“Where are the scary books?”…

… Joan asks as she rushes into the library between the lunch break and the beginning of the English class to check out a book for silent reading – she has about 90 seconds to pick a book. James is surrounded by classmates from his English class who are all in the library to check out books and is at least as much interested in socialising and goofing around than in picking a book.

These typical scenarios that sketch the behaviour of many students when they visit the library to choose a book to read. How can we best arrange our collection to meet Joan and James’s needs?

image by klimkin downloaded from pixabayAccording to Bendici (2018), gentrification is the reorganizing of library collections according to genre to simplify it for students to find books and to boost circulation. Instead of following traditional library practice of shelving the fiction collection according alphabetically according to the surname of the author, the collection is sub-divided into smaller sections, according to popular genres.

A study of literature on the subject of genrefication of fiction collections shows a lack of in-depth research and a number of remarkably similar anecdotal accounts about successful genrefication projects written by satisfied librarians with hands-on experience:

Are Dewey’s Days Numbered?

Genres generate renewed enthusiasm for school libraries

How genrefication makes school libraries more like bookstores

“Genrefying” a high school library: A detailed planning document

Genrefy your library: Improve readers’ advisory and data-driven decision making

All of these authors recounted patron’s behaviour similar to that sketched in my introductory paragraph, as the reasons to take this project on. They also refer to the tendency of students to “browse” similar to one would in a bookshop or to ask a librarian to locate a book, rather than use the OPAC. In our increasingly visual culture we need to plan our libraries according to patron usage, not according to systems optimised for librarians administrative loads. We need to organise our libraries in ways that help students to get over the search hurdle (Cornwall, 2018).

Kimmelman (2018) points out that small quality collections that are uncluttered make it easier for users to find what they are looking for. He applies Harris’s theory about choice overload, namely that we need strategies for presenting meaningful choices to our patrons. Genrefication reduces the number of options and positively affects patron self-sufficiency and independence.

What then needs to be done?

  1. Weed the collection if needed (don’t spend time re-classifying books that are outdated)
  2. Determine basic groupings or genres.
    Since neither Dewey nor BISAC are helpful here, librarians may use first-hand
    knowledge about their collection and circulation, or Goodread’s classifications for
    (also see what Sweeney used).Make signs and use symbols and icons where possible.
  3. Add colour-coded and/or textual labels indicating the genre
  4. Update the catalogue with new classification or sublocation, as appropriate (Cornwall, 2018).


What does it take?

  • Time. Time and effort. And planning.

What are the benefits to students?

  • Easily identifiable smaller collections of books of the same “type”.
  • Standing near your favourite book, chances are you are near other books you may like. Or with others who enjoy the same types of books as you.

What are the benefits to librarians?

  • Easier to spot gaps in the collection
  • Easier to recommend books
  • Easier to know the collection
  • Data about circulation, borrowing habits and strengths and weaknesses in the collection enhances decision-making (Sweeney, 2013)
  • Genres support “passive” readers advisory service

What are the problems associated with genrefication?

  • Finding the time and manpower
  • What to do with authors who write in more than one genre
  • What to do with books that fit more than one genre
  • Should non-fiction books be genrefied?
  • What to do with ebooks?

… not too many problems, actually


A personal observation: We jumped in and genrefied the bulk of the collection in just more than a week. It was crazy, but doable. I do think that for students it is easier to find books, I know that as librarian I find it easier to direct them and to make suggestions. Our catalogue (for unrelated reasons) does not yet provide good data, but potentially the genrefication should enable us to make data-driven collection development decisions.

How about genrefying the non-fiction collection? My fingers are itching, but I need to weed and plan really well first.


Bendici, R. (2018, May 24). Genres generate renewed enthusiasm for school libraries. Retrieved December 26, 2018, from District Administration website: https://www.districtadministration.com/article/genres-generate-renewed-enthusiasm-school-libraries

Cornwall, G. (2018, July 22). How genrefication makes school libraries more like bookstores. Retrieved December 26, 2018, from KQED website: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/51336/how-genrefication-makes-school-libraries-more-like-bookstores

Harris, C. (2013). Less is more. School Library Journal, 59(6). Retrieved from https://primo.csu.edu.au/discovery/fulldisplay?docid=proquest1355957640&context=PC&vid=61CSU_INST:61CSU&search_scope=MyInst_and_CI&tab=Everything&lang=en

Kaplan, T. B., Dolloff, A. K., Giffard, S., & Still-Schiff, J. (2012). Are Dewey’s days numbered? School Library Journal, 58(10), 24. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/1151777485?accountid=10344

Kimmelman, A. (2018). The wise whys of weeding. Teacher Librarian, 46(1), 20. Retrieved from https://primo.csu.edu.au/discovery/fulldisplay?docid=gale_ofa562488215&context=PC&vid=61CSU_INST:61CSU&search_scope=MyInst_and_CI&tab=Everything&lang=en

Minton, C. (2014, May 4). “Genrefying” a high school library: A detailed planning document [Blog post]. Retrieved from Beyond the Shelves website: https://christyminton.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/genrefying-a-high-school-library-a-detailed-planning-document/

Sweeney, S. (2013, Summer). Genrefy your library: Improve readers’ advisory and data-driven decision making. YALS, 11(4), 41-45. Retrieved from https://primo.csu.edu.au/discovery/fulldisplay?docid=gale_ofa337071006&context=PC&vid=61CSU_INST:61CSU&search_scope=MyInst_and_CI&tab=Everything&lang=en



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