Genrefication – 3 years later!

I can hardly believe that I completed our high school’s genrefication project three years ago already! Although it isn’t exactly correct to say that I “completed” it three years ago, because the truth is that it is something of an on-going project, as you’ll see in this blog post.

Genrefication has been a Big Topic in library-land for well over a decade now, and the truth is that it is still one which can get many people riled up and passionate…. both for and against! I have always believed that genre-fication made the most sense, especially for a school library, so I knew when I started at my high school that it would likely be a project I would take on. Sure enough, it did not take long for me to see our school’s abysmal circulation numbers to realize something needed to change.

After watching students continually wonder the shelves half-heartedly, become dejected & overwhelmed (and uninspired), and ultimately leave the library empty-handed I realized that genre-fication would likely help my students find the library more browsable, manageable, and exciting. I knew we needed genre-fication after having encounter after encounter in which I asked students if I could help them find something and they respond with something like “where are your mystery/fantasy/horror/sports/romance books?” and me having to walk them up and down the shelves, plucking a couple books that I knew off the top of my head were a certain genre.

In short, there were so many obvious and immediate signs that the Total Collection A-Z system was not working for my students. Genrefication was an obvious need to get our library working FOR the students instead of against them, and so I embarked on it during the first year by choosing some genres and starting to sticker the books.

I made some mistakes and changed some things during that process, you can read the thorough accounting of my genre-fication process here on my “10 steps to genre-fy your library” post.


During the second year I was at my school, I moved the books into their genre locations and we officially launched our new genre-fied library setup. And it was HUGELY SUCCESSFULL! You can read about the incredible circulation increase we saw during the first year here on my “HS Genre-fication: 1 year later” blog post.

Well now we’ve completed our third full year as a genre-fied library, and I actually went ahead and made a bunch of additional genres/changes last year, so I thought it would be a great time to do another update! Read on to see how things are going and what changes I’ve made!


Circulation Continues to Boom

Now, our circ isnt booming ONLY because of the genre-fication, our library and school have made a lot of other changes that are undoubtedly also impacting the increase in our circ (i’m planning a blog post to delve into “how our circulation increased by 900%” so keep an eye on the blog for that in near future).

But the genrefication has undoubtedly had a major impact, as you can see in our stats. The truth is that genre-fying makes the library much more student-friendly, accessible, and enjoyable. It also de-mystifies the space for students, creating a space they feel able & empowered to use successfully on their own to find what they need. Empowering students to gain the confidence they need to be able to independently seek and find the information they need is a major priority for the school library, and genre-fying helps accomplish this important goal. Before we genrefied our circulation was despressingly low, students frequently left empty-handed, OR students left with books they were already familiar with/had already read. Basically I was seeing Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, and Cassandra Clare books being some of the only books getting checked out.

Do you know why?

Because if your collection is Total Collection Author A to Z, then kids can only find a book they will like if they already know the book’s author’s name. They have to know who they are looking for. And so students would continually seek out the handful of author’s they were familiar enough with to know the names of. They knew they liked Rick Riordan and did not know how to find other books like Rick Riordan, so they just continued to re-checkout what they already knew.

After genrefying we are actually seeing more “not hugely world famous already” books getting checked out because the students are able to utilize the signage & genres to help them find their way to a section that is most likely to interest them. And once they get to such a section they are confronted with TONS of potential books to choose from within that section. They don’t need to revert to the “old faves” and keep re-reading those because they are empowered and enabled to find more options for themselves.

A lot of librarians always seem to argue that “kids will just get stuck in one genre and not branch out so I won’t genre-fy” but I have not found that to be accurate. I’ve seen genrefication empower my students to branch out more often, to try new books and new genres more often. We definitely have WAY more students checking out a WAY greater variety and amount of books thanks to genrefication.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Last year our library was “kind of closed” due to the pandemic. Meaning our schools were in-person (about 30% of students choosing to stay virtual) and the library was open for book checkout, but we weren’t open for “study hall hangout passes.” Due to teachers and students being overwhelmed by learning new technology to get through a hybrid year, my co-teaching requests were also at their lowest # ever. As a result I had more time for library admin work & collection development work than I would in a normal year.

