trying to provide more of the material that is in demand and I believe this is what the Librarians before me have done too. Girls have been the biggest and most avid group of readers in this part of the library hence the natural inclination and possible bias in purchasing more books for them. Girls do doubly well as many of them are also reading the books that boys would think are theirs alone e.g. Cherub, or Andy McNabb, whereas most boys at our school won’t read books they perceive are too feminine.

‘Bias’ – makes it sound as if I am saying our librarians have knowingly tried to reflect their own reading interests and preferences – this isn’t what I mean…but I’ve been thinking about how we can be unknowingly biased by tending to buy more books that match the needs of the biggest group of users especially when budgets are constrained (oiling the squeakiest wheel).

Does this have a self perpetuating biased effect on our collections? e.g. if in a co-ed library we buy more for the avid reading girls and subtly less for the boys (who in many ways are often ‘potential’ rather than ‘actual’ readers), and then build up a collection that over time appears to reflect the reading interests of that larger group…. you do end up with boys expressing the view that there isn’t as much for them to read that they can find easily (but just as problematic for girls who don’t want Cathy Hopkins, or Meg Cabot but prefer Annabel Pitcher and John Green or for kids with other specialised reading interests too).

Pulling out our ‘chicklit’ into it’s own genre did two things immediately – firstly, made all those books really easy to find for the girls who love a heady dose of BFFs, crushes and intoxicating romance (and 99% of our boys wouldn’t touch these books in a million years)… It also instantly made it look like there was far more on offer for our boys and the rest of our girl readers when so many ‘hidden gems’ came to light simply from having the distracting books around them taken away. Bear in mind that when I pulled out realistic and contemporary fiction from the main sequence – there were so many ‘oriented toward girl only readers’ aka chick-lit – that they skewed the appearance of the whole realistic/contemporary genre – it was literally a wall of spines in varying shades of pink – making it very difficult for boys to feel confident browsing in that area (the same thing had happened when we genrefied our Junior collection so I shouldn’t have been surprised by this). Separating these out made the realistic books seem more even and gender neutral.

When a collection is genrefied it is possible to target specific genres with a selection strategy or goal¬†if you feel it is under represented (a goal for next year for instance for us, might be finding more series that fit with Cherub and other high octane authors). Similarly if you get the genre ‘wrong’ for a single title or series and wish you had put it somewhere else it is really easy to reallocate it to another one, giving that book a new chance of discovery.

The worst that can happen if genrefication should prove a failure is that if we go back to A-Z or a hybrid of the two philosophies, or look at something completely different based on feedback from students and teachers. I don’t think it will – I am filling more empty acrylic face out stands in the genrefied sections than in the general A-Z sequence and the genrefied sections look attractive, vibrant and appealing (backed up by anec-data from students and teachers – I’m trying to not look at and overanalyse the issue stats too soon).

I’ll add some pictures in the morning ūüôā

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 Рone 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 Рkeeping 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 РI 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 Рchoose 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)

Combat Zone – the new Rugby Academy series from Tom Palmer

Two years ago I wrote about a wonderful new book that I had recently purchased for my school library written by Tom Palmer and published by Barrington Stoke. That book was Scrum, and two years later I am still heartily recommending it to my students.

Tom has gone on to write other great sports books for Barrington Stoke and we have purchased every single title for our collection. The success of these books with my mainly struggling boy readers encouraged me to buy more Barrington Stoke titles including many titles with more ‘girl appeal’.

The benefit of these books are three-fold¬†: the books are dyslexia friendly without looking like they are “special”; the books appeal to struggling readers or those needing hi-lo material, as well as those kids that just don’t like reading but are more likely to pick up and try a short book; lastly and most importantly, the stories are so well written and so good that they appeal to readers of mainstream fiction as well as dyslexic and struggling readers.

Rugby Academy

I was really excited when I learned that Tom was writing a series for children with a Rugby theme. Despite living in a rugby mad country¬†like New Zealand, there really isn’t enough children’s fiction written and published that connects younger readers with their sporting and other interests.

The first book in this planned trilogy is ‘Combat Zone’ set in England, the second book ‘Surface to air’, set in ¬†Toulon France, is due out in February 2015 and the final book ‘Deadlocked’ ¬†is set in New Zealand!!! and is due mid-year around the time of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Publisher’s description: ¬†“Borderlands is no ordinary school. All of the students boarding there have parents in the armed forces, and the UK is drawing perilously close to war in the Central Asian Republic.

New boy Woody is desperate to escape, but his dad has been mobilised and now football-mad Woody is stuck in a school where everyone is crazy about rugby. Worried and unhappy, Woody tries to make the best of his situation. But will rugby be his unlikely saviour?

Tom has explained more about the trilogy on his website:

Sort of a children’s World Cup to run alongside next year’s Rugby World Cup.

The reason for the titles of the books gives away the second theme to the series.  The Royal Air Force.

Most of the boys in the Borderlands team have parents in the RAF. The series is set during a conflict a little like what is going on now in Syria and Iraq. A sad coincidence, I’m afraid.

So the books are about being part of a rugby union team, but also about being the child of a forces family.

What did I think about Combat Zone?

