Genrefying My Fiction Collection
By: Rob Kaminski, Woodbury Elementary, Shaker Heights Schools, OELMA Director to Operations Strategic Committee
I am labeling and physically organizing my fiction collection of approximately 9,000 books by genre. Within each genre, books will be organized alphabetically by author’s last name.
Quite simply and most importantly, genrefication suits my particular library community. Ninety-five percent of the book requests I get from students are, “Where are the (insert genre here) books?” My students naturally want to browse by genre, which is not surprising, given that it’s the method used in bookstores, and for finding content on Amazon, Netflix and similar outlets.
In addition, many literature teachers in my school regularly feature a particular genre with each unit taught. A genrefied library makes it much easier for students to find a book they will enjoy from the assigned genre, especially if I am unable to assist them because I am working with another class when they visit.
If you are considering genrefying your library, I would start with the why. If you can’t answer that question with confidence, it might not be worth the work that lies ahead, or it simply might not be the best fit for the needs of your library. It is likely that genrefying will raise questions and could be met with resistance, so it is important that you have clear reasons why it will best serve your own library community.
I have been passively planning this change for several years, mentioning it as a possibility to my administrators and researching other libraries that have made the switch. Last summer, I formally proposed this project to my supervising administrator, including the timeline and plan that I detail below.
- Summarize research and tips from other libraries who have switched to a genrefied collection
- Choose the genres for my library
- Communicate plan my to administrators
- Order genre labels
- Weed fiction collection
- Begin labeling all new books
- Begin labeling obvious books
- Obtain Genre Helper Report from Follett
May 2018–Summer 2018
- Label an overwhelming number of books and wish I had weeded more
- Enter my designated genres in the Genre Helper spreadsheet
- Determine the amount of space needed and location for each genre
- Move books to their new location
- Create lots of signage and other promotional materials for the beginning of the school year
I definitely recommend reading and learning from those who have taken on this project before. There are many blog posts on genrefying and Follet also has a guide on their website. With every single step of this process, you should listen to what others have to say, BUT ALWAYS MAKE CHOICES BASED ON YOUR SPECIFIC LIBRARY. Choosing genres is a great example of this. Many libraries include specialized genres such as Romance, Urban, Fairy Tales, and Paranormal and I have no doubt they are useful designations in certain libraries. However, in my library that serves students in grades 5-6, I wanted to keep it fairly simple and choose genres that would communicate the tone of the book to my target audience. My genres include: Fantasy/Science Fiction, Historical, Thriller, Graphic Novels, Sports, Realistic, Mystery, International, Humor, and Adventure. International Fiction is one that might not make sense at a lot of libraries, but it is a featured genre for our enriched language arts classes and we have a collection that merits its own category. I also reached out to teachers and students for help in choosing between Horror and Thriller; don’t forget to tap into the thoughts and ideas of your library community. Likewise, I purchased genre labels from Demco with symbols that I thought my students would identify each genre with the best.
You should absolutely do a thorough weeding of your fiction collection before beginning to label your collection on a large scale. The genrefication process is a lot of work and you don’t want to spend any time, energy, or money on labeling books that will not remain in your collection. Whatever your weeding criteria is, I would consider a more thorough than normal approach in advance of genrefying. Another strong recommendation I have is to begin a small-scale labeling system early in the year to work out any kinks. For me, it made sense to label all of the new books that came in throughout the year. This is a great way to work through small but important issues such as, if spine room is limited, do you cover up part of the title or the author’s name with the genre label? Chances are you will change your mind on some small details like this and it’s much better to work through that on a small quantity of books so that you have formalized the details of your system when you are labeling the bulk of your collection.
My next step was to begin labeling books where I could easily determine their genre. I already had some book lists by genre for classes, so I printed those for my library technician to begin labeling. We also labeled series or authors who specialize in certain genres and any books that could be assigned a genre with little or no thought. This will greatly help down the road when you are left with books you are not as familiar with and need to think about what their main genre might be.
When it came time to begin labeling books on a mass scale, I first tried to pull books that could fit into any under-represented genres, which in my library I thought were sports, humor, and adventure. I knew these would be some of the most frequented shelves, but I also believed we didn’t have as many of these books as we do fantasy and other major genres. I thought it would be good to try and seek out books that might otherwise be placed in a major genre by default. To do so, I searched our catalog for terms like sports, adventure, funny, etc. and also searched online for reading lists by genre. I then pulled those books and examined them to see if they were a good fit for one of the smaller genres. For help in deciding genres in general, I often used Titlewave (Follett is our main book vendor) and Goodreads.
