Building the Plane While You’re Genre-flying, or: Sort, Stick, and Shift: Genrefying in Three Easy Months

I, like many of us, am a list person. I like systems, structure, and knowing what happens next. My week is organized in To Do Lists, and everything gets itemized and checked off as I work unless I have lost the list, at which point “Clean Desk” is added to the new list.

When I joined my school, I put together a five year roadmap of how to build the library program our community deserved. Year One was Figuring Out Where the Bodies Are Buried. Year Two was Programming. This is Year Three: Literacy and Literature because, frankly, my students are absolutely brilliant and also my fiction stats have historically been in the absolute toilet, and these two things together are enough to drive any librarian to cry into her bookmarks.

So after reading all the posts, visiting a few schools, and reminding myself many times that no one will die if I do a thing and then have to undo the thing, I decided to genrefy my fiction. Because our space is used in the summertime, it had to happen while the library was up and running. And because the Board comes in every year for a visit before winter break and I hate looking messy in front of my boss’s bosses, it had to be done by mid-December.

Step One: Sort and Sticker

Before anything moved, we categorized. Every fiction book got assigned a category and then it got a sticker. This can be tricky, obviously. Is The Yiddish Policemen’s Union* a mystery? Sci-fi? Does it go in Historical Fiction so it can be near Kavalier & Clay? Not everything is clear cut, and I had to do a lot of reminding myself “It can always be changed.”**

This step was by far the most exhausting; making that many microdecisions in addition to the thousands of other microdecisions we make every day meant I would go home and couldn’t find the brain space to answer questions like “What do you want to eat for dinner?”***

*I put it in Mystery. We’ll see how it goes.

**This process also helped me do a quick fiction weed. No point in sticking and shifting a book that hasn’t ever circ’ed and you wouldn’t buy today.

***The answer is always pizza.

Step Two: Make Some Space

We had about 2,000 fiction titles that were sorted in low to the ground shelves. The problem with this is evident:

A change of scenery was in order.

But you know what else we had? A whole ton of Reference Books that no one had looked at in about 15 years. So I went through and made a list of all of them and emailed it to all of the faculty. If they wanted it retained, it moved either to the general collection with an In Library Use Only restriction on it or out of the catalog and into to their departmental offices. Everything else went away to a farm upstate.

This freed up a whopping 55 shelves.

Note: Make sure you warn your admin before you do this, because I think I almost gave my new principal a heart attack when he walked in with a visitor to find me tossing a thirty year old copy of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians on the floor and beaming about all the empty shelves I’d created.

Step Three: Shift What You’re Working With

Said empty shelves I’d created are half obscured by a big study carrel that’s bolted to the floor, meaning popping all my newly stickered books there was just moving them from one place no one looked at them to a place they couldn’t be accessed. So it was time for a shift.

Our library has 11,000 volumes and we shifted every single one. This was dusty, dirty work and my shoulders ached for a week after it was done but it was so worth it. I spread out sections that had been packed to bursting, weeding more as I went.

In the end, the Biography section got shifted to where the Reference Books had been because a) students were more likely to look for a biography with someone already in mind and b) someone had to take that hit for the team and it was going to be Voltaire, sorry Voltaire.

Post shift, we had 36 empty shelves that were perfectly positioned for high-school eye-height browsing.

Step Four: Put Things in Their Place

I made lists in Destiny with the names of my assigned genres: FANTASY, HORROR, HISTORICAL FICTION, etc., pulled all the books from each genre and scanned the barcodes. The lists made the eventual reclassifying of Sublocations a super simple two-click process. It also gave me exact numbers per genre category and where they’d fit: the 40 romance titles could go in this corner shelf, the historical fiction with its 220 copies needed more space. This was the final stage for simplifying categories; my 20 Dystopian titles didn’t warrant their own shelf, so SCI-FI & DYSTOPIAN became one joint Sublocation and in went the books.

