Our library has just celebrated our one year genre-fication anniversary! Yay! I thought this is a perfect time to reflect on the process and share how things have been going since we completed the genre-fication process at our high school library. At the end I also address each of the most common “reasons not to genre-fy.”
And you can see all my signage here!
Year #1 – Thinking about genre-fication
I knew I was interested in potentially genrefying our library pretty much as soon as I was hired, in 2016. I had just completed my MSLIS, and everything I had learned about genrefying during grad school indicated that it just makes sense.
BUT, I didn’t want to jump right in the very first year, because:
- The first year is busy enough as it is
- I wanted to spend time seeing how students used the library as is to see if it was working or really needed a change.
By the time spring of my first year came upon me, I was already pretty interested in going forward with genrefying, as I was not impressed with the low circulation and general lack of interest our library was getting from students. And staff, for that matter!
So, I chose about 8 genres, purchased colored stickers, and started to sticker the books.
Year #2 – Maybe I can just….
Throughout the entirety of my second year I worked on continuing to sticker the books, all the while leaving them in the traditional ABC order. I posted signs so students knew which colors went with which genres. And I thought to myself, “well this is brilliant! This will be the best of both worlds, having the books marked by genre but keeping them in ABC order!”
Well it did not work out quite as I’d hoped. Students just didn’t seem to “get” the whole colored sticker = genre thing, and it didn’t have any appreciable effect on circulation or student interest and enjoyment in browsing. So year two ended with me still stewing over the “should I fully commit to genres or shouldn’t I?” question. Which I proceeded to ponder and research. Allllll summer.
Year #3 – Taking the Plunge
When year three began I still had not fully decided on what to do about my genrefication dilemma. For my first two years I was consistently seeing low circulation, and, worse, very low morale or interest from students when browsing. They constantly came in to browse, and I could actually see them quickly become overwhelmed, not know where to start looking, get frustrated, and then leave without books. So I was, at this point, leaning heavily towards doing SOMETHING to shake things up. But still I was resisting making the “big move” to genre-fication organization.
But then some of my teachers booked me for “Roaming Library” visits. This is where I would fill baskets with books of different categories (genres, if you liked X try these books, etc), put them on a cart, and pop in to ELA rooms for 10 minute on the spot browse and checkout sessions.
After one week of doing the Roaming Library, I knew INSTANTLY that I had to genrefy the library. Why? Because what I saw during Roaming Library visits was amazing!! The smaller, more focused book collections were causing students to actually CHECK BOOKS OUT! They were excitedly going from basket to basket, chatting with each other, interacting with the books, and CHECKING THEM OUT! It was immediately clear that my students responded positively to smaller, topically “chunked” collections of books rather than the 5000 book A-Z stretch they were faced with when visiting the library. It was like an instant “no brainer,” like a switch was flipped. I actually said to myself, “right, so we’re going to need to genrefy.”
And so I did! And now it is one year later, and can I just say……….
None. Not a single one. It has been one of the BEST decisions I’ve made regarding the library, by far, hands down. No question.
Students wanted it!
I polled students before genre-fying and they responded overwhelmingly that they would love for it to be genrefied. Which makes sense, because they are used to browsing for entertainment that way. Think about how music apps and TV/movie streaming apps are always organized. They have options for browsing by genre/type. And, more critically, those apps ALWAYS offer suggestions based on what you’ve already listened to or watched. Genrefying the library means the library is organized in a way that makes sense to them. They know if they liked Percy Jackson, that they can look for books in the same section as PJ and are likely to find other books they might like!
Circulation Is BOOMING
Our circulation #s are booming ever since we genrefied. Genrefication was not the only variable (ELA also started including more independent reading assignments and we’ve been able to add lots of newer high interest books in the last two years), so I can’t definitively state that genre-fication caused the entirety of our increased circulation. But it has undoubtedly contributed significantly.
- Circulation was up 70% in the year after genrefication!!!!
- Circulation in first 2 months this year is TRIPLED what it was in first two months of last year (pre-genrefication)!!!
Improving Access = Increasing Empowerment
I don’t know how your HS students are, but mine don’t really LOVE having to ask for help. Genrefication allows them to be empowered to use the library, on their own terms! Before we genrefied, students were constantly leaving the library empty handed because they simply couldn’t imagine where to start looking, or how to find something they actually wanted to read. After genre-fication, my students almost never leave empty handed. They find the collection to be much more accessible AND manageable now.
