Genre, Genre, On the Wall

At the beginning of this school year, I looked back at my circulation statistics and was disappointed to say the least. I also began thinking about the search and discovery process of my students. What could I do to get kids to check out more books and get them more excited about reading? I had been investigating a movement in the school library world called genrefication (not really a word…yet), or the organizing and shelving of books according to genre. I thought that perhaps this could be a viable solution.

I approached my division head and he gave me the green light for the project. He was also pleased to learn that it wouldn’t cost much money. I also began soliciting parent volunteers for the process. I do not have an assistant in my library, and I knew I could not tackle this large project on my own.

My first step was to do a comprehensive inventory using Destiny. There were no records of any previous inventories done before I began working at Holy Trinity, and I knew that there were some discrepancies between the catalog records and the books on the shelves. Long story short, after the inventory was completed, Destiny identified a total of 2,200 items – yes, you read that correctly – that were unaccounted for. In my library, that was roughly one quarter of our collection! That will not happen again on my watch. 🙂

After the inventory, I thought about what genres I would use. I reviewed the spine labels available at Demco, and I also found some great descriptions of genres from other library web sites. I wanted to be clear about the genres but also not get too specific.

Now would be a good time to mention that I am not in favor of ditching Dewey. In fact, I am only genrefying (another made-up word) the fiction section. I believe that Dewey is still relevant and that it makes sense once students learn the basics of it. For fiction, though, kids’ browsing habits seemed to mirror genre types: “Where are the funny books?” “I’m looking for a good mystery.”

I decided on the following initial list of fiction genres:


Animal Stories









Science Fiction


I also have a graphic novel area, which had already been its own section when I started working here. While not a genre per se, graphic novels are extremely popular and kids browse this section frequently. I’ve also added a small graphic nonfiction section, since this seems to be a popular and growing segment of the book market.

I knew that I wanted to use genre labels as opposed to the colored dots. To me, colored dots just complicate things in that students (and I) have to figure out what each colored dot means, instead of just seeing that a book is a mystery because that’s what the label says.

I collected lots of cardboard boxes and made temporary signs for each box. The volunteers began taking books off the shelves, starting with the letter A, and looking up the genre. I had them use Novelist K-8 Plus, which I am able to access through my public library. I like the genre categories provided in this database. After genre was determined, the book would go into the corresponding box. When students come in and see all the boxes, I get many reactions and questions. “Are you getting rid of all these books?” “Is the library closing?” It was a great opportunity to describe to my students what was going on, and to encourage them to look through the boxes and continue to check out books!

In the midst of genrefication

In the midst of genrefication

As the books were coming off the shelves, I began thinking about how to utilize the space. I decided that the genres would be alphabetical (adventure goes first, etc.), and that that was how I was going to put them back. So I grabbed the box of adventure books and started going through them one by one to add to the catalog records.

I created a list of sub-locations based on the genres. I went in to each record, changed the sub-location, and also removed any extraneous metadata leftover from days gone by. For example, I deleted notes that were inaccurate, and sub-locations that simply didn’t exist. I also corrected other inaccuracies (e.g. Junior Library Guild is not a funding source).

Screenshot of changing the sub-location in Destiny

Screenshot of changing the sub-location in Destiny

Genrefication is also a great opportunity to weed. Since I was putting my hands on every single fiction book in the collection, I was able to make good weeding decisions based on the good-old MUSTIE acronym. I found several books that were from the 1970s, as well as books that had absolutely no circulation history.

As of this blog post, I have gotten about 75% of the books back on the shelves. I have temporary signs for each section, and I’m hoping to get help from our art department to make some permanent (and cost-effective) signage. I made a couple of changes along the way, as described below.

Here are some of my tips for the brave souls out there who decide to genrefy:

  1. Remember that the decisions you make are not written in stone. You can always change a label if you decide to move a book to a different section.
  2. Do not spend too much time (or let your volunteers spend too much time) deciding on any one book! You will drive yourself crazy if you do.
  3. Leave yourself plenty of room as you put books back on the shelves. This way, when you go to begin a new section, you do not have to move books over and over again.
  4. As soon as you change the location of a book in Destiny (or whatever automation you use), label it. This way you don’t forget where you left off.
  5. Allow yourself the freedom to make changes to your system as you go. After seeing the way my collection is balanced, I decided to do away with the romance category. I didn’t have that many romance books (which is fine by me!), so I will be splitting them among the other genres as appropriate. Animal stories ended up being too specific, so I eliminated that category as well.
  6. When making decisions about where the books should go, think about what might get the book the most circulation. You will undoubtedly find many books that could be assigned to many genres, but ultimately, what’s important is that the book gets borrowed and read.
  7. Genrefication isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. It needs to be reflective of the search and discovery habits of your students, as well as the physical space that is available to you.
  8. Forget about having nicely manicured nails during the process. I’ve had to peel, pick, and trim so many spine labels, that it’s just not worth it. Reward yourself with a spa visit when you’re done.
  9. Breathe. A lot.
  10. Share your experience with others.
Books re-shelved according to genre

Books re-shelved according to genre

Have you genrefied or are you considering it? If so, share your thoughts!

