Genre Shelving Plan

RF_Genre_Shelving_PlanDo you ever have those moments where you think one thing in one moment and in the next your mind is totally blown because of just a new phrase or thought?

I had considered genre shelving, but rejected it as not being as relevant in elementary school.

I think I was wrong.

In one hallway encounter at a conference I thought about it in an entirely new way.

Because of this 2-minute conversation I’m now preparing to begin a genre-shelving trial in my library and with two other librarians from other districts. I say trial because we are doing it for 3 months and then I’ll revert my fiction section back to its original state.

I’ve gotten a few strange looks when I share this because it’s a lot of work to go through to put it back in three months. But, I have a feeling the data will be spectacular and will really show one way or the other that impact genre shelving can have at the elementary level.

I’m not talking about Ditching Dewey. I believe it’s a poorly chosen term for school librarians that are considering alternate shelving patterns. For one, most libraries start genre shelving with their fiction collection. There’s nothing related to Dewey-ditching there. We already pull the fiction section out from the DDS; sub-dividing even further isn’t really a great change. Many librarians already try to shelve similar topics together in nonfiction such as choosing for trains go in the 300s or 620s. These two numbers seem to be the largest culprits of call number changes. Community advancements and man’s use of technology overlap in so many ways. Some libraries have completely tried an alternate shelving arrangement and that’s fine.  I think the term Ditching Dewey is intimidating to some librarians who are considering genre shelving.

I’m doing a trial for several reasons. At this point, I’m not allowed to permanently rearrange my collection. In a large district the ramifications can be significant. Students are accessing our catalogs at different levels and seeing a range of call numbers. How should our call numbers be structured? Will students struggle transferring between schools at the same level or moving up levels if genre shelving is done differently in each? Would it make a difference if I put my Scary book section first on the shelf, followed by Sports fiction, followed by Humorous fiction and another school used a different order?

Questions like these may seem insignificant, but they are worth asking especially when our catalog will reflect all of these changes. Doing a trial as action research is a great compromise because it will provide data our district can use to go forward. I intend to provide evidence through student surveys, circulation data, and staff feedback.

Here’s how the trial will work. Some of the parts I’m confident with and others I’m crossing my fingers!

I’m going through the collection one shelf at a time and color coding the books. This is time consuming. It took me 15 minutes to do each shelf I worked on this week. Some shelves will go faster as series books will likely go to the the same genre. Our library assistant can very capably help with these areas. But for two of the shelves I worked on this week there were a lot of individual decisions to make.

After the color coding is finished or significantly in progress I’m going to take the books off the first bank of shelves in my fiction section. Then I’ll go through the rest of the collection in alphabetical order and place the Historical Fiction books on the shelves that I just emptied.

I have no desire to take all of my books off the shelf and sort them into piles. As I get to each new bank of shelves, I’ll take off what is left on it and transfer the books for the next genre. As I get to the end of my current fiction section and the last of the genres I should have all of the books placed back on the shelves. I’m crossing my fingers that the books off the shelf at any one time are manageable.

Each book is getting color coded. I want to be able to reshelve the books quickly. I don’t want this to impact our day-to-day operations in a negative way once the trial has started. I expect there to be work on both ends, but want to limit the maintenance during the trial.  Each book is getting a colored bookmark cut from cardstock or construction paper. I’m going to ask (and beg) the students to leave the bookmarks with the books. I know that books will be returned without them so we’re going to double color code. Each book will receive a matching post-it  tucked into the back cover. We can quickly add a new bookmark at check-in if needed with this back up plan. I hope.

I have heard stories of debates. Which section should this go in? Or that?

For me, it’s a three-month trial. Will it matter in the long run? Not really. I’ll make a quick choice and move on. If I think I made a mistake, I’ll change it later. I’m not stickering the books so it will be fine.

When the books are in their new location then I’ll scan each section into a text file. I’ll upload the file to my catalog and change the prefix on the call number. This will also double as inventory for the fiction section this year–a bonus!

I firmly believe the catalog should match the shelf and match the book so that patrons can find the books they need and the staff can shelve the books easily. I’m going to change all the call number prefixes and then switch them back at the end. This will probably be the quickest step of the whole process! I’m going to use an entire word as the prefix. I’m not printing spine labels and there are no significant character lengths in the record. I’m going to use Sports_Fiction, Humorous_Fiction, etc.

This is just the first step. I’ll keep you posted as my project continues!