This process was a little trial and error-y, but once I started pulling copies and reshelving them it fell into place pretty quickly. The now vacant low shelves that are the wrong height for teenagers to know they exist were the perfect place for a middle grade collection I created for our 5-8th grade scholars program, with bonus shelves for our PD Collection, Alumni Books, and a whole case for rotating faculty/staff/student recommendations.

Step Five: Shift Again

Crap, we’re out of space. Shift the 000-100s back the other way. Ok, fine. Fine. It’s fine. No one’s gonna be mad that the 400s end in the middle of the shelf and the 500s immediately begin. Literally no one.*

*I’m still kind of mad but whatever.

Step Six: Signage

With books on shelves, it was time to let people know where they were. All hail the Cricut. I stuck the “N” in REALISTIC FICTION up the Friday before the Board Visit, thus completing our genrefying in a little under three months.

Now new books get stickered and filed during the cataloging process. When I eventually need more room I may do another shift, but for now, I have plenty of space and books are easily accessible and browsable.

Step Seven: Stats

In preparation for my State of the Library end of year report, I took a look at our stats the other day. And my fiction circulation has increased.

By 200% compared to the same period last year.

With the exception of our Course Reserves, Fiction is now the most popular category of things circulated in our library. I kept up the same things I’ve done before– weekly book recommendations on our website and regular displays in multiple places. The new recommendation book case has been a great addition and encouraging faculty and students to sponsor a shelf has been a lot of fun.

So. Was it a ton of work? Yes. Was I constantly having to stop tasks midway through to help one of my students do research or print or navigate being a teenager? Double yes. Am I incredibly glad I did it and didn’t wait to try and cram it in over a break? You bet your vintage DUE DATE stamps I am.

It’s increased circ, it’s made reshelving so much faster. Last week a kid picked up Looking for Alaska and came back two days later saying he had never read anything like that, asked what this kind of book was called and if we had any more of it.

And yes, we did. And this time I cried tears of joy into my bookmarks.

On the Merits of Being Cheap or, DIY-BRARIANSHIP

With the turning of the seasons comes many things. Flowers. An easing of our seasonal depression. The smell of B.O. permeating the high school library. Nature is beautiful in its cycles.

For me, it also brings April 7th, and the need to have written a second article, full of pith and wit and anecdotal wisdom.

And for this, we turn to Dominic.

Actual picture of me and Dominic.

Dominic: “You know I’m gonna graduate next year, right? Eventually you’re going to have to come up with your own ideas.”

Me: “That’s future-me’s problem. Whatcha got for me.”

Dominic: “Well. You could talk about how much you like spending money.”

And this, I will admit, is where the flaw in asking a student to write your professional article for you come to light. Because dear librarians, I hate spending money.


I am cheap. I am cheap and I log every professional penny I spend religiously, and then I get aggravated when it differs from the account statements that our accounting guy sends me by 6 dollars because I DIDN’T SPEND THOSE SIX DOLLARS, MARK!*

(*I probably did spend those six dollars. Sorry, Mark.)

To be fair, Dominic is half right. I spend my book budget freely and happily. I pop things on the NEW BOOKS shelf like it’s my job. (Which, arguably, it is.) In contrast, my programming budget is a small, carefully guarded horde that I wince every time I have to pull from. My supplies budget is shared with my professional memberships fund, and I carefully weigh every dime each year. How small can I cut this tape to still be effective? Do I need more pens for the cup or will the floor pencils be enough? How many times can I reuse this bulletin board paper before someone asks what metallic gold has to do with Women’s History Month?

But cheapness is the mother of diy-invention. So here are some things I didn’t spend (a lot of) money on this year. And if any of them sound good to you, take them, just as I took most of them from other librarians.

Owl on the Prowl

Our school mascot is an owl and years ago, someone donated several dozen owl statues to the school. (It’s about as weird as it sounds.) They’ve been living in a display cabinet ever since. So I stole one. FOR (LIBRARY) SCIENCE!

Marty falls into the “so ugly it’s cute” category and I am in love with him.