8 thoughts on “Genre, Genre, On the Wall

  1. Are you alphabetizing within genre sections?
    I am still conflicted about this idea. How do you think this compares, circulation-wise, with creating displays of funny fiction, horse fiction, etc.? Or creating bookmarks with lists of suggested titles?
    I suppose I am still clinging to fiction-by-author, and Dewey, because the majority of libraries are still arranged this way. I feel it would be a disservice to set up this way, and then send my students to colleges and public libraries which are arranged otherwise. (Though our local library is experimenting with genre shelving. Surprise: I hate it.) 🙂

  2. Jennifer, I do alphabetize within genre sections. As far as creating displays, I don’t have a place in my library for rotating or seasonal displays. Bookmarks are a great idea.

    My local library has genrefied the teen section as well. I think each library is going to have its differences even if they all stick to Dewey, LOC, fiction-by-author, etc.

  3. Congratulations, Selene! I am sure that you will see a spike in circ statistics at the end of this year, and more importantly, students will be browsing more and finding previously buried gems. I’m hoping to do the same at the end of this school year with the help of students and parents, so I appreciate you detailing your experience!

  4. I think this is a great idea especially for K-8 students. It seems user friendly for kids to find books on topics they are interested in. Hopefully, this will improve your circulation stats. I admire your enthusiasm – your students are lucky.

  5. We are a small 6-12 school with one library and one librarian (me). I have created a separate section (2 double sided bookcases on castors) for middle school friendly fiction which I have now colour coded to suit the genre system a certain teacher I work closely with requires. She makes the 6th grade read from different genres inspired by the ‘Book Whisperer’, Donalyn Miller (remember meeting her at AISL conference, Dallas, TX 2014?). I ordered colored dots from Demco and have these categories:
    Blue = Based on a true event or a person’s life story. (covers Biography).
    Green: Based on a historical event or takes you back to another era.
    Yellow: Has a sports theme.
    Orange: Fantasy. (Make believe world, dystopia, Science Fiction etc.)
    Red: A Mystery or Adventure story.
    Most of our students find the Fantasy requirement difficult. We came up with another that we are calling Global/Immigration but I have yet to come up with a colour for that.( Maybe for next year…..) We find that there are many excellent titles in this genre and they might otherwise get overlooked.
    As you know, many books fall in several categories. For example many books are both historical and based on true events. (Blue/Green). Some are both historical and have an element of adventure (Red/Green). Some are Fantasy and Historical (Orange/Green). Some fall in three categories….. Sports, True and Historical (Yellow, Blue and Green.)
    Many books end up with no colour dots and these will generally satisfy the Realistic Fiction genre.
    It may sound confusing, but it seems to work for us. Our students are trained and it is less time consuming than reading the back of the book every time you need to clarify in which genre a book belongs in. Everything is in alphabetic order.

    Here is a picture of one of our bookshelves:
    ( I couldn’t upload a photo any other way…. ideas please)

    Hope this helps someone.

  6. Hi Selene,
    Thanks for sharing your process! We’re a 3rd-12th library. Before I got here, our “middle fiction” geared to 3rd-6th graders was genrefied into: Realistic Fiction, Adventure, Animal Stories, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Humorous Stories, Mystery, Scary Stories, and Science Fiction. I have to say, personally, I truly loathe it. I find it really tough to find books. On the other hand, our younger students LOVE IT, navigate with no problems, and love finding recreational reading material by genre. It works for them. In the end what I most want to do is build the collections for the people that use them so on balance, it has been a very good thing for us. We alphabetize by author within each genre. Our fiction for older students is still shelved as general fiction by author. When the conversion was made, rather than create sub-locations for genre, the librarians elected to add an genre label in the Series/Notes field in Destiny. I find your solution far more elegant, but probably not enough to go back in and change my records for all of our FIC-M books. Thanks again for the thought provoking post!

  7. Interesting. One of the great difficulties with genrefication is that many books cover more than one category–trying to figure out which colored dot to affix illustrates this. Also, as with AR, I dislike the idea of teaching kids to look for a dot, rather than to look for books that interest them and then use something like the 5-finger rule to evaluate individual books. After all, most places you go to look for books out in the world won’t have colored dots for you.
    On a meta-level, what is it about the “old” way of shelving that is unappealing? Do we feel students cannot learn more than one way to look for books (bookstore model vs. library model)? Do we not have room, or time, for displays or ways to showcase genres? Is it because it is the “old” way, vs. the “new” way? Perhaps this discussion is a reflection of some larger concerns we have about libraries and perception of libraries?

  8. I think what’s challenging for me and many students about the “old” way is that the organization is not helpful in discovering books based on interest or topic. If we think about why and how Dewey organized books into subjects in the first place, then our fiction would be sitting in the 800s. We’ve already evolved the way we do things to put fiction into a separate section, why not expand on Dewey’s initial idea to group books by subject in the fiction section as well? I don’t believe dots or stickers really matter here, but I do think it’s especially useful for students to be able to find similar books in one place, and genrefication certainly helps with that. Personally, I would love it if students found a book in one genre and brought it to me saying it should belong somewhere else – that’s where we get good conversations about genre characteristics and genre blending!

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