December 25, 2013
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  • Reply Michael Jongen


    I would be interested toknow about that two minute hallway encounter that prompted your decision

    January 11, 2015 at 5:29 pm
    • Reply Carolyn


      It was this quick conversation that I can’t even remember the specifics of, but it all comes down to the fact that we want our students to read, read, read! Genre shelving helps students find what they need. All students should be able to locate resources in a library and have the skills to do that, but these skills should not take so much time to teach and be so burdensome to students that they can’t find a book they like. All of a sudden that just hit home to me and I decided to go for it!


      January 14, 2015 at 12:29 pm
  • Reply Beth

    I am about to embark on the same adventure. I am researching how others have started this quest. I like doing one shelf at a time. I am thinking about adding genre to the end of the the call number, ei: F DIC Fantasy. Do you think will work for the catalog?

    January 11, 2015 at 8:15 pm
    • Reply Carolyn


      It would be really challenging to update all of the records if you did it like that because you can’t batch update them. The reason I did something like Realistic_Fiction is because in Destiny you can batch update prefixes. As soon as you put a space in then you’ve set yourself up to update each record by hand. I scanned in all of my “Realistic” fiction books into a text file and then I was able to update all of the call numbers at once. When I left the library, I had to put it back the traditional way. It took me less than 90 seconds to make the transition in the catalog (and a day of moving the books!!!). Feel free to email me if you have more questions.


      January 14, 2015 at 12:26 pm
  • Reply Charlotte

    I started last year, with just three genre sections. I pulled mystery, scary, and sports/action. The kids loved it and I saw a definite increase in checkouts of non-series books in those genres. They noticed single books that they were overlooking on the shelves when they grabbed series titles or those from favorite authors. My students have limited checkout time, so speed is of the essence when they are browsing. This year, I added letter labels to all of the easy fiction, to help with reshelving (one big colored letter label at the top of the spine in addition to the existing normal spine labels).
    I have two work days this week – I am spending a whole day doing my next sets of fiction genres. I am adding fantasy, award winners, and historical fiction. I am setting up in pretty much the way you mentioned. Going down the shelves and labeling first, then moving books to the new sections and shifting everything else.


    January 29, 2015 at 10:50 am
    • Reply Carolyn


      It sounds like you have a great plan to do it in shifts with the different genres at different times. You must have a great layout to be able to utilize your space in such a way!I think you’re right about our students overlooking great stand alone novels. They are addicted to series (and rightly so–I know *I* am!), and often overlook some gems they might love.


      February 20, 2015 at 6:48 pm
  • Reply Shelly Line

    I am about to switch our tiny charter school library to the genre system while also automating it for the first time. But, I am not a librarian, I am a parent volunteer. I guess I have the advantage that our entire collection is in a handwritten accession book, and that it is fairly small – about 5000-6000 books, or maybe that is a disadvantage, not sure. As it is, we have no way of searching or really keeping track or knowing what we have. I am both encouraged and discouraged when I read articles like yours. I feel like I can do this, then I read things, mostly jargon type things, that I do not understand and I feel like maybe I’m getting in over my head. I’m glad I found your blog though. I need to work through my plan and just do it.

    February 6, 2015 at 11:33 am
    • Reply Carolyn


      A friend and I discussed a small collection with no automation in an alternative school. We decided that the keys to genre shelving were good labels on books. If you’re looking to save money, I would suggest printing address labels with your own symbols on them. You can put a graphic almost on the right or left side that represents the genre and will go on the spine of the book. Then in the rest of the space you could write “Mystery,” etc. When you put the labels on, they show the coded visual for the spines, but then the written description on the front or back cover. It would make it easy for any other volunteers to shelve or help students find books.

      I think genre shelving would make a lot of sense for a collection like yours. When students can’t search an automated catalog to find what they want, they might be missing some of their favorite books. You’d be organizing it in a wonderful way for student access.

      Good luck!

      February 20, 2015 at 6:46 pm
      • Reply Lynne

        Hi there,

        We switched the fiction section in our middle school library to a genre system 2 years ago. It has been a great success. Students know to look for the colour tab to find each genre. The shy ones are quite happy to be able to browse on their own without needing help. One of the best things that has happened is that older books are gaining in popularity again. This happens because students look for “Sci Fi” or “Mystery” and discover new authors right next to their favourite books.

        October 11, 2015 at 10:33 pm

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