Broadens Student’s Reading Selections
I know there is this pervasive myth that genrefication will mean students get “stuck” within just one genre. Well I can conclusively say that that has not happened at our school! AT ALL! In fact, the OPPOSITE has occurred. Students have actually broadened the amount AND type of books they check out from our library, ever since we’ve genrefied.
Before we genre-fied we had very little circulation, and a lot of the circulation was the same famous, made into movies, old favorites (HP, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, Cassandra Clare) books. The less well-known books were not getting hardly any attention. I mean, those old favorites books were getting checked out over and over, often by the same students. After genre-fying, students are stepping OUTSIDE of the box of the old, well-known favorites, and trying different books, different authors, different genres, etc. In the year since I’ve genre-fied I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single student (who came to browse for a book) browse in ONLY one genre section. Each student pretty much tends to browse through at least 3 genre sections, and as such I’ve been seeing a lot more instances of students stepping out of their comfort zone genres!!
One thing that helps with this is that I grouped the genres so they are situated near by other “similar” genres (fantasy next to sci fi next to mystery next to action next to identity next to adversity next to historical). Having LOTS AND LOTS of “front facing” books displayed in all genres is also critical for this.
Easy Peasey Collection Development
Collection development (both acquisitions AND weeding) is sooooo much easier and more successful ever since I genre-fied. By chunking the collection into genres, I am able to better evaluate the collection for weak spots. I’m able to see which sections are utilized the most, which helps me identify where the gaps and needs are. For instance, before genre-fying, I had NO CLUE how few action and sports books we had! Genre-fying has really helped me figure out which areas to target for growth or weeding. When purchasing, I create a spreadsheet with a column for each genre. This has helped me make sure I’m purchasing pretty evenly across genres (and not accidentally letting my biases urge me to buy too many of my favorite genres:).
Better Connection w. Curriculum
One of things I like about our genre-fied collection is that it better reflects, and connects, with the curriculum. I chose genres based on the types of units students experience in their ELA curriculum, which means the library has a more direct (and visible) connection to what’s happening in the classroom. Our students study genres like mystery and historical fiction, so it is wonderful to have those genres in the library. They also do a lot of units on themes such as culture, identity, adversity. Those are also genres in our library now. Not only does it make pulling books for book buffets and book tastings MUCH easier, but it acts to reinforce things they are learning in the classroom. I like that that extra connection between library and classroom is being made.
Only Positive Feedback
In the year since genre-fying, we have received ONLY positive feedback. Which actually surprised me, because I poll the students often (and anonymously). And, before genre-fying, some students and teachers DID convey hesitancy or resistance to the idea. Not the majority, but definitely a noticeable minority. But, after genre-fying, we haven’t gotten any negative feedback in our polls or “through the grapevine.” A few of the people who had not been on the genre-fication bandwagon when I broached it, actually shared with me that they have now changed their minds upon seeing it in action. Students and staff (even my toughest critics) have reported that the genre organization is a huge improvement, especially regarding the browsing experience!
I’ve even had some teachers approach me about potentially helping them genre-fy their classroom libraries, using the same genres I use in the library! They’ve seen how successful and popular this organization method has been with the kids.
Additional notes & thoughts:
- I had originally intended to do a classics section but am glad I did not. Instead I integrated classics into their proper genres, and as a result I’ve actually had students check them out more frequently. Like a student interested in horror will see Dracula and Frankenstein in that genre, and are more likely to check it out.
- Historical Fiction gets the least attention in our school. I’m now considering how to vamp it up and encourage more circulation. I may need to split it into two genres or integrate them into other genres. Not sure yet.
- Some teachers were pretty leery about me genrefying at first but now they are totally on board. Additionally, I have had more collaboration requests and book events scheduled with ELA this year than ever before.
- I originally had “realistic fiction” as a genre, but it was so big I decided to split it into 3 genres and I’m SOOOOOO glad that I did! The three genres it became were “action/adventure,” “relationships & identity,” and “adversity and overcoming.” Those three genres better fit with how students request books to me, and it better matches the curriculum units ELA does.
