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Genre-fy Your School Library: How I Made it Happen This School Year

By: Angela Wojtecki, District Library Media Specialist at Nordonia Hills City Schools

This past school year I had one goal for my high school library-to genre-fy my fiction collection for my students. The reason for this was simple: I was tired of playing “follow the leader” with my students. Whenever I was helping a student find a book, inevitably I would ask them what books they like to read and then we would take a walk around our fiction shelves, which was mainly me showing them various authors and series that may appeal to them while they followed me – often looking overwhelmed due to the layout of the books by author’s last name.

I remember some school librarians mentioned genre-fying their collections at previous OELMA conferences and workshops and I was just too new in my position to take on such an endeavor. Well, this was the year! To start things off, I attended an amazing Genre-fying session at the 2016 OELMA Conference in Columbus with the amazing Amanda Brasfield from Findlay High School (on Twitter she is @FHS_MC). I need to give major props to her and her library assistant for sharing step-by-step how to do this and not leaving me completely frantic and stressed. I walked out of that session feeling empowered with their system as something I could totally tackle with the help of my library student workers and my awesome library staff. We started the Monday I got back from OELMA, and we finished right before spring break in March – working a little but per day on the project. Here is how we genre-fied our fiction collection in just over five months:

1. Choose your genres based on your readers. We decided to use the following: scary, fantasy, mystery, dystopian, historical fiction, graphic novel, short story, science fiction, adventure, realistic fiction, sports, historical fiction, romance, and classic. Some may think this is a lot of genres, but we have a very large fiction collection and I didn’t think narrowing the genres would do it any justice. In the back of my mind, I thought I could change up the genres if needed down the road too.
2. Order spine labels for these genres or make them yourself if you are super-creative!
3. Begin at the start of your fiction collection-go book by book and begin sorting by genres. Put the spine labels on them. I aimed for one shelf per day due to time constraints. Use the Library of Congress CIP information in the beginning of the book for clues for what genre to pick. If you have problems picking (maybe there are two genres that would work) ask your students to help -where would they look? Weed as you go too! Because – why not?
4. Step 3 is by far the most difficult and time-consuming step. Stick with it! That is step 4.
5. Now begin to pull the genres into their own sections. Use book carts to help since a whole new spacing layout may be required. Books returned to your library in the meantime may not have a spine label, so this is a good indicator of books that need new genre stickers applied! This step was perhaps the most stressful for my OCD tendencies since the books were in an order, but not the best order for locating when needed.
6. After they are in their genres, it is time to fix them in the catalog so that you can find them in their proper genre. We have Workflows-so my library assistant, Regina, was a huge help in changing call numbers in the system. We made them all the same format: Fic + first 3 letters of author’s last name + Genre name (example Fic ROW FANTASY). Again, focus on one or two shelves per day for this step. Some days we tackled more, but our goal was always at least one shelf.
7. This step 6 also takes a lot of time and you will need to pay attention when books are returned that they are edited in your catalog. We went through a few sections manually again in the spring to make sure we didn’t miss any. I am sure we did, but we will catch them as the books get circulated.
8. Make signs for the genres-I had my students help with this! Make the signs fit into your collection – not too large and not too small!
9. Promote your genres! When you are book talking, tell the students and teachers about the new sections! Make sure to spread the word!

Looking back on this process, it was a labor of love for sure! However, I have noticed in the short amount of time we have genre-fied, that students are much more confident in their book selections. One student, in particular, an avid romance reader, said that the romance section has made her life “so much easier.” She now has set a goal to read at least 15 books from that section next school year! We do want our students to be able to use our library independently and find the books they want to read, right? I anticipate our circulation statistics will increase as a result of this, as well as many more satisfied library users as it has for many other school libraries. I know that genre-fying isn’t for everyone and his or her library, however, for ours – it was just what we needed in order to gain some new excitement and breathe some new life into our library collection.