Genrefication: How to Organize Your Fiction Collection by Genre

Genrefication: How to Organize Your Fiction Collection by Genre - In this post, I share what I learned from genrefying the fiction section of my library and offer tips and advice for your own genrefication project.

How I Organized My Fiction Collection by Genre

At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, I genrefied my school’s fiction collection.  This section of the collection is relatively small at the moment (about 2,000 books).  I intend to grow it a lot, so it made sense to me to get started in my first year at this school.  This post explains the process I used. Obviously, every school is different and every individual is different, so you’ll need to find what works for you. I relied heavily on Tiffany Whitehead’s resources and I also used resources from Follett and Jennifer LaGarde.

Step One: Weed!

Before you start labelling or moving anything, do a thorough weed of your collection.  Get rid of materials that haven’t circulated in years. Anything that’s out of date or has a horrible cover that you know will keep it from leaving the shelf (I’m looking at you mid-90s titles).  Books were the spine is so worn you don’t want to use up a label on it. Use your own guidelines, but don’t afraid to be bold. My guiding theme (besides my statistics) was deciding whether or not I felt like it was worth it to put a label on this book and put it back on the shelf.

Choose your labels

This one can be a hot debate in the library world.  I like these ultra-aggressive translucent colored labels. I find them more aesthetically pleasing, and with good signage, it can be easy to find the genre you’re looking for.  Plus, the ultra-aggressive kind don’t fall off as easily.  Others swear by picture labels (which Demco has a fantastic selection of – I use their graphic novel ones). Some use one for fiction and one for non-fiction.

Take some time to think about your selection – maybe even get a few samples and show them to students to get their opinion.  While you could change your mind and relabel everything later, it’s a lot easier to get it right the first time.  If you are using colors, you can choose which color goes to what genre now or later – until you start actually putting labels on books you can change your mind.  Make sure that there’s enough contrast between your labels so students don’t get them confused (i.e. using yellow and neon yellow might make it hard to tell them apart).

Genre help report from Follett

Excerpt from Genre Help Report from Follett

Get genre report (or DIY one)

We use Follett Destiny at my school.  It’s super easy for me to send my updated collection information to Titlewave to get an overview of my collection.  If you contact Follett via their genrefication services, they will send you a spreadsheet of your ENTIRE collection with information like BISACS Subject Headings, other suggested subjects, and the approximate width of the title (which will be really handy later).  My first step was to go over this spreadsheet myself and handle everything I could label without physically looking at the book. Harry Potter? Fantasy. The Hate You Give? Realistic Fiction. If you aren’t sure about a book, or if there’s multiple subject headings that could be used, skip it for now and move on.

After the first run through, sort your spreadsheet, add the colors of the labels you plan to use (i.e. make all the fantasy cells yellow).  Re-sort it in shelf order and take it with you to your stacks. Go through the books you couldn’t decide on. Sometimes just reading the back let’s you know immediately.  Some are trickier (speculative fiction gets me every time). If you’re still stuck, hand the book to a student and ask them where they would put it. Or try to think about which of your readers the book would most appeal to.  You’ll get there. Once you’ve got everything categorized, finish adding those colors to the cells – it’ll make the next step easier.

P.S. I converted my spreadsheet into Google Sheets so that it would be more portable.

P.P.S. You could also use whatever Library Management System you have to generate a spreadsheet shelf list and track your assigned genres there, you just won’t have the subject headings built in.

Labeling each book with genre

Labeling in progress

Label the books, one shelf at a time

Don’t worry, we’re not moving everything yet!  Get together all labels.  I liked putting mine on a book cart to make it easier to handle. Get your spreadsheet and make sure that it’s sorted into shelf order. Pick up the first book, look at your spreadsheet to see what color label it gets, add the label, put the book back on the shelf.  Repeat this for each book on the shelf. Finish a shelf and feel relief at your progress. The beauty of this method is that you don’t have to label all the books at once. This could easily be done on slow days in your library, or just a shelf at a time before or after school.  

