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Genrefying Your Collection WITHOUT Changing Call Numbers.

This image perfectly sums up why I am a fan of genrefying library collections and why I have gone through the process in two libraries.

Image source: Thanks Mr. Schu!

And volume matters. Like a lot. Here's what the research tells us about kids, reading and volume:

“Children must have easy – literally fingertip – access to books that provide engaging, successful reading experiences throughout the calendar year if we want them to read in volume.”  (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2003)
"The volume of independent, silent reading that students do in school is significantly related to gains in reading achievement." (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2003)

I first thought about genrefying my school library back in 2009 (I think) when School Library Journal ran an article about a school librarian in Arizona (I think) that had taken the plunge. I remember the letters to the editor in the following month's edition were heated and overwhelmingly critical of the decision. At that time, while I liked the idea of making my collection mirror how people search for books in the real world, I just couldn't get past the idea of touching all 20,000+ books in my library.

A year or so later I had a conversation with a kid at my school that went something like this:

Kid: "Mrs. LaGarde, where are the funny books?"
Me: "Well, the library is organized in a special way...."
Kid: "Yeah. I don't know that secret code."
Me: ... 

Although I cannot remember the student's name, I will remember that conversation until the day I die.  I don't know that secret code.  Y'all. There should not be a secret code. 

It was then that I really started thinking about genrefication in a serious way. In the end, the reasons to genrefy far outweighed the arguments against it:

Reasons why genrefying made sense to me:

  • I wanted to spend less time teaching kids how to locate resources and spend more time talking to them about how to evaluate and use them. 

  • I wanted kids to be able to locate books they might actually read without my help.

  • I wanted kids who love Rick Riordan books (for example) to be able to peruse the shelf where their favorite books were housed and see other books that they might love shelved right next to them, rather than just finding books by authors whose last names begin with the same letter.

  • I wanted the way kids search for books in the room I work in to mirror the way they search for books in the real world. I kept asking myself, if a skill is ONLY necessary in the library, is really necessary at all? The answer was clear. 

  • And most importantly I wanted to increase the volume my students read, because volume matters. Removing the "secret code" of Dewey is one way we can do that. 

Arguments against genrefying (and my responses): 

  • It's a fad.

At this point I think it's safe to say it is not.

  • If I genrefy my library kids won't know how to access books in other libraries. 

Nah. They'll just go back to what they do now: ask someone. I've worked at all sorts of libraries, in schools and out of schools, and if you keep your call numbers the same (more on this later) the same skills are employed, but with easier access. The only thing you're doing is removing some barriers and making it easier. And if they move to another library that is more traditional, they'll ask someone, or... they'll do what they do now: wait until 35 seconds before it's time to go back to class, grab the closest book to them, and check out. Besides, you are not responsible for other libraries. You are responsible for helping the kids in front of you become readers and library users. If you do that, they'll WANT to figure out how other libraries are organized. 

  • If I genrefy, my collection analysis reports will be jacked.

Collection analysis can get tricky if your call numbers don't match the standard reports, which is why I didn't change my call numbers - but again, more on that later. 

  • If I genrefy, I will lose my mind. 

I won't lie. It's a big job. But if you solicit a little help, it doesn't have to be overwhelming. 

  • I don't have time and/or it's a waste of what little time I do have.

We all wish we had more time. And only you can decide what the best use of yours is. But I will say this, we prioritize what we value. And if you value increasing the volume of reading your kids do, and you think genrefying can help with that, you'll figure out a way to do it. 

The thing is, genrefication is a topic that still gets lots of heated discussion online. Whether on Twitter or FB, I see librarians duking it out over the merits of how books are shelved all the time. I recently saw a librarian post on a very popular FB group for librarians that she was "digging in her heals on genrefication." That it didn't matter what other people said about how genrefying changed student reading lives for the better, she "wasn't going there." And that's fair enough, I suppose. I mean, I'd like to think that we're making decisions based on student needs rather than our own, but ... at the same time, I'm not here to tell you that if you don't genrefy your collection you are a bad librarian. As the saying goes, you do you. 

However, recently I've been approached about a half a dozen librarians who are thinking about going through this process and are looking for guidance. Typically, I point folks to people like Tiffany Whitehead or Tamara Cox, who have shared the processes they've used to genrefy collections in incredibly generous ways. Their work in this area is amazing. But my process differs insomuch as I do not change my call numbers. I do this for several reasons:

Unless you're also going to change the spine labels, then changing call numbers in the system can add to confusion for kids.  Plus, there's really no need to change them. Changing the call numbers, as mentioned above, can make collection analysis tricky. Changing call numbers can create anxiety for district level folks who are trying to run reports to advocate for library resources. If students really do change schools mid year, call number uniformity will help insure they can navigate other libraries that aren't genrefied. 

So how do kids know which section a book is in when searching the catalog if the call numbers are the same? Adding Copy Categories and corresponding sublocations create searchable records that easily identify which genre a book is in - and therefore where those books are shelved. 

All of that said, I've been working on a step by step tutorial on how to do this for a district I work with regularly, and have decided to share that work here. Feel free to make a copy of it and edit for your own purposes if you'd like to share it with the folks you work with. I want to emphasize that there's no wrong way to do this. If you've already gone through this process and the way you did it differed from mine, that's cool. This is just the way that worked for me. In the end, what matters most is that we create collections that are about readers and that are organized in the ways that work best for them, not us.

Finally, I want to give a shoutout to librarians Ben Kort and Tara Celustka of Evergreen Public Schools, in Vancouver, WA, without whom I could not have created this document. Their feedback and suggestions were invaluable! 


Hello Jennifer,

I am just beginning my career as a teacher-librarian and am so happy to have found your blog. I have worked in two elementary school libraries and subbed at most of the others in my district at one time or another but have never come across one that was organized by genre! Finding this blog entry was very timely as the TL that I was fortunate to team teach with last year decided that she would like to genrefy her library for the 2019/2020 school year! We dedicated a lot of time to teaching various genres to our grade 3 and 4 students last year. Each week we would pull out books specific to the genre we wer…


Jennifer Martins
Jennifer Martins
Jul 07, 2019

Thank you for this guide and information. I am starting a position in September as a librarian and this process has seemed very mysterious to me. Perhaps I can tackle the job with more confidence now!


Catie Barber
Catie Barber
May 16, 2019

One more pic :)


Catie Barber
Catie Barber
May 16, 2019

We just finished our library! Thanks for the awesome how to! We also used colored masking tape to identify the sections. Thanks for all your help! Catie and Annika at Methow Valley Elementary school in Winthrop.

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