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.