If you use Follett, they offer a free Genre Helper Report, which is a spreadsheet including every book in your library. You upload your collection to Titlewave, just as you do for a Collection Analysis. Your sales representative can then give you information on how to request this report. The spreadsheet provides many columns of data, including suggested genres. I only used it sparingly to select a genre for a book that I was unfamiliar with though because they usually suggest multiple genres. You will want to customize the spreadsheet to show only the information that you deem necessary. I added two columns, one for the genre that I selected for each book and another column where I tracked whether it was labeled yet. This was so that sometimes I could assign a genre to a book in the spreadsheet even if I didn’t have time to physically label it at that moment.
However, the real value I see in this report is that it includes a column titled “Thickness” which provides, in millimeters, how much space a book will take up on the shelf horizontally. Once the spreadsheet is completed, I will sort the data by genre and then have an idea of how much shelf space each genre will need total. In a large library, this is very helpful, if you have a smaller library, you may be able to just do this step physically. You’ll have to decide if the spreadsheet is useful to you, as it is definitely an extra step of work to enter the genre you have selected. Since I am not making cataloging changes to reflect the genres I’ve chosen (see below), this spreadsheet will come in handy if we’re having trouble figuring out which genre we chose for any given book.
This is where I’m at in this process today. I will finish labeling books in the next week (I think) and then will probably have to bring my kids in a few days throughout the summer to physically move the books to their new location. I will blog about this again when I have finished the project and include what the student and teacher reaction is to this new organizational system.
Changing the Catalog?
For the most part, I was supported in this endeavor by my administration, in large part because of the research I had put in and because I was able to communicate why it made sense at my particular building. The only resistance I met was in my plan to change the call numbers of the books to reflect the genre (Harry Potter would go from FIC ROW to FIC ROW FAN to show it is FANTASY). There was concern about making significant cataloging changes, both because of the amount of work involved and if for any reason the collection would revert back to its previous organizational system. I understood the concern and was at peace with that compromise because I was confident that physically organizing the collection by genre would solve 98% of the issues I had with the current organization. In other words, my students are much more likely to walk up to the Mystery section than they are to search the OPAC for Mystery books. Many librarians do indeed change cataloging when genrefying, which is another level of work. In my research, most librarians did this step on their own time in the summer, which is what I had planned to do when I first proposed this project.
Which Genre is This Book?
There are few books that fit neatly into just one genre and you will need to decide how to handle this at your library. Our middle school uses multiple genre labels for many books, but I wanted a simpler appearance for my younger students, so I stuck with choosing one. The only advice I have here is, once again, choose what you think will work best for your students. I picked each genre based on where I thought students would go to find that book, but there is definitely grey territory here. For example, I found myself sometimes choosing Humor over Realistic Fiction because I thought that book might gain more exposure in the Humor section. Sometimes this can be quite challenging. We have many popular series that could easily fall into Fantasy or Adventure. I decided early on that Fantasy would usually win that battle. I found myself using Adventure for a lot of books that walked the border of multiple genres. My students are particularly drawn to adventure books, so in my library that category will cover things ranging from outdoor survival (Hatchet) to books with some fantasy (Inquisitor’s Tale), to books that didn’t find an immediate home elsewhere (Mr. Lemoncello’s Library). This is definitely an area that you will have to ponder and your practice will likely evolve throughout the process and beyond. I plan on having a form out for students to propose changing the genre of specific books and making changes as warranted.
How Long Will This Take?
I am fortunate in that I have a full-time library technician who was able to assist me in this project. If you are a one-person show, you could spread out the genrefication process as long as needed by simply labeling books as you have time. Once you establish your labeling rules, you could generate piles of books by genre and use student or parent volunteers to label them. I have not tracked the hours spent on this project because our time on it has waxed and waned with the rhythm of our daily operations. I felt good about the timeline I had created before the year began and we have pretty much stayed on schedule. If you are set on launching your genrefied library at a specific time, I would block out the major steps and then commit to setting aside time to consistently chip away at it. Keep an eye on what percentage of your collection has been labeled (the spreadsheet can be useful for this) and set your pace according to your schedule.