Genres generate renewed enthusiasm for school libraries

School libraries increasingly use “genrefication”—the reorganization of collections by genre as opposed to the traditional Dewey Decimal System—to boost circulation and to encourage students to help themselves in finding books.

Genrefication emulates bookstores, allowing users to find titles easily by browsing by general subject rather than using card catalogues and numeric codes.

“Historically, libraries were these kind-of mysterious places with adults in charge who knew all the codes to where everything was, and maybe they’d clue you in” says Fran Glick, coordinator of library media programs and digital resources for Baltimore County Public Schools, where nearly 60 of the district’s 165 school libraries have genrefied


The district started reorganizing in 2014, when one librarian was eager to “un-Dewey” her library. Immediately after implementation, circulation for fiction titles increased 40 percent while nonfiction shot up 400 percent.

“Students are much more excited about finding books on their own” says Glick. “They now say things like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know we had this!'”

Genrefication guide

Baltimore County Public Schools offer a customizable genrefication action plan. Main steps include:

Identify fiction genres/nonfiction subjects

Organize books by genre

Create new spine labels

Promote new genrefied collection

Gather and analyze user data

Establish a plan

Genrefication involves significant physical labor for librarians and those assisting. Every book in a collection is eventually touched; although the process does not cost much beyond new labels, signage and some software, it requires a significant time investment.

“You just can’t say, ‘I want to genrefy!’ and then next week you have it all done” says Steven Yates, president of the American Association of School Librarians. The process should begin with administrators and certified school librarians getting feedback from the school community, says Yates.

Once key subject areas have been identified—such as fantasy, science, world history or sports—catalogues can be updated, spine labels can be created, and books can be re-shelved.

Posting icons and images to identify subjects also makes navigating the library easier for students—particularly those who are still learning English. Librarians can maximize instruction time when they no longer have to help students find books.

Genrefication does not always involve completely eliminating the Dewey Decimal System. Some libraries combine approaches by using genres for fiction and Dewey for nonfiction. Genrefication also allows librarians to remove old or out-of-date material, says Glick.

“You can also be more strategic in using your resources going forward and how you go about collection development” says Glick. “You can see what you need because you’ve put things in a different way.”

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