10 steps to genre-fy your library!

I just finished genre-fying our high school library! I know a lot of librarians struggle with the “should I or shouldn’t I?” conundrum when it comes to genre-fication. I thought I would document my journey here in case it helps anyone else with their decision and process!

Genre-fying (grouping fiction books according to similar genres/topics/themes like a bookstore usually does) is something that has been a big topic of conversation in library land over the last decade or so. There are many pros and cons batted around, and many other blogs and resources go into those so I’m not going to re-hash that here now. I’ll just say that, in the end, I got sick of watching students wander the fiction section looking ambivalent and eventually either leaving with no books, or just checking out the old favorites. It became clear to me that the traditional library setup was doing nothing to excite students about reading. Being faced with a collection of 5000 books in author A-Z order, spines out, was overwhelming, boring, and inefficient. So, I decided to genre-fy.

The following information is my very detailed walkthrough of how I approached the process. I’ll include the mistakes I made as well as the triumphs!

Should I, or Shouldn’t I?

  • How do you know if you should genre-fy? 
    • Talk to your students, talk to your staff, talk to your admin! Get feedback, test the waters. Visit genre-fied libraries if you can, to see how it is working for them. You are the librarian for your school, so you are really the best person to decide if genre-fication makes sense for your school. But you don’t exist in a vacuum! Always bounce the idea off as many stakeholders as possible.
  • How did I decide?
    • After observing students struggling to enjoy browsing the library and frequently walking away without a book, I started thinking about genre-fying. Then, last year I started a Roaming Library program, where I would bring baskets of books on a cart to the english classrooms for 10 minute browse and checkout sessions.
    •  Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 5.27.02 PM
    • I always genre-fied the baskets around main themes or topics (like horror, adventure, overcoming obstacles, if you like 13 reasons why, etc etc). I saw so much more engagement in the students than I ever saw in the library. I quickly realized that by giving students a smaller, more focused selection of books to look through, they were finding things that interested them more often. They were not getting overwhelmed by the rows and rows of alphabetized books. They were not getting frustrated at not knowing where to start. This year, after I did the first round of Roaming Library, I just instantly knew that I had to genre-fy the library.
    • I figured, bookstores must be doing it for a reason! I also figured that, grocery stores do it it. I mean, just imagine if grocery stores had items in order by brand name instead grouped by like items. Imagine if you wanted chips, but Lays chips were in one place, and Herrs chips in a completely other place. It wouldn’t make any sense! How frustrating would it be to grocery shop for the items you need to cook just one meal. Now imagine you are someone who doesn’t even like cooking! Imagine how much more frustrating and disheartening grocery shopping would be for you then. This is how I imagine the standard library setup is to students, let alone to students who do not like to read. No wonder my students are so rarely browsing and checking out at my library. It is simply not a pleasurable activity. This is why genre-fication made sense to me.
    • I also polled the students and they overwhelming said “YES!!” to genre-fying. I spoke with english teachers and they were intrigued. A little less certain than students, but optimistically intrigued.  I checked in with my principal and he said “You’re the expert and it’s your classroom to manage as you see fit.” So I began the genre-fication process!
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First step: Weeding/Getting to know your collection

Genre-fying is not a quick or simple process. The first step is to get to know your collection really, really well. Know your student’s reading habits and preferences. Know your teacher’s teaching styles and annual assignments. I started my genre-fying process two years ago, really, when I started a big weed in Fiction. I had just started at the high school, and I found that weeding was a great way to get to know the collection, because you’re touching each book, examining it, learning about it’s publication date and popularity. I think this is the first step to genre-fication. If you don’t know your collection or your student’s needs, it will make things much harder. Trust me on this, because as you will see below, I made mistakes that I later had to correct, after I knew my students needs better.

Second step: Deciding on your Genres

Once you’ve weeded down and/or familiarized yourself w. the collection, it is time to decide on the genres you’ll use. It is a good idea to talk to people again about this. There are MANY options and the genres that work best for one school may be very different than the ones that will work best for your school.

I initially chose based on what seemed best to me. Later I had to re-do it and then I based it on students requests, language students use when asking for books, what I was seeing get checked out the most, and the English assignments. For instance we often have reading assignments that ask students to read books with themes of identity, culture, or adversity. This fact informed my choice to have genres that served that need. I knew I didn’t want a ton of genres, just for simplicity’s sake, so the ones I created were pretty broad at first.

  • My initial genres (I had to change them later, see below) were:
    • Fantasy
    • Sci-Fi
    • Classics & Literary
    • Horror/Mystery/Suspense
    • Historical Fiction
    • Realistic Fiction

Third step: Deciding on your labeling & Cataloging plan

Next you need to decide on how you will handle labeling and cataloging. There are many options here and you will need to decide what works best for you.

