Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Genrefy? The Hows and Whys I Decided to Change

I want to preface this by saying that genrefying a library isn’t a science or an art.  It’s based on loose parameters and how a librarian personally wants to shelve and separate.  This, more than anything, is what drives some librarians crazy because there isn’t a logical or standard sequence.  But for those who have blazed this trail, it can be a very rewarding experience. 

There is one person I’d like to thank for creating that spark in me, and that is Texas librarian Jennifer Turney ( ).  I heard it from her first at a conference and couldn’t WAIT to get back and begin! 

When I started this, I was wary but eager (such an oxymoron!) so I began with the one genre I thought was the biggest – supernatural.  Then it was time to tackle the stacks and I went through them rather quickly and pulled as much as I could out. These were set on library tables that weren’t used for classes and wouldn’t impede traffic or teaching.   
In Destiny, my library assistant and I began changing the spine labels so they looked like this:

The labels were then printed out by the dates they were created  (there’s an option in Destiny, which is the system we use) and began stickering (is that a word?) over the previous spine labels.   UH-OH… that became overwhelming and chaotic so the alternative was to work with just a table of books and print spine labels by barcode range.  PERFECT….each student aide was given a table they were responsible for and re-labeling was quick work.
While the stickering was going on, I went back into the stacks and used a fine tooth comb to pull out more books that were overlooked.  The first time I did this was by sight and familiarity.  This time, it was book by book, sometimes pulling it out and reading the CIP with the subjects on them to double check.  They got their own tables and the process continued.
Once the first genre was done and shelved, I fell in love with the concept (I had to see it, not just read about it….makes a HUGE difference!) Then I sat down and wrote all of the genres I’d like to see happen based on which types of books I’d seen come in and out through the years:
Supernatural (SUP)
Fantasy (FAN)
Historical Fiction (HIS)
Guy Reads (GUY)
Girls Reads (GLR)
Mystery (MYS)
Science Fiction (SCI)
Dystopia (DYS)
Novels in Verse (NIV)
Real Life Reads (RLR)
Adult/Classic (ADC)

Working one genre at a time, I did the same process over and over again until they were all done.  The time frame on this?  Months….sometimes I wanted to scream and cry when I came into work to see the mountains of books still waiting to be shelved, but in hindsight I realized that I had to go through some obstacles to learn ways around them. 

Now, when a bulk set of books come in from a vendor, I go straight to the catalog and re-print out spine labels.  It’s become a second hat. 

So, onto FAQs, why don’t we?

1.       How did you decide which genres to use? 
I did this through personal experience of reading and booktalking a lot of these titles as well as reading reviews.  There are other sources that helped guide me, including the subject headings for the book, which can be found on LOC, Titlewave and the CIP in the books. 

2.       Why did you want to genrefy?
TBH, this grew out of irritation at looking up a book in the catalog for a student, and then helping them find it in the stacks because they couldn’t….yes even in the fiction section.  Kids are kids, regardless if they’re looking for a book in 1st grade or as a senior in high school.  Plus, genrefying was beginning to trend, and I wanted to give it a chance before I dispelled it as being a fly-by-night idea (which it isn’t…more libraries are coming over to the “dark side”).  The difference was AMAZING!  Now kids know exactly where to go and since the sections are smaller, they can find what they’re looking for faster.

3.       What if a book belongs in more than one genre?
That’s going to be a personal call you make for yourself.  There isn’t a handbook on this, so you get to become the creator of it.  A lot of books found in Real Life Reads can also be part of the Guy Reads and Girl Reads sections.  I decided most of the darker, more serious reads would be in the RLR, which helped delineate them from the other aforementioned sections.  Also, if I have multiple copies of a book, I have been known to put them into different genre sections to get more circulation from them as well as meet the needs of readers of a particular genre (ie some fantasy books by Terry Brooks are in two different genres – FAN and ADC)

4.       What about new books that come in?  How do you determine where they go?
I never buy a book unless I’ve read a review, which helps jog my memory when I pick up a new book.  If my memory gets a little cloudy, I go straight to the CIP to read the summary and look at the subjects to guide me.  If there isn’t a CIP I read the inset and look online to verify subjects.  Doing this so many times, I realized that I could also select them by covers too.  If I see a pink cover with a guy and girl holding hands walking in the sunset…yep.  That’s a girl book.  A dragon is usually a dead giveaway as well as black covers with bloodthirsty vampires.  Dystopia covers are getting easier to discern as well.  It seems like they all have characters standing strong on the edge of a precipice looking over a world of destruction they now call home.  And then there is the author him or herself.  But I definitely stick with the first way, which has more logic and authority behind it.

