Thursday, March 8, 2012

Genre-fication Complete! Now what do I do with all my spare time?

Last year I started reading about libraries - mostly school libraries - that were arranging their fiction books by genre, rather than strictly by author and title. "That's crazy," I thought. "If I read a book I like, I want to see what other books that author has, and I don't want to have to search all over the place for them."

After some thought, though, I realized that the flaw in that thought was the smallest word: "I". Yes, I like to browse by author, but  I am not my intended audience, am I? I started to look at my patrons - you know, the people who it is my job to help. Have I ever had a patron come in and ask, "Where are your John Bellairs books?" No, I have had patrons ask, "Where are your scary books?" - at which point, I direct them to John Bellairs.

"Genrefication" started to make a little more sense once I opened my mind to the possibility. In grocery stores, do we want things arranged by manufacturer, or by type of product? Could you imagine trying to shop for cheese if it was in six different places? What about the lesser-known manufacturers, would you ever even see that they had cheese? You might be missing out on some really good, cheap cheddar. Walmart is bad enough at making you second-guess where something might be, that would drive some shoppers over the edge!

For kids looking to browse, it's the same way. They don't want to search our computer catalog (and the new system we have is really cumbersome), or ask the scary librarian; they want to head right for one spot that will have several possible choices and be able to grab the books that most strike their fancy.

A couple weeks of informal polling, and watching kids' eyes light up, were all I needed to convince me that this was the right way to go. Next I had to win over staff. Ultimately, it was my decision to make, but that's not the way we work here. They were a bit skeptical at first, as I was, but as we talked they could see the advantages. Especially since I promised they didn't have to do the relabelling! I figured, with a little over 6,000 titles, it would take me a month or two to get that done.

That was in October. My optimistic timeline did not take into account that we have, at present, only three of our full-time, salaried positions filled, and one of those remaining three out on medical leave. Or, that I would be cruising along, labelling books by one of the six genres we chose, and then get stumped by one I hadn't read. usually you can make a good guess as to content fromt he jacket description, but some weren't very clear. I learned to set those aside and read them during my lunch hours.

I promised staff I would keep it to six genres, and chose - based on what my patrons ask for the most - Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Reality, and Science Fiction. Since our label program limits us to eight characters in a line, two of those were shortened to History and Sci-Fi. I won't bore anyone here with how I decided what was fantasy vs sci-fi, etc.. What it boiled down to, was: where would it most likely be read? Would a person perusing Fantasy be more likely to pick up an Arthurt Chapter book, or one cruising Reality? Was it more important to be strict about the genres, putting some Hank the Cowdog in Mystery and others in Fantasy, or to keep the series all together in Mystery?

I decided to change all the spine labels before rearranging, and considering how long that took, I'm glad I did. I generally took a cartful at a time to my desk, leaving a sign saying those books were being reprocessed, and would be available again soon. As I changed each call number in the computer, I stacked the books by genre:

This made typing up the new labels much faster. I also tried to remove old labels as I went. Over the years, a variety of sizes and styles have been used, with a varying degree of attention given to how neatly they were put on. The ladies we have doing processing right now are very neat and efficient, but some of the older books...well.

Don't these look better already? Sometimes uniformity is a good thing!

As I put the new spine labels on, I then sorted by AR level. I know, I know, we hate AR too, but it is a tool many of our patrons like to use, so we do mark it with a sticker.

Of course, changing all those stickers means I went through a few rolls of label tape. The woman who orders office supplies was not always pleased with me. The custodian, either.

Once the books were relabelled, I handed them over to the Children's Clerk to check and reshelve. Different eyes to check for mistakes (and I made a few!), and by the time we finished, he was quite familiar with the collection!

I finally got to Zindel in February, and scheduled a day with no programs to do the rearranging. By this time, I had had four months to decide how I wanted to go about this. I started with Fantasy, and, leaving those books, on the shelves, filled two tables with books from the other five genres - stacked in order, and separated into sections.

That gave me enough room to move the rest of the fantasy books into place, with a little shifting here and there as I went:

Don't they look pretty and neat? I don't think I am going to let any patrons in. They'll just mess them up again.

Obviously, this put my signage just a little bit off, but it's good to freshen that up occasionally anyway. In addition to changing the end tags, I made big signs to go on the top, marking the beginning of each section, and offering a few examples of what went into them:

Done! Whew! Now it's a matter of educating the patrons, and maybe wiggling shelving a little as needed. There are still a few books trickling in that weren't changed, but those are easy to spot since they don't have a genre on the spine - I just have the pages leave those on my chair. If anyone is interested in starting the same process in their library, I would be happy to answer any questions or give some things-I'm-glad-I-did, things-I-wish-I'd-done advice.

Now, what to do with all my spare time? I suppose I could start taking a look at Summer know, that tiny little project that I'm usually finished preparing for by now...


  1. My kids don't think the Librarian is scary :)

  2. After I smacked them with a book earlier and everything? I'll have to try harder. Or smack harder.

  3. Dang girl, you can get stuff done. Looks great!

  4. I am seriously considering this for our library. Thanks for the info!

  5. I have a question about what you put on your on spine labels. Did you put FIC BEL MYSTERY
    or did you abbreviate MYS? Last year, I started changing my spine labels to look like the first example above, but when I got to the Action/Adventure books I started second guessing my decision because that genre was a little long on the label. Could you tell me more about your choices, please?


  6. Good question - and I was just explaining taht o the fourth graders here on a field trip:) We have a limit of 8 characters per line, so I put:




    I had to put "history" instead of "historical fiction", so you might shorten your to just "action", or "act-adv" or some such. Hope this helps:)

    1. Thanks! I am wondering if I actually even need FIC or if the genre could just serve as the locator. I realize that I am probably making this more difficult than it needs to be, but I am a detail person and I like be able to rationalize my decisions. :-)

    2. That's what I did, I put "mystery" in place of the former "F". When you look the books up in the catalog, it still says "juvenile fiction" as the collection location. Here's a link to our catalog:

      On the right, look for "search our catalog".

  7. I just want you to know that it was through our I communication that I finally found a spine label format that makes sense to me! Who knew that such a simple detail could trip me up. I made up several different spine label samples and asked several students and teachers which one they liked and why. Due to their responses, I have decided to go with a format that goes from broad to narrow. FIC -- GENRE -- AUTHOR. I am keeping the FIC mainly because it was on the sample most patrons chose. Their reason was basically because of the familiarity of FIC directing them to that section of the library. At any rate, yeah! A decision has finally been made. Just being able to "think out-loud" and ask questions was a huge help. Thank you so much!

  8. Wonderful! Glad I could help!

  9. Your spare time? Putting labels on the new books when they come in. LOL