  • Some common Cataloging Options:
    • Change call # prefix (ex: F MYS to signal Mystery genre)
    • Add copy category to indicate genre
    • Add sublocation to indicate genre
  • Some common Labeling Options:
    • Colored labels on spine
    • colored transparent spine label covers
    • new spine labels that include genre name
    • genre graphic stickers (usually purchased from demco or similar)
    • handmade labels/stickers (some people design their own custom)

For cataloging, I decided I would add a copy category and sublocation to each book, to indicate the genre. I did not want to go the call # prefix route (just personal preference, there is nothing at all wrong with that method! Many librarians use the prefix method!). Partially it was because I did not want to print and replace all of the spine labels, and partly it was because I just don’t think my students would understand it when looking in the catalog.  Adding the copy category and sublocation would work best for me because the category will let me run reports according to genre, and the sublocation is easily viewed when searching Destiny catalog.

For labels I decided to do a simple colored sticker on the spine, right above the spine label. I chose this because I like the simplicity and visual punch it gives. I feel it is easy, cheap, and quick to label them. Its very easy to cover or replace the sticker if I need to change the book’s genre for any reason. It is very easy to quickly scan the shelves and see that a book is shelved in the wrong section. So I designated a color for each of my genres and ordered 3/4inch circle labels from Demco. We cut the circles in half and sit them above the spine label like a little hat. I cut them because it makes the box go twice as far for the money, and I think it looks sharp, visually! For books that have additional genres or big topics (like romance or novels in verse) I can easily add a second colored sticker below the spine label, like a sub genre. (In the pic below you can see my labels. The number written on the label indicates the school year it was added to the collection. so 17 means it was added in 2017-2018 school year. This helps students find new books, and makes it easy for me to find them and avoid them when weeding!)

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Fourth step: Start labeling each book

This is the part a lot of librarians dread because you need to decide which genre each book belongs in. I know a lot of people struggle with this because most books cross genres. I think you just need to not overthink it. For Most books, it will be very obvious which genre they belong in. You just decide where your kids would most expect it. This is why it is important to know your students reading habits when genre-fying. If you use Follett Destiny you can call Follett and ask for a “genre assist” report. They send you a spreadsheet that helps you decide for each book which genre it is. I also used goodreads.com a lot for extra help because goodreads users tag books, often by genre. You can see which genre it gets tagged in most. When in doubt, I deferred to the goodreads genre with the most tags or my personal opinion šŸ™‚

Spreadsheet looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 8.37.57 PM

Fifth step: Re-Assess

This is a good point to stop and reassess your process. Ask yourself questions to determine if you are on the right track or if you need to make changes. Do you have enough of each genre? Too many or too few of certain genres?

If a genre is too big: You may want to consider weeding this genre down or splitting it. For instance, I initially thought I’d just have a genre for “realistic” but it was WAAAY too big. So I re-thought it and ended up getting rid of “realistic” and having three other genres instead. I also decided at this point that I did not like the idea of a “classics” section. I realized it was unlikely that students would ever set foot in that section unless they had to for an assignment. Since the point of genre-fying is to encourage browsing, this seemed anathema to me. So I had to go back through and find all the “classics” labeled books, and I relabeled them to other genres. Most ended up in Historical Fiction, but many made it into horror (dracula, frankenstein), and adventure (huckleberry finn, treasure island) and so on.

These are the notes I made when deciding on my final genres. I also used the library instagram to get feedback from students on genres they wanted.

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 9.19.10 PM

Unfortunately this step can require a lot of back tracking and re-doing work, but for me it was necessary because at this point I realized i was on the wrong track to serve my students. The large realistic section was not going to be helpful, so I had to re-do it. The same with the original “Classics” genre. And I’m glad I did, because with the way things are now, all of my genres are very similar in size, which seems like a good thing to me. I did have to go through my collection again and re-label a ton of the books at this point, since I had changed genres, but it was worth it.  I did my initial genre choosing during my first year at the school and I did not know the students or the teachers well enough. Two years later I know them a lot better, and felt that some of the genre choices I had made two years ago were not good choices.

Sixth step: Plan the footprint

Maybe not everyone is as particular about details as I am. But just in case you are, I’ll share this step. There was no way I was comfortable just “winging it” and moving books without knowing exactly how many shelves I would need for each section. So I thoroughly planned out the footprint of the books before I did anything else.