And since I had that little bit of extra time, I used it to analyze and rethink my collection and my genrefication. I reflected on what was working and what was not working as well, and planned solutions. This resulted in me realizing that while I was VERY happy with the genre-fication, after two years of seeing it in action, I could see that some tweaks were needed. Some genres were not working as well as I thought they could be, and I wanted to split some, add some, and alter some.

Here are some of the changes I made last year:

Change #1 – I split some too-large genres & added some genres

Original GenresCurrent Genres
Fantasy
Sci-fi & Dystopian
Mystery/Thriller/Horror
Action/Adventure/Sports
Realistic- Relationships & Identity
Realistic – Adversity & Overcoming
Historical Fiction

Graphic Novels

Memoirs











Fantasy
Sci-Fi & Dystopian
*Horror & Dark Paranormal
Mystery/Thriller
Adventure & Survival
*Sports
*Humor

Realistic – Relationships & Identity
Realistic – Adversity & Overcoming
*Historical Fiction – General
*Historical – War/Military Fiction
*Historical – WWII/Holocaust Fiction
*”Classics”

Graphic Novels

*Memoirs – General
*Memoirs – Holocaust
*Memoirs – Notable Ppl
*Memoirs – Humor
*Memoirs – Athletes
*Memoirs – Military
*Memoirs – Adventure/Survival
  • Added “Horror/Dark Paranormal” Genre
    • I established a new “horror/dark paranormal” genre by taking the horror books out of the “mystery/thriller/horror” section. I did this because students kept asking for a Horror section, AND because having them in the mystery section wasn’t working. After watching my students browse our genres for two years I realized that the students interested in Horror were not necessarily the same students interested in Mystery, and having them merged together was actually confusing & frustrating both groups of readers. There was enough demand for Horror that I realized it needed to be it’s own standalone genre.
    • I also pulled some of the darker paranormal books out of the Fantasy genre, to put them with the Horror books, creating a Horror/Dark Paranormal genre. Our Fantasy section was getting too big and too broad, with a lot of books that are more Paranormal than Fantasy seeming to make more sense separate from the Fantasy section. Its a very fine and murky line deciding which books to put in the Fantasy section and which in the Horror/Dark Paranormal section but it hasn’t been too much of an issue and I can always move books around if they don’t circulate well in the first place I try them.
  • Adding a “Sports” section
    • I originally had “sports” books mixed into my original “Action/Adventure/Sports” section. When I first genrefied I was worried about having too many genres so I went with fewer genres which caused many of my genres to be multi-genres. After two years I realized a lot of these werent working because they weren’t specific enough for the way my kids browsed. It didnt take long for me to realize that there was enough demand specifically for “sports” books that I really needed to make that its own genre.
    • We actually did not have that many sports fiction when I first started, which is part of the reason I had not made it its own genre initially, so I had to buy a bunch of sports fiction first, and then I was able to make it its own genre. Though it is still very small, it has been a big hit with a certain sect of our students and they’ve been more successful in finding books of interest to them now that they have a designated genre to go to.
  • Adding a “Humor” section
    • Since I was adding a Sports section I thought it might also be a good idea to add a small humor section right next to it. We have a lot of students at our HS that don’t identify themselves as “that into reading” and a lot of them are still looking for books they remember from elementary and middle school (like DOWK, Big Nate, etc) that are LOL books. Its disturbingly difficult to find YA & upper YA books that qualify as that same type of slapstick comedy (unfortunate since there is a definite demand for it) but I decided to establish a small humor genre and try my best to find books to purchase for that genre. Its still a struggle and work in progress but I’m hopeful that genre will be more developed over the next few years.
  • The lack of a “classics” section
    • I originally opted not to use a classics genre, thinking that it would be “the kiss of death” and no one would ever browse that area. Instead I incorporated the classics into their genre locations (dracula in horror, 1984 in dystopian, etc).
    • This worked out okay for some of the books but it resulted in a large # of books that didn’t really fit into any of the other genres clearly. Many of these books ended up bloating our “historical fiction” genre in a way that just didn’t work well (see below).
    • I also found, over the two years we were genrefied, that we actually have a significant # of students who are actively seeking to read “classics.” We also have very high enrollment in AP Lit & AP Lang courses, so those students are also often seeking to read these “classic” books. It became clear that a “classics” section actually would be desirable to a not-insignificant # of our students.
  • Historical Fiction
    • After 2 years of genrefication it became clear that our historical fiction section had become our “kiss of death” section. It was not circulation at all. It was HUGE, with more than half of the books being “classics” that didn’t fit well in any of the other genres.
    • I know that historical fiction is actually a very common and beloved genre of fiction, in general, so it seemed obvious to me that it was our section that was the problem, rather than it being the genre itself. Clearly the way we had it set up and the books we had in that genre were not engaging our community.
    • I realized that the section was too big and too vague to be useful, so I ended up splitting it into 4 genres instead, as follows:
  • Classics
    • The first group I split out from the previous “historical fic” genre was our “classics that don’t fit in another genre” books. Previously I had been putting all these “classics” into the historical fiction section just because they didnt really fit in any of the other genres. They didnt really fit in historical either but they had to go somewhere so thats where they were going. This caused our historical fiction section to be bloated with books that aren’t REALLY the kind of books my students mean when they ask for historical fiction, so their presence in that genre was actually just confusing things and making the genre too large and overwhelming.
    • So I split them into their own “classics” genre, which again I did not originally intend to have but it turned out that at our school there actually is a surprising amount of demand for those books to be in their own section, so its all working out now.
  • Historical – Military
    • The next subsection I split out from our “too large historical fiction” section were the historical fiction books where the main character is in a military or soldier role. I found in recent years I was often getting requests for “where are your war books/military books” and I was having to point to the gigantic historical fiction section and say, “somewhere in there.” It wasnt working for the kids looking for those specific types of historical fiction. Having them separated into their own section has worked out much better in empowering students to find what they need.
  • Historical – WWII/Holocaust
    • The final subsection I separated out from the previous “historical fiction” genre were the “historical fiction taking place during WWII or Holocaust.” This is by far our most popular historical fiction genre, so having it in its own section really make sense for our community. But we also have an ELA elective for Holocaust Stories, and having these books in their own section instead of mixed into a gigantic single “historical fiction” section has really helped us better support that curriculum. It has been great!
  • Historical – General
    • Now I was left with a much smaller general “historical fiction” genre, and it has been great. This section is basically all the historical fiction novels that don’t fit in the military, classics, or WWII/Holocaust subsections. All 4 of these subsections exist right next to each other in the library, but they are now slightly “chunked” up in ways that are just working better for us now.