5.       Are there any benefits of genrefying?
The obvious is that the patrons find titles easier and circulation has spiked.  There are other little things I realized later: A) I did a LOT of weeding in the process, which helped free up some shelf space.  B) It gave me a chance to look at all of the genres and see which ones I needed to buy more titles for so I could even out the collection; C) I could put series in order and replace whichever ones were missing; D) Made me even more aware of books I overlooked that I needed to do a reading re-visit on and how many I DID know, which made me happy!; E) It helped me with “if you liked this book, then you’ll like this one…” scenario;  F) It opened readers of a particular genre up to reading “outside the lines” and finding themselves reading from more than one genre

6.       What about signage?
Again, that’s a personal choice.  I created Wordle signs to put on the shelves and then bought cardboard letters we glittered to place on solid ends of the shelves.  The sky’s the limit with this one….

7.       Any other advice?
Always leave a shelf empty for each genre.
Know that this is an ongoing process (I’ll admit, I still have a section in the stacks I have to go through and finish.  Interestingly, these don’t get a lot of circulation…)
If you ever think of moving to a different library, leave information of  your genrefication process with the new librarian so they can make sense of it all

Only do this if YOU want to, not because everyone else does it.  It’s a commitment that’ll last the duration of your career in a particular library.  Embrace the change if you want to, NEVER if you feel you have to


CSCastillo said...

Thank you for that, good food for thought!
Just out of curiosity, why separate supernatural from fantasy?

Naomi said...

I think fantasy more in terms of different worlds, dragons, wizards, magic.
Supernatural is more ghost, vampire, spooky scary things. :)

Anonymous said...

I really admire so much of what you do, but this was an expenditure of time, effort and money for... what? So when your students go to a public library or a college library, will they have a clue what to do to find a book? College libraries won't baby them. Trend away, friend. My students will have the foundation they need to function. One thing I know for sure, you have a lot more help than most librarians in Texas!

Tom said...

Hi Naomi-
Thanks for your post. Genrefying is something I've been considering in one of the elementary libraries I work in. Many of the kids here are reluctant, struggling readers and it kills me that so many books sit on the shelves. At the elementary level I could also see a section for humor with books like Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants.
Also, how do you determine what qualifies for a guy or girl read?

Karen Braeuler said...

Thanks Naomi for a great explanation of your thinking and process. I was lucky (I think) to walk into a genrefied library for this, my first library job. My only chore now, is to find a way put the genre on the spine label (and catalog) so it will appear in Destiny Quest. Right now there is just too much clicking that has to happen for students to find the "sublocation."

What do you think about Horror as a genre and how do you differentiate with Supernatural on many titles? PS YOu are one of my Texas superhero librarians (I'm in SA). Maybe we can meet at TLA here this year!

VTownsend said...

Did you do this for the entire library or just the fiction books?
I'm wondering if there is a way to have a "blended" library or if it is all or nothing.

Burnsey the Librarian said...


So excited you took the plunge! And you are right! Even though you and I have different category titles, they still pretty much line up with each other. Your kids are so going to love this and in the long run it will make your life easier...

Tammy Jo

NGClibrarian said...

I inherited a 9th grade library that is genrefied, and while I'm in love with the concept (I previously worked in a MS that was genrefied), I think the previous librarian had a very loose interpretation of some of the genres. I think I'm going to have to go back an re-do it at some point when I can get my head above water. She made one very large section of "horror" which has vampires, witches, ghosts, etc. including Twilight which the kids laugh at. Then she made a "sci-fi, fantasy" section shelved together. I totally think they need to be separated, but maybe I'm overthinking! I've found myself searching for books multiple times, and I think genrefying should make it easier to locate materials, but I haven't decided what to do yet.

Would you mind sharing a picture of your signage?