So I went through each bookcase (our fiction has 40ish bookcases with 6 shelves each) and lumped the books from that bookcase into genre groups on each shelf. We had 6 shelves and 7 genres so that worked well. Then I went through, with a measuring tape, and measured how many linear inches of each genre I had. Then i decided how many inches I would want per shelf (our shelves are 34 inches wide so I decided that each shelf would start with 23 inches of books, leaving enough room to grow into it and to have outward facing books on each shelf.)  I did the math, and was able to figure out how many shelves I would need for each genre. I was then able to configure it so that there would be an empty bookcase in between the genres, so there is plenty of room to grow. In the meantime, I’m going to use those cases to do spotlight displays of nonfiction books that would pair well with the genres!

I also knew I wanted to do something to really make the fiction section pop and stand out after it is genre-fied, so I decided to decorate the backs of the bookcases in the color of the genre on that case. I went on amazon and had a blast hunting down art paper and wrapping paper that I could use for this purpose. Luckily I had held back some of my supplies budget and was able to get approval to purchase some of these papers. Then I created a layout and started playing with how I could configure the shelves, how many shelves could be left open for outward facing books, etc. This is what I came up with.

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7th step: Create the signage

Next I went ahead and created my signage and posters with postermywall.com. This was fun! I knew I wanted the signs to be larger then standard paper. So I set custom dimensions in postermywall.com for 11inches high x 24ish inches wide. Designed my posters. Then I put the document through rasterbator.net to blow it up to the large size I wanted.

Here are the genre signs I created. You’ll see signs for “Quick Picks” and “Love & Romance.” They are not actual genres but they will be some of the rotating displays I’ll have up on the empty bookcases I allotted for.

8th step: Move the books

Now that I knew for certain how everything would layout and the maximum configuration, it was time to do the actual moving. I did this during our two days of parent conferences this week. Two full days with no students, and parents don’t generally conference with me so I had plenty of time. Luckily my administration approved my assistant to come in on those days as well, so we were able to really tackle the process. My assistant started scanning the books into resource lists so we could then use the resource lists to make the cataloging changes (detailed below). Meanwhile, I started moving books and hanging the colored paper on the back of the bookcases. It was absolutely backbreaking work. BUT it looks sooooooo nice. Finally, we put up the beautiful signs!

9th step: Re-catalog the books

Finally we finished off re-cataloging the books so the catalog would show their genres and locations. I did this in a multi-step way.

First – I created a separate resource list for each genre in Destiny. Then my assistant scanned each book into the appropriate resource list.

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Second – I created the copy categories, one for each genre. I titled them exactly the same way I titled the resource list for each genre.

Third – I created a sublocation for each genre. Again, I titled them exactly the same way I titled the resource lists and copy categories. Keeping the names consistent is good for consistency.

Fourth – I added the copy category to the books. In destiny I went to Catalog – Update copies – batch update. Selected “add category” from dropdown. Selected “update all copies in – list.” Rinse and repeat for all genres.

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Fifth I added sublocation to the books. In Destiny went to Catalog- Update copies – Global Update. Select with: category and make: sublocation. Rinse and repeat for each genre.

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10th step: Advertise Advertise Advertise & Enjoy the results!

And voila! Genre-fication is completed! Now It’s time to advertise to staff and students. I shared my story on the library instagram and twitter with students and staff. I also mention it to literally every single person who talks to me throughout the school day. I told english teachers and invited them to bring classes down to see the new setup. It was fun watching students browse it today! Today we had 33 books checked out. That’s a lot for our library! The same day last year……. we had 1 book checked out šŸ™‚

Happy Reading!


  1. I am in the process of genrying my high school library. Could you tell me where you place nonfiction books that are careers, art, and entertainment? Also, did you place biographies according to the signage, i.e. Martin Luther King, Jr. with Adversity & Overcoming? Thanks!


    • Hello! My nonfiction books are all housed in our nonfiction section which is still in traditional dewey decimal format (mostly). But we do displays of nonfiction books near our fiction genres. So art and entertainment are in the 700s as per dewey. Biographies and memoirs are their own genre at our library. I have thought about breaking the bios and memoirs up by genre as well but havent done so at this point!


  2. I’ve been reluctant to put our fiction into genres rather than A-Z, but you make a very compelling (and fun!) argument so I’m going to really consider it now! We have some limitations with regards to the layout of shelving (it’s all built in so I have to just work with it), but it might be a fun and challenging project. Thanks!


    • And the books are still in ABC author order even when genrefied, but I know what you mean! You could also dip your toes in by starting with just one pulled out genre. Think of one that would be most popular and see how it goes. You don’t have to go full bore right off the bat šŸ™‚


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