We had the kids name the owl (Marty, in honor of a teacher they really like) and then we proceeded to hide Marty around the library in a different spot each day. Bring a selfie of you with Marty to the desk and get a piece of candy.

And if in finding Marty you discover we have a DVD section? Or that the school publications are on that shelf? Or the alumni collection? What are you saying, imaginary student, that I somehow tricked you into navigating the library? Nonsense. Like librarians think about stuff like that. Please.

Alumni Advice

The pole says “You Got This” but it’s hard to see because it’s a pole.

Take: a bunch of old postcards that Development had in a closet. Add: an alumni event that is already on the calendar, and ask those alumni to write advice for current students. Then: post them up with some words of affirmation and ask seniors to add their own.

Development loves it, the alums love it, and the kids get to think about a time when they’ll be out of high school and the physics test coming up is in their rear view mirror. We’ve collected over 50 and are going to put them up again for freshmen orientation.

Birthday Candy

Buy one giant bag of Dum-Dums. Hey, it’s your birthday? Come to the library and get a lollipop. Because the library is a place of positive associations (and sugar.)

Candy Jar

Yes, a lot of my stuff involves candy. Don’t judge; candy wins hearts and minds. Fill a jar with an unknown amount of candy. Charge a dollar for two guesses as to the number; closest or spot on wins the whole thing. All proceeds went to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library because I am nothing if not on brand and the woman is a living saint, fight me.

Magnetic Poetry

Did you know that boxes of those little strips of magnetized words cost around $20 a pop? For basically the same price, get some magnetic, printable paper, add some words, throw in some custom ones about your school, and put them on the side of a bookcase. Instant magnetic poetry wall and look at you creating a display for National Poetry Month without having to be a poet.

“Anakin, you’re breaking my cart!”

Bonus: You’ll have enough of those magnetic sheets leftover to create nerdy book carts that amuse you and only you.

Mobile Bulletin Board Command Station

I have a cart I inherited that is giant, yellow, and has no walls so it’s only use to me had been to take up space. Add four dollars in rope and a bunch of YouTube knot tying tutorials, and we now have a place to store all my bulletin board paper that allows me to move, measure, cut, and hang without having to sit on the floor and look like a professional gift wrapper who’s having a really bad day.

Positive Affirmation Board

Wrap a door that doesn’t move much in bulletin board paper. Add some post-its with nice things on the door and cut out some letters for signage. Instant Affirmations (and a good collaboration with Guidance.)

Things It Is Worth It to Spend Money On

Cricut: I love this thing so much I bought it with my own money and I would buy it again in a heartbeat. Quick displays are much easier when you have one and if this whole librarian thing falls through, I’ll be able to sell custom stickers on Etsy.

Cardstock: The sound of scissors making the first cut in a fresh piece of cardstock is my ASMR.

Fairylights: Kids are like moths. They are drawn to lights.

Glue stick pens: I have only recently learned these are a thing and I’m mad it took me this many years to find out.

Therapy Dogs: I can’t DIY a dog. The results would be monstrous.

At the end of the day, I’m incredibly lucky and privileged to even have a Programming and Supplies budget in the first place, let alone one that I get to bogart until I absolutely need to spend it. I never want to take that privilege for granted or forget that it exists. For me, that looks like doing as much as I can for as little as possible and doing my best to produce as little waste or glut as possible. If that money can be put towards a good pencil sharpener when ours finally dies, or a dog visit during finals week, or a few more chess sets, then that’s a good way to spend those dollars.

Not those six dollars, though. Those I take no ownership over.

Don’t Shhh, or The Importance of Eavesdropping in the Library

As I frantically figured out what to write about for this post, one of my students jokingly offered “Well you can talk about how important it is to listen in on all the gossip that goes on in the library.” 

Me, trying to figure out what to write about.


He paled. “I… I was joking?” 

“Nope! It’s happening now!” 

And so it is. Because even though Dominic was joking, I’ve come to appreciate that one of the best tools in our tool boxes as librarians, especially solo librarians, is listening in on our students’ conversations. 