- Fantasy is our highest circulated genre, mostly that is due to our super-readers, most of whom love fantasy and tend to read entire series at a time. Science fiction is our most popular genre with students who consider themselves “non-readers.”
- Weirdly, our graphic novel genre does not get as much attention as I thought it would, so I may have to do something to vamp that up too.
I know this topic can cause a bit of controversy in discussion among librarians. Many librarians feel very passionately positively or negatively towards genre-fication. I do think that each librarian needs to make the best decision for their community, and that each community is not the same. What works for one school community may not work for another.
In this final section of this blog post, I’m going to address each of the most popular “Reasons Not to Genre-fy” and explain why those reasons didn’t hold water in my situation. If you are very passionate about not genre-fying, you may want to skip this section, as some of my opinions on these matters might aggrieve you. 🙂
Ok, you asked for it! Here is how I would respond to some of these most commonly referenced “I won’t genre-fy because….” talking points!
Myth #1 – “It will limit them to one genre”
This has definitely not been my experience! As I wrote above, I’ve actually seen distinctly the opposite. Genre-fying has absolutely provided my students with the access and encouragement to broaden their reading interests, both within and without their first choice genre. Unequivocally.
BUT!!! Even if this were true (and its not true at my school) it still wouldn’t be enough of a reason for me NOT to genre-fy. Why? Because genre-fying increases total circulation. Meaning, even if it is making a kid read more of the same genre, the fact is that it is still causing them read MORE! If, when we were not genre-fied a student would only come to check out Percy Jackson books, but after we genre-fied is able to find other books like Percy Jackson because they know to look near Percy Jackson, and they then check out MORE fantasy books that are not PJ books. Well then that is still a win! More reading is always a good thing! I’d rather a kid check out and read 100 fantasy books (and only fantasy books) then see them check out and read just 1 book because they don’t know how to find other books they might like. Not having it genrefied didn’t encourage my students to read MORE books, of ANY genre, so what good was the library to them?
So even if it had caused students to stick within a single genre, I would still have been happy to see them reading more of what they like. But this is not what happened. Instead nearly every student browses at least 2-3 genres before selecting their books. And the majority actually tend to browse through 5+ genres each visit.
Myth #2 – It is just “Dumming things down”
I’m going to be honest with you and say I hate this argument. Increasing accessibility and enjoyment and ease is not “dumming things down.” It is just removing barriers, barriers that are often arbitrary or elitist anyway. Unpopular opinion alert! I don’t think you should have to understand how dewey works in order to find a good book. I have my MSLIS and school library credentials and I can honestly say that I consider teaching kids dewey to be low on the priority list. It’s more important to me that students feel empowered to find books they want to read. That is the #1 priority for me. I absolutely still teach how to use the OPAC when you know what you want to find. I just think they should be able to browse and find good books easily when they don’t know what they want, too!
Myth #3 – “They won’t learn how to use an OPAC”
AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!! This argument is the bane to my existence!
This myth is the most bizarre one to me, because I don’t understand why anyone thinks this is true. Genre-fication doesn’t in any way lessen the need for teaching library searching or OPAC use skills. It doesn’t matter what organizational method you use for a library, no matter what it is, people will still need to use the catalog in order to find specific books. Students use the catalog to find a book’s “address” whether it is genrefied or not. The only thing genrefication impacts is that it makes browsing easier. It doesn’t make specific book searches easier OR harder. They are still performed exactly the same way as they ever were. Before genrefication, if a student comes in and wants to know if we have lord of the rings, they would type LOTR into destiny and get the call number. The call number tells them where in the library to look for the book. They then use signage to orient themselves to the correct location and use the call # to find the book on the bookcase. That process is exactly the same when its genrefied. Theres literally no difference. I do not understand why this myth is so common. I cannot figure out in what way genre-fication is supposed to make OPACS obsolete. I still teach EXACTLY the same skills now as I did before genre-fying except for one thing. They now need to get the sublocation and call# info instead of just the call #. My students have had no problem with this.
Myth #4 “They won’t be able to use a public or academic library!” (AKA “we’re not preparing them for real life!”
Yes they will. I promise your students will still be able to use a public or academic library, whether you genre-fy or not. As long as you teach students that libraries have AN organization method and how to use the OPAC to get a call #, then students will be able to use public or college libraries. Because ALL libraries use call numbers and have OPACs. The student simply has to know how to get a call # and then how to look around the library at the signs to find the call # location. That is it. That is the skill that is transferrable. You are 100% safe to genre-fy as long as you still teach students about OPACs and call #s. I promise that when my students are looking for specifics, they absolutely still use the OPAC and call #s to find the books they need.