Other Changes

I also made a few other changes to the library, in the realm of “genrefication,” including genrefying my memoir section into general topic groupings, and splitting my graphic novel/comics from my manga (though keeping them right next to each other). You can see these sections below!

All in all, after 3 years I can honestly say I have no regrets about genrefying, it has absolutely been the right decision for our students. I look forward to continuing to tweak it to ensure it keep meeting the always-shifting needs of our students!

genrefied memoirs: categories are athletes, military, adventure
genrefied memoirs – categories are notable people and humor
Genrefied memoirs: categories include general memoirs and holocaust memoir

6 comments

  1. Thank you for this . I plan to study it and try to think how I can start . This is my idea —- start with two groups . Horror and another one . I have to decide which one . Excellent article .

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  2. Kelsey,
    Your work always inspires me to think deeply about how the library functions for students. Now more than ever students need a user friendly space to enjoy. I’m hoping to use some of your tips to begin creating genre sections. Students are asking for them, so I better get started. Thanks, as always, for sharing your learning.

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  3. As always, thank you so much for sharing your thought process behind everything! I love the idea of a memoir section. Do you keep biographies in this section also, or someplace else in non-fiction? I’m particularly thinking of collective bios and where those should live…

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    • Hi Jena, I don’t include bios in our memoir section because our curriculum doesn’t include any biographical research that isn’t met by our databases so we don’t have very many bios. My studebts are more drawn to memoirs than bios so we have a lot of memoirs. There also a memoir unit for our 12th graders which is why I have the section self contained. The small number of bios that we gave her shelved in their regular nonfiction sections. So artist bios get shelves w the art books, President bios get shelves w the American history section, etc

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