Shelving fiction by genre? Let’s give it a go…

| Author: Jeannie S | Comments 5

If you need some library inspiration and motivation at the beginning of the new school year, you could not do much better than visit Jennifer LaGarde’s blog Adventures of Library Girl.
Her posts are thought-provoking, current, funny, challenging and encouraging.

SLANZA’s Collected magazine editor, Lisa Salter, had the brainwave of asking Jennifer to write a piece for the Term 4, 2013 issue of Collected and the resulting article got me thinking: Five MORE Conversations [About School Libraries] That I Don’t Want To Have Anymore. (This also appears on Adventures of Library Girl).

The first challenge Jennifer issued was around genre shelving, being categorically in favour of it, and as I read this and considered it, a Northland school came to mind.

Northland College is a Year 9 – 13, decile 1, secondary school in Kaikohe, with a roll of 200+ students, predominantly Māori. The library fiction collection had a static feel about it, scraping along on a very scant budget and not being well used. Something dramatic needed to happen. I suggested to Clare Giesbers, the librarian, that reorganising the fiction by genre, along with thoroughly weeding, greatly increasing face-out display and rearranging the overall library layout and shelving, might be a cost-effective way of giving the library a fresh look and approach. The absolute goal was to engage students with reading for pleasure – exploring, selecting, borrowing and reading books.

Clare was keen and the English department agreed, and so the project got underway in early February. Clare said that if she had any inkling how BIG a project it was, she may have had second thoughts. But, after reviewing the collection and designing a new layout, it was a question of “rolling up sleeves” and relocating every book, shelf and piece of furniture in the library over the course of two or three days to create a whole new look.

Shelving and collection organisation

The library has excellent Hydestor shelving, which could be reconfigured – breaking two long peninsulas down into three x two bay double-sided peninsulas coming off one wall of the Nelson block library. This created a series of four “alcoves”, allowing various sections to be clearly defined rather than having adjacent bays in a long unbroken sweep. Some flat UTB (upturned back) shelves could be transformed into sloping shelving with quadrant brackets.

The fiction is now organised in the following sections :

  • Relationships & Romance, Friendships & Family (three bays)

  • Science fiction / Fantasy / Dystopian fiction (three bays)

  • Thriller / Adventure / Crime / Mystery  (three bays)

  • War / Survival / Refugees (two bays)

  • Fiction A – Z: general fiction not easily defined by genre (six bays)

  • New Zealand authors (four bays)

  • Short Stories (two bays)

  • Quick reads (three bays)

  • Sophisticated picture books (two bays)

  • Graphic novels (two bays)

  • Magazines (two bays plus additional bays in non-fiction and a free-standing display unit)

Other possible fiction categories were considered, eg Historical, Sports, Humour, but the ones chosen followed the existing collection strengths.

Find out more about YA Fiction genre.

The collection was weeded, ruthlessly – most to discard, some to a “stack” in a storage room off the foyer, and the shelving changed completely – removing the canopies, lowering the shelves, and tripling the amount of face-out display with sloping shelves. Overall the number of shelving bays of fiction increased and the number of non-fiction bays decreased.

Labelling and signage

It was interesting to see the marketing become apparent with the grouping of face-out covers, seeing all the Louise Rennison, Cathy Cassidy and Princess Diaries in pink, the Charlie Higson, Robert Muchamore and Anthony Horowitz in red and black. Colours are being used for the labelling with coloured dots on book spines and front covers to co-ordinate with the genre signage above each section. The catalogue will be updated with genre / location information. The A – Z fiction and New Zealand authors are in alphabetical order, but the jury is out on alphabetical order within genre sections, as students will probably be mainly selecting books from the face-out display. Within a small section, ie only two or three bays, it isn’t hard to browse along the spine out shelves to look for a particular book if necessary.

Creating genre sections is far from an exact science – perhaps this is why librarians are put off the idea of sorting by genre – there is just so much cross-over, but some distinct “mini-collections” have been created, and the fiction A – Z can be a catch-all for hard-to-categorise titles. 

Promotion and professional development

The priority now at the start of term is professional development for all teachers at a staff meeting in the library. This will help staff get to grips with the nuts and bolts of the new layout and allow discussion around the rationale for the change and the opportunity it provides to feature reading for pleasure with their students. The library will be promoted at assembly to all students, encouraging them to visit independently as well as during class visits. Student librarians will be given training, and the English department in particular will be talking to students about genre, reading choices available, reading preferences and if they are shared with others, and how students could have input by recommending where titles are most appropriately shelved.

Impact on student reading mileage

It’s a paradox that sometimes it is easier to find something that suits when the choice is reduced. If a student goes to the Thriller / Adventure / Crime / Mystery section, there are now three bays to browse (each bay with two flat shelves of spine out and three or four sloping shelves with face out display), instead of searching through the broad reach of 14 or more alphabetical bays as before.  For reluctant or less confident readers, this might be just the invitation and support they need. Clare will be looking at the issue figures, and doing some surveys to ask students and staff what they think – it will be interesting to hear about their reaction as they come into the library over the next few weeks. 

For a primary school perspective, see this great post with some useful links to explore  by Michelle Simms, similarly inspired by Jennifer LaGarde, on her genre-fication of the fiction at Te Totara Primary School. 

If you are planning a major change like this, don’t forget to gather some evidence – photos, statistics, surveys etc so that you can assess and report on the impact.

Read more about arranging fiction by genre.

Who else out there in a school library has arranged their fiction by genre? Any there results or recommendations you’d like to share?

Image: Used with permission from Northland College