Naomi said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. You may or may not agree with me, but that is what makes topics so interesting...if we all thought the same way, there wouldn't be crucial conversations or ideas being born.
NGCLibrarian, the signage I used is also posted on my blog (use search using the word "Wordle) but I will post other images as well.
Tom, I think creating a humorous section would be a great idea! Elementary titles have so many that could be a part of that genre :)
And I only genrefied the fiction section, and there have been people who have "blended" the library with fiction and non-fiction titles, but for now I just pair them as displays.
Have a wonderful evening everyone, and thank you for the comments and questions :)

Elizabeth said...

I am all for making changes to update libraries. However, this change just doesn't sit right with me. My purpose for teaching students how to use a library is so that they can find books in my library and the public library and any other library they visit. If every librarian decides how to organize, then we would be back to the time before Dewey. Every library would look different. I love the sameness. I like going into the non-fiction section of any library and finding folk tales in 398.2. This is one trend that won't happen on my watch. Just my two cents.

Naomi said...

Interesting research article: The Issue of Genrefication

Busy Writer said...

I have genrefied a collection, or at least the fiction section, before with fantastic results. My circulation increased over 25% once I genrefied. Non-fiction is already "genrefied" so I left that alone. I based my decision on extensive research as well as my experience in book stores, which are always after a bottom line and arrange their stores in a way that will bring in the most dollars. Why shouldn't libraries do the same to bring in the most readers? Especially since genrefying is happening in many public libraries now too. I did find that the fewer genres you have, the better. There is less confusion when it comes to books that can fit in multiple catagories. Also, you can break out smaller sub-genres for displays without having to catalog them that way. I did:

-general fiction

I left historical fiction in "general fiction" because it's too big and can include anything not from the last 50 years.

The thing for people to remember is that nothing is set in stone. You can change catagories, switch a book from one catagory to another, or go back to standard alphabetical. Why not at least try it? There is a lot of scholarship out there about this and lots of people that can give advice on how to do this. You can always change it back if it's not working.

Naomi said...

Thanks for the comment Tanya :)

Ms Weidemann said...

We decided to make auto-updated virtual genre lists in our Visual Catalog. That way we can include the same book in multiple genres, don't have to worry about spine lables, and can keep all titles by the same author together, regardless of genre.

To see some of our lists, go to and click on Find a Book (awesome Mandarin feature!).

Angela Steagall said...

I have been standing firm to keep the traditional shelving process in place in my library, but the less the students read, the more I feel I need to do something else. Genrefying just the fiction might be a good thing for my kids. Most of my kids don't visit any libraries but my own, and are more likely to get books from WalMart or Barnes and Noble than from a library in their future.... and those shelves are "genrefied"....

Lisa @ said...

Just found your blog via your post on LM_Net. This post is definitely one I'll bookmark and come back to as I'm considering doing the same thing this summer.

LL Blackwell said...

So I am about halfway through genrefying my collection, and WOW what a process. It's great because I am new to my high school library, so I've really been getting to know the collection.

I read this post at exactly the right time. I was sick of my girls asking "Where are the romance?" I am not a fan of romance, so it's a hard thing for me to find on the fly. Hence, it was the first thing I genrefied and now I can just point--"Over there!"

I've met some resistance from my colleagues, but I agree with Tanya. We may not be selling our books, but we still want them to move. And yay for those of us who know what 741.5 is, but most people don't and that also becomes useless when you find yourself in a Library of Congress collection. Students need to learn how to find things, but that can still be done in the Deweys. Fiction should be fun to find.

ABall said...

How big is your library? I go back and forth on this but I am struggling with the daunting task of reclassifying the 6000+ books in our fiction section.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I would ever genrefy the whole fiction section (too subjective for my tastes), but those people who have commented that students won't know how to use a public library have never used my local public library before! It has genrefied sections-- Science Fiction, Western, Religious, and Mystery. The majority of the fiction is not genrefied, but about 1/3 of it is in those genre sections.

Unknown said...

Aren't we supposed to teach the students how to find books? Not just point and say, "Over there." I really thought long and hard about genrefying and decided against it. On LM_Net I asked the question: College librarians, what do you think of students coming in who come from a genrefied library ... they overwhelmingly answered in the negative.

Nancy said...

