Traditionally, fiction in a library is arranged by the author’s surname from A to Z. However, another approach worth considering is arranging fiction alphabetically within smaller genre sections in your school library.
Arranging fiction by genre can help students find what they want to read for pleasure more easily.
Successfully browsing, previewing and selecting is a critical first step towards reading engagement, and choosing “the right book” to borrow can be a challenging first hurdle to overcome.
As readers, we all have reading preferences. Helping students understand and articulate what they like to read, and why, will develop their sense of self as a reader, give them strategies to find reading material they enjoy, and lead to reading mileage and growth.
Arranging books by genre can provide a scaffold, or short cut, in the selection process. It does not suggest that students limit themselves to reading within a genre, as establishing real reading preferences will come from wide reading experience.
“There was an increase in the borrowing from the library, but the biggest change was in usability for the students - they loved it, and found it so much easier to get at the books they wanted to read.” Miriam Tuohy, Russell Street School
Arranging fiction by genre can encourage peer to peer book recommendations, conversations and reading mileage within a genre. It can also help students:
- find books if they are encouraged / required to read across genres
- identify and articulate their own reading preferences
- independently find “read-alikes”
- find books they want to read more easily and quickly
- students make the transition from junior fiction series into fiction genre, for example Boy vs Beast to Beastquest to Fantasy genre, or Puppy Place to Pet Vet to Animal stories.
It can also help less confident, less experienced readers select books from a smaller, more tailored sub-collection.
For teachers and librarians
- Provides opportunities to discuss genres with students, and demonstrate what different genres are by their obvious physical arrangement
- Gives librarians a new perspective on collection strengths and weaknesses with the physical arrangement of the collection
- Shows librarians areas of high demand and areas to be promoted
- Provides librarians with statistics on collection use by genre
- Refreshes the look of the library, relocates authors that have “always been in the same place” on the shelves
- Could provide a focus for book club discussions and activities
- Libraries that have changed to a genre arrangement report greatly increased borrowing
“In the last two libraries I have been in I have done genre shelving for fiction. It has worked really well. I know we think it will make students lazy and stay in their own genre. But everywhere I have done genre shelving the issues figures have increased. The students find it easier to get the books they want and often read widely in that genre then move towards other genres.” Karen Clarke, St. Patrick's College, Wellington
- It is a big project to undertake – assigning genres, labelling / cataloguing / signage, physically rearranging, leading library users through the changes
- Difficulties in assigning a title to a specific genre
- Potentially books by the same author in different genre sections
- Students reading only within a single genre
- The library’s physical layout may not be conducive to smaller genre collections
- Increased complexity in terms of shelving, may be more challenging for younger student librarians
- Resistance to change from some library users
As much fiction traverses a range of subjects it can feel rather arbitrary and restrictive to “classify” a book into a single genre. But, generally speaking it is possible to categorise books through shared characteristics of themes, content, setting, character, plot, tone or mood.
Another way of defining genres within children’s literature has traditionally been by format and length such as picture books and graphic novels.
The short, easy-reading fiction for younger readers category is often published and promoted by series. They are not included in this discussion, as they are most effective in helping younger students transition from picture books to fiction or supporting less-confident readers when they are in a stand-alone collection, shelved and displayed by their series name. Similarly, picture books and sophisticated picture books are not included, while graphic novels are in their own genre.
Your choice of genre headings will typically reflect your students' reading interests and school level. However, our genres for young adult and young fiction page lists some commonly used genre headings.
You may want to consult with students about genre labels and options for terminology or make it part of student's learning, as outlined on the Mrs ReaderPants blog. This site also explores series, authors and titles within a genre in Genre Section Spotlights.
If you are going to make changes to how your collection is arranged, it would be useful to gather some statistics about current usage of the collection beforehand. This allows you to measure, compare and report on the impact of the changes you make. Your library management system (LMS) will give you data about borrowing information. And you may like to do a quick survey of students about how they choose books at the moment – level of confidence and success, strategies they use, what the issues are for them, and their reading preferences. Before and after photos of the library fiction can form part of the story you share about the process and results.
There are a range of approaches for promoting fiction by genre from simply labelling the books to complete physical reorganisation including:
- genre labels on books within an alphabetical arrangement
- a feature genre on display drawn from the collection, eg changing each term
- some books arranged in genre sections, and retaining an alphabetical sequence for general or crossover titles
- complete rearrangement of the fiction collection into genre categories.
How, when and why you approach making changes will depend on various aspects, such as:
- input and endorsement from students and teaching staff - in secondary schools it will be important to consult with the English faculty staff
- the collection size and strengths
- the amount of time and support available
- the configuration of your library layout.
Changing the fiction arrangement doesn’t need to be done “all at once”. The genre labels and catalogue information could be done as new books come in, or a particular genre could be collected together, labelled and displayed, working through the collection one genre at a time.