This is another argument that I simply don’t understand. Every single public library I’ve ever been in has been genrefied to some extent, whether they call it that or not. They have sections like biography vs juvenile fiction vs children’s books vs board books vs adult paperback vs adult large print vs graphic novels vs YA vs…. well, you get the point. So public libraries are already genrefied and pretty much always have been during my lifetime. Any library that has pulled books out of the traditional Dewey order (literature is technically supposed to go in the 800s, after all!) is already genre-fied. So when our students use the public library, they are already having to use the same skills they need to use my genre-fied school library. They need to be able to search the OPAC and find the call #, to look around and read signage, use signage to direct themselves to the correct location, and then use the call # to find a book via it’s alphabetical or numerical order on the shelf. Those skills and that process is the same whether it is an academic, public, or school library.
The additional strange part about this argument is when people say genre-fying the school library means they won’t be able to use an academic library. This is a strange concept because school libraries and academic libraries are not usually organized the same way, anyway. Academic is usually in LOC, not Dewey. I actually do remember when I went to college that I had no flipping idea what was going on, because I had assumed all libraries were the same and I didn’t know what LOC was!! So teaching a specific organization method is not really helpful anyway. Rather, it is important to teach students the things that are common to all libraries which is that:
- There will be A system of organization
- You will use an OPAC to search for the call #
- You will use signage and the call # to locate the book
That way students are prepared to use any library they come into contact with, be it genre-fied, not genre-fied, LOC, Dewey, or whatever else might be invented in the future!
Its impossible because books fall into multiple genres
This is the argument that seems to stump a large amount of people who are otherwise pretty interested in genre-fying. All I can say is, it’s not really a problem as long as you don’t overthink it. Its really important not to overthink it. You simply go with your gut, where you think students would put it, or where it makes most sense for your collection.
Remember, genrefication ONLY impacts the browsers. Students looking for specifics are still going to be able to use the catalog to do so, and will therefore still find the books they want thanks to keyword and subject terms. So if a book is a very action packed dystopian, and you have it in dystopian, and a students looking for action packed books can still stumble across it via the catalog. So its not about being perfect or being really really careful to select the correct genre. You CAN move things if they aren’t getting the action you hope for in the first genre you try. So you just put it where you think students would most appreciate it being. There is no test on this, you cannot fail, it is not life or death. Just plunk it in the first genre you think it fits best with, and keep moving down the line. 🙂
Genrefying is helpful to students because it “chunks” the collection into a more manageable selections. Students don’t face as much choice overload. It doesn’t really matter if every single book is in exactly the perfect genre. Because there is no perfect. Besides, its not like having it in the second best genre is going to make it less likely to be seen by the right student than having it in traditional A-Z order would.
It splits up authors if they write across genres
Yes this is true. This is not something that has been a problem for us as our students tend to browse all the genres, and they know how to use the catalog to search by author, so they are not missing out on anything.
But there are workarounds to this, such as having “Author Spotlight” displays, having signage, creating resource lists, etc. You can add small signs next to the really popular cross genre authors to let students know that author can also be found in X genre. You could also get in the habit of just mentioning it to students when they check out with you!
Its too much work
This argument is fair. It honestly can be a lot of work, and it simply may not be feasible for you. Some of us don’t have the time or the assistance to get this done. It just depends on how much you want to do it. If you really want to do it but don’t think you have time, you can crowdsource help from students, community members, district librarians and library staff, and even librarians in neighboring districts.
It is also important to realize that genre-fication can be done in chunks instead of all at once. That’s actually how I did it. It took about 2.5 years for me to get it done. I spend an entire year thinking about it, then an entire year stickering the books to reflect their genre. Once the stickering was done, moving and re-cataloging the books was done in just two days, with one assistant.
Either way, only you can decide if its the right choice for your students AND if it’s feasible!
For me it has been more than worth every second of work. Our students are using the library books more than ever before, are more empowered to search and find books on their terms, and overall it has just been a huge success.
I am more than happy to answer questions from any librarians considering genre-fication!