Our library is large and well-used; we have a student population of 535 boys and during the week, we’ll often have over 150 of them in the library at a time. We have study carrels, group work tables, bookcase nooks, comfy chairs, windowsills and the floor, and at our busiest they’ll be sitting on or at all of those. (Or sometimes on each other. That happens, too– does anyone else do a lot of “Every butt needs a chair” reminders?) 

It’s my first time working in an all-boys school but something I learned very quickly is a) they’re hilarious and b) they are all incredible gossips.

And oh, do they love to sit in the library and spill the tea with each other. My students gossip about which kid is bad news; which teacher is a harsh grader; which assemblies they can sleep through. They whisper about how they’re using ChatGPT; who is totally screwed for the physics test tomorrow; which weeks are going to be Hell-Weeks and which ones are going to be “Gimmies.”

Me, being super mature and just sipping normal, non-metaphoric peppermint tea.

Now, in my personal life I am of course a very serious and mature person who has no interest in gossip. But in my professional life, as someone who has to support students on a daily basis in a very rigorous academic environment, gossip is a lifeline. The kid who’s bad news? I can tell his advisor that he might need a bit of love; if I see him in the library doing work I can engage with him and make him feel seen for the work he’s doing to improve. I can cheer on nervous students when they’re up against the harsh grader, and talk to that teacher to see how the library can help support students in their latest assignment. The assemblies with a high sleep-to-awake ratio call for more crowd management, and maybe an email to that presenter offering help with slides if they want it.

Hell-Week Rush? I laugh in the face of a Hell-Week Rush.

My guys are using ChatGPT like a supercharged Google where they ask it for examples of an idea they already have, and adapt accordingly; the Comp Sci Department Chair is thrilled to hear about this and is working it into his presentation at our faculty meeting next week. The physics test means a run on our calculator supply: I should make sure they’re all charged and accounted for. The Hell-Week might mean the library needs to stay open later, or that a period after a big exam will be extra raucous as they celebrate or bemoan their performance; the Gimmies means lots of kids playing board games after school– let’s make sure none of the chess pieces have gone missing. 

The best librarians I’ve worked with were driven by the principle that librarianship is a service profession: we are here to meet and support the needs of our specific communities. Now that I’m a solo, entrusted with the care of a community of my own, it’s more important than ever to be tapped into exactly what those needs are and anticipate them. 

Hence, eavesdropping. 

And the best part is, you can do it, too, with our (un)patented system of GASPS.

  1. Gear: Footwear that doesn’t squeak is key. Get yourself a pair of shoes they won’t hear you walking up on them in (and wait for the teacher sale because who doesn’t like a sale.) The leopard print gives you a +2 to stealth. Live the print. Be the leopard. 
  1. Attitude: A thousand yard stare is helpful; if you make eye contact with students, the game is up. If it seems like eye contact might occur, immediately look at a bookshelf. Students believe that all librarians do is look at books all day; use that.
  1. Speed: Make sure you move slowly and smoothly– student vision is movement based.
  1. Purpose: Remember, you are a librarian looking for information. The information. The information to help your students. The information specially targeted to help your students. The student information. 
  1. Singing/Silence: As I walk, I will occasionally do my own theme music, but it’s kind of a spur of the moment thing– don’t force it if it doesn’t feel right. 
Actual picture of me in the stacks. Note the quiet footwear.

Our role in schools is a special one. As I’m polishing this, 15 minutes before closing on a Friday, the library is full, because an English paper is due at 5 in two separate grades. If I hadn’t listened to what my kids were saying to each other, I would have closed the space early to go to the triple header basketball game that ends Spirit Week. Multiple teachers have come in to say: “Wow, it’s so crowded in here! What’s that about?” 

My students just say: “You’re open? Oh that’s amazing, I’ve got this thing I have to finish and I am so screwed.”

All photos from The Emperor’s New Grove, arguably the best Disney movie of the millennium.