“I noticed a group of girls were keen on horse stories, so I decided to feature them as a mini-collection all in one place to make the most of their enthusiasm. I went through the fiction and pulled out all the horse stories – there were more than either I or the students realised – and created a “feature genre” display. Borrowing shot up, and the girls were reading more widely too – classics like Black Beauty and My friend Flicka as well as all the series books like Pony Pals. Next I’m going to choose another genre to focus on – war stories, or historical stories maybe. Kris Robinson, Kerikeri Primary School
While handling your collection in this way, you may also like to do some weeding.
Once you have decided on your approach, considered your users’ needs and reviewed your collection to identify possible genre categories, then you can label the books. Options for labels include:
- purchase specific, standard genre labels from suppliers
- create your own easy to 'read' intuitive and distinctive genre labels using clip art or your own images.
- use colour coding, connecting coloured labels for each genre to relevant coloured shelving signage. In your catalogue record you would need to refer to the colour of the relevant genre section. Labelling genres by colour would be very specific to your library, whereas genre names would be more applicable in other libraries.
You may like to recruit student librarians or a student book club to help with the labelling.
Some schools put the genre label directly above the spine label, others at the top of the book spine. Adding the genre to the spine label means replacing existing spine labels, and can create quite a complicated looking label. For example, if you already have the first three letters of the author's surname and F for Fiction, NZ for New Zealand, adding a further labelling element risks obscuring vital wording on the spine.
For some advice about identifying genre categories, see Librarian Carina.
Updating the library management system
It’s a good time to update the library management system (LMS) information when your fiction is sorted by genre. You can scan the barcodes of your genre piles and do a quick “replace / update” function. Contact your LMS supplier for information for your system.
- Does your system have a genre field? A genre authority file will ensure consistency.
- How does the genre location show up in the search results page?
- Consider options for searching by genre.
- Would it be useful to add the genre as a subject heading or keyword?
Once labelled, you will need to consider the physical arrangement. It may help to take the books from the shelves and group them by genre so you can see the relative sizes of the “mini-collections” and consequent shelving requirements.
Arrange the books on the shelves alphabetically within genre. Label the shelves / bays / sections with appropriate signage with as much face-out display as possible.
For a practical description of the “genre-fication” process visit:
- A good keen librarian blog - a New Zealand primary school
- Eliterate Librarian - Tamara Cox and Mrs ReaderPants: The Library Genre-fication Project - US middle school libraries
Changes in fiction arrangement and / or labelling gives you an opportunity to promote and discuss with library users the characteristics of different genres. It also helps identify personal reading preferences, people who share reading preferences, and effective book selection strategies.
Promote at sessions with students as they visit the library. Also consider displaying library posters, wordles and other displays with genre information and title examples.
There are many resources available online of posters and other promotional material, for example the video Genres of literature by Courtney Jackson.
Here are some examples of fun quizzes to help students identify which genres appeal to them:
- Student quiz to identify genres of interest
- Good Keen Librarian – Michelle Simms has created the quizzes What's your genre and What's your other genre using PlayBuzz. (These are embedded in the website to prevent students from connecting to other quizzes that people have created.)
- Genre infographic – what is your genre
Students may revel in having all their favourite books “in one place”, but the genre arrangement can be used to encourage students to read widely within and across genres.
Michelle Simms, the Librarian at Te Totara School, who outlines her experience of setting up genre shelving in her blog, A Good Keen Librarian, has set her older students a genre challenge:
“I have decided to do a genre challenge where I challenge our older students to:
- write down what genre their favourite book is in
- read a book in that genre by a different author
- read a book from a completely different genre.
If they complete the challenge within a month they get to go into the draw for prizes. Hopefully that will encourage teachers to start a conversation about the different genres.”
Students might be encouraged to keep track of their reading life with a log, which records what they read and from which genre. Teachers could encourage students to try different genre, and possibly even require at least a few titles from each genre over the course of a year. Donalyn Miller, a middle school teacher in Texas, known as the Book Whisperer, invites her students to read forty books across various genres during the school year. Students self-select their own books but must sample a few books in each genre, documenting this in notebooks in a simple graph format.
Her 40 book requirement comprises:
- 5 x Realistic fiction
- 4 x Historical fiction
- 3 x Fantasy
- 2 x Science fiction
- 2 x Biography / Autobiography / Memoir
- 5 x Non-fiction
- 4 x Poetry
- 3 x Traditional literature
- 1 x Graphic novels
- 11 x own choice
Jennifer LaGarde, Library Girl, is working with students to create:
“collaborative projects where students contribute to our collective knowledge of each genre. As I have the opportunity to speak with students (both formally and informally) about genre, I invite them to contribute to the growing collection of Prezis that are being generated related to different types of books. Students can add book trailers, reviews, artwork, fan fiction or you name it.”
Rearranging the library fiction by genre can reinvigorate the collection, be a catalyst for active promotion, and help students make new connections with reading and resources.
Free to use genre posters from Goodyear Elementary School available via Ready Teacher
Image: Used with permission of Good Keen Librarian