Interesting reading - especially comments! I'm looking to do this in our small fiction section (post-16 UK college) since I think genres will make marketing/browsing easier: We get asked for genres by students who don't read and therefore don't know authors to search for.
I understand the negative comments and I'm all for maintaining Dewey within our non-fiction, but consider finding a novel to read different to researching homework and not all our students will go to university.

Trish said...

I love this idea! I work at an elementary school, but I am also the founder of The Kids' Reading Room. We are organizing our reading rooms today!

Thanks so much for the great ideas!


LL Blackwell said...

It's been a year since I read this blog post, went insane, and genrefied. It's amazing! I love being able to point my kids in the right direction. Electronic catalogs are great if you know what you're looking for, but browsing is much more fun, especially when you know you're in the a spot where you'll find good stuff. Thanks for inspiring me!

Naomi said...

hi Blackwell :) Knowing you've gone through it all and love it...I feel the same way too :)

Sherece said...

I'm fortunate in that the previous librarian genrefied the fiction section of my library (non-fiction remains classic Dewey, for the most part) and I'm very thankful. It really helps the students find the books they are interested in quickly. And yes, I do find it helpful to be able to point and say “over there” for the times when then idea is simply to get a book in their hands that they want to read as quickly as possible. Let's be honest, do we really take every single student who comes in asking for a book over to the catalog to explain the whole process? I know that I don't.

At the same time, having a genrefied fiction section is no barrier at all to teaching students/classes how to use the online catalog to find books. It just means that they have an opportunity to deepen their awareness of special collections, which are common in public libraries. It actually forces them to pay attention to the entire call number and decode more information (incidentally, we have signs posted up around the library with explanations for the various abbreviations.)

As for the mechanics of genrefying, once the books arrive, we take a quick look at them to determine first if they should be genrefied. (the paperbacks are genrefied, but we do have a fiction section which only includes hard cover books. These could be genrefied, but I haven’t decided as of yet whether or not I want to do so.) We correct the call number information in the system, as needed, and place an appropriate genre sticker on the back cover of the book. That way, we don’t need to replace any spine labels (yeah!) and it’s still quick and easy to re-shelve the books.

By the way, Naomi, I love your genres! Most of them are the same as what we're using, but not all. I fully intend to steal a few of your category ideas!

Christine Osborn said...

I too have genrefied 2 middle school libraries, and feel it is the only way to go. One of the libraries had 16 long, high rows of fiction. It was just too much for the kids to find the books, especially if they did not have an author or title in mind. Most people read by genres, and teachers liked to assign independent reading by genres and asked for book talks by genres. Once the project was done it was so much easier for everyone: kids, teachers and me. Even the parent volunteers said it was easier to shelve the books!

To those who say we are abandoning Dewey, please remember that in Dewey, American fiction is 813 and we haven't used that in years. To those who say they won't be able to find books in college, I say who in college doesn't know the alphabet?! To those who say the kids won't be able to find books in the public library, go look: most public libraries separate out mysteries and science fiction. I keep begging them to separate out the historical fiction, because I get tired hunting for a good HF.

A few quibbles/ideas:
1. I object to the Guy Reads and Girl Reads categories because reading isn't and shouldn't be gender divided. It also would prevent a boy from reading a book marked as a girl read for fear of teasing, etc., and vice versa. In this way, these categories are limiting their choices.
2. Dystopia is science fiction (sometimes called social science fiction). I would include it in the science fiction section.
3. Historical fiction can be used to enrich the history curriculum, especially if it is organized. My historical fiction is labeled and organized by the time period. At the bottom of the spine is the year the book takes place or opens. Teachers and HF fans love it.
4. I found that the Highsmith labels sold by Demco stand out best on the spines. They are bright colors and clean, simple designs. (Demco has very cluttered designs that don't show up very well).
5. I use these 8 categories, and put the categories in alphabetical order on the shelves as follows: Adventure (survival and thrillers, spies, criminals, etc.), Animals (real animals, not magical or talking animals), Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Realistic, Science Fiction and Sports.
Good luck to everyone in this big but worthwhile project.

Anonymous said...

I am thinking about starting this process for fiction but am concerned about splitting up an author if they have written more than one genre. How does anyone handle that situation.