I loved it. I think the three main plot elements ( the struggle to switch from playing football to Rugby Union and the hardships of being sent to boarding school and coping with the worry of a family member fighting in a war) mean that the story has plenty of action and angst. That is perhaps the aspect that makes me like this so much – it isn’t “just a sports story”. The reader may pick it up because of the hook of a story about rugby, but they are exposed to a lot more – the same empathy inducing plot that they would find in realistic fiction combined with a great sports story!

Every time I read one of these books I am amazed at how the power of the story shines through, even if it contains far fewer words and chapters than the average book for the same aged reader. The author makes every word of the text count. There must be an art to this – how to tell a story using very spare prose? It is certainly something this author does very well and why I am eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.

These books fit perfectly in our newly genrefied sports fiction section. Rather than have them in a collection of dyslexia friendly books, as we have done previously, they are shelved with the other sports titles. Should I need them for a dyslexic student they are easy to find, but they can be read by any reader at any time. As I have said previously Рthe stories are so good, the dyslexia friendly format is a bonus!

Verdict: Heartily recommended (and for me – an essential purchase.)

You can read the first chapter here:

This PDF file helpfully shows you the special yellow paper and dyslexia friendly font used in the books.

Resources and links:

Tom Palmer website¬†(we are obviously sympatico – we have the same WordPress theme…I suspect the use of black means Tom really is rooting for the All Blacks to win the Rugby World Cup 2015!)

Barrington Stoke website take some time to explore and discover all the wonderful well known authors who have chosen to write for this audience. (Cornelia Funke, Tony Bradman, Jean Ure, Frank Cotterill Boyce, Anthony McGowan and many, many more)

Tom’s Literacy resources based on the Rugby World Cup

Bibliographic details:

Combat zone (Rugby Academy, Book 1) / Written by Tom Palmer with illustrations by David Shephard

Published by Barrington Stoke, 2014.

101 pages.

ISBN:9781781123973

NZ RRP $17.99 If not in stock at your favourite independent book store most would be happy to order this for you.

Barrington Stoke classification : Reading age: 8 / Interest age: 8-12

Collection reinvigoration – part 1 – sports fiction

For those of you that I know via Twitter,  many of you will be aware that I have been busy these holidays genrefying (genre-fying?) our Junior Fiction collection.

One of the benefits of genrefication is that it is an immediate ‘visual stocktake’ of any genre in our collection. The visual reality has had far more impact on my collection development ideas than any list I have ¬†generated in our Library Management System.

When I saw the huge volume of Fantasy which took up 1/3 of our available shelving I was not surprised (but a little overwhelmed) at the imbalance… but I was jaw-droppingly shocked when I saw the subsection of realistic fiction that we have for sports fiction. It was small – I mean ‘less than half a shelf’ small.

I was jaw-droppingly shocked when I saw the subsection of realistic fiction that we have for sports fiction. It was small – I mean less than half a shelf small.

Even taking into account the titles that are written for younger readers, those that are still on loan, and those that are in a different section, I was ashamed that this was an area where we have ¬†demand and yet we are obviously and glaringly under-resourced. We have purchased a range of titles via our OverDrive ebook collection, which supplement our print collection in this area, but these aren’t immediately visible to students. It is possible to add a curated genre collection in OverDrive and this was an immediate quick fix, so I did this first.

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Sports fiction will be my first priority for fiction collection development in Term 1. I will be seeking out the best books and series that we don’t already own and purchase them. I’ll also be looking at how we can aid discovery of the ebook sports fiction titles we own so that users browsing the physical collection are aware of the digital titles too. The popular dyslexia friendly titles we have by Tom Palmer and Alan Gibbons and published by the excellent Barrington Stoke, have already been moved to the sports fiction section, as well as the Jake Maddox series – effectively placing as many titles as possible into one browsing area (the object of genrefying after all, is to make things easier to find and more discoverable for students).

The sports fiction shelf is now closer to one full shelf – but we still have a long way to go!

We have been reclassifying our non-fiction and the sports books have been resorted nicely, however I’m wondering if there is some way I can put the non-fiction books and fiction together. It’s pretty hard with the mix of shelving and layout we have – that might be something I work towards in collaboration with the kids.

Here is a list of the sports of interest to our students in order of popularity (based on requests for books):

  • Basketball
  • Football (Soccer in the USA)
  • Rugby
  • BMX
  • Snowboarding
  • Surfing
  • Gymnastics
  • Wrestling

Not so popular (books aren’t¬†asked for, but many kids are involved in these sports):

  • Rugby League
  • Cricket
  • Netball
  • Hockey
  • Cheerleading

Sports not widely played  (if at all) in NZ:

  • Baseball
  • American Football
  • Aussie Rules footy

I want to test out whether students who love sports will read ‘outside their own code’. If this is the case then there would be an argument for stocking more titles from codes not played here – especially well written and highly regarded books about baseball and American Football.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck in and providing a more diverse selection of reads in this area. The kids who want to read sports books are often the kids who say they ‘hate reading’ (at least in my school community). These readers (however dormant at the moment) deserve a bigger share of the collection ‘pie’ and a bigger voice in selecting the titles we provide.

Related posts: Scrum by Tom Palmer

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