You can have student or parent volunteers handle this step if you want.  I liked doing it myself because it meant that my hands touched every book in our fiction collection.  Some books I ended up weeding instead of labeling because the condition was bad or it didn’t seem like something that would circulate. Some books I decided to label a different genre than originally planned because I realized it would appeal more to a different type of reader.  Use your judgement.

NOTE: If you have a district that won’t allow you to make changes to the catalog or rearrange the books, you can stop at this point.  Add signage that explains which color is which genre.  While it’s not the same as complete genrefication, it will make it easier for your students to find the books they’re looking for.

Calculate shelf space needed

If you have the spreadsheet from Follett, one column gives you the estimates shelf space needed for each book.  It isn’t always perfect, but it gives you an idea. Once you’ve sorted your spreadsheet by genre, you can highlight all the shelf space cells for a particular genre and see how much space they will need (i.e.  Mystery books need 6.5 ft of shelf space).

If you didn’t use the Follett sheet, organized the spreadsheet and get a total of how many books are in each genre, then multiply that by 1.25”.  It won’t be perfect, but you’ll have an estimate.

Measure the shelves you plan to keep your fiction section on.  I find it helps to draw out a rough layout. Now, with those numbers of how much shelf space each genre needs handy, you can figure out where to put them.  I like to keep the most popular genres closest to the entrance, and genres with similar fans (i.e. science fiction and fantasy) close to one another. It’ll take some tweaking, but eventually you’ll figure it out.  And remember, this part is not too hard to change later.

Books pulled by genre

Pulling books for re-cataloging, one genre at a time.

Move it and Catalog it

By this point, all (or almost all) of your fiction should be labeled as to what genre it is.  Congratulations! Your shelves are probably a lovely rainbow of different labels. Now it’s time to get ready to gather your genres together, update them in your catalog and reshelve them in their new homes.  This process involves re-arranging your entire collection, so it’s better to handle this part during a time frame when students won’t be using the library, such as during a break. It’s also a great opportunity to take advantage of volunteers (parent, teacher or student), as it’s not too hard to tell someone to pull all the red books off the shelves and actually end up with all of the red books.

Here’s the step by step process:

  • Pull one genre at a time – grab a bookcart and grab all the books with red labels (orange, yellow, etc).  It’s preferable keep them alphabetical by author, but you can always re-sort them later.
  • Change category and sublocation of items – This is specific to Follett Destiny, but other LMS probably have similar settings.  I use Destiny to update each category and sublocation by scanning the individual book. I then put it on it’s side on the cart to remind me it’s done. This step also shows the new genre sublocation in the catalog when students search for books.
  • Put them back in new location – You might have to shift things around or use multiple bookcarts, but as you start finishing up genres, move them to their new locations on the shelves.
  • Rinse and Repeat – You’ve got this!
Signage for graphic novels section

Genre signage in the graphic novels section

Add signage

Finding where the genres are located on their own isn’t necessarily intuitive, especially if you opted for colored labels.  That’s why signage is crucial. I created signs for each genre area using Canva and put them on the shelves in 8.5 x 11 plastic sign holders.  I found free stock photos (in Canva) that were related to the genre, overlaid the color of the label, and then added the text of the genre name.  Of course, do this however works best for you. You could design signs yourself, have someone else design them, or have students in art classes create their own signage.  A lot of vendors sell pre-made genre signage (these ones are fun and have co-ordinating stickers).  The main point is to have something in place that helps students to independently find the section they’re looking for.

Adjust as needed

Nothing is perfect.  One semester into having everything genrefied, you may realize you want to change something.  Maybe your students have such a strong interest in dystopian and speculative fiction that you want them to have their own section.  Maybe you find that two of your sections are similar enough that you can combine them. You might need to visit language arts classes to show them the new way to search the catalog.  Your students might recommend rearranging the sections. Genrefication isn’t a one and done sort of thing – it’s fluid and evolving. But that’s a good thing.  That means it will grow with you and your students as you continue to find better ways to engage them as readers.

Have you genrefied your library?  What did you learn from the process?


Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory School, an independent 6-12 in Tampa, FL. Previously, she was the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog RenovatedLearning.com. She was a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest from 2015-2018. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Secondary Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace with Colleen and Aaron Graves and is also the author Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.