Basic Steps to Remember in Genrefication

Over the course of the last few years I have seen a repeated conversation crop up on the issue of genrefication in libraries. Everyone, for the most part, seems to be pretty supportive of the idea. I actually wrote a paper for grad school exploring the subject as well; you can see that paper here. Anecdotally, there can be no doubt that the effects of genrefication of a library’s fiction section is positive since the common effects I have seen on circulation numbers for libraries that do genrefy demonstrate the possibility of 7000 item increases within a year of activity (Check out these number here). However, the one thing I feel is missing in the conversation is the best practices for genrefying a library. While still unscientific, here is a list of the five basic steps people have taken towards genrefying their libraries and why these steps are important.

  1. If you are in a school library, then take the summer to genrefy the library.

This should be pretty self-evident, but there are other things to glean from this statement. First of all, the idea of a summer is not a solid figure for length of time, but I have heard from several librarians, through blogs as well as presentations, that anywhere from three to four months is standard for a school library.

This should mean that, when you go to present your proposal to the principal, an average school library should only take a season to genrefy and this is with the help of students.

2. Figure out the subject headings for each genre section.

This might seem like the easy part for a lot of people, but in the end many people have a very difficult time with this. There are a couple reasons for this.

Ontology: Listen, I wish I could make this easier for you, but welcome to the world of cataloging.


photo credit: radientskies


Trying to figure out what your subject headings are can be monumental. You can get into all the arguments of what sorts of fantasy there are and the subtle differences between high fantasy and light fantasy, but let’s be real about this: Do your users care all the time or can they figure it out on their own? Keep it simple. You might just want to use the terms your patrons are using.

School District or Federated Catalogs: You might want to consult with your school district or the main branch. If the head cataloger tells you there is already a list of approved subject headings, then I would suggest keeping with the approved list. One reason for this is the hard work of arguing subject headings has been done for you. It might also be that the list of approved subject headings is going to be used in other cataloging that most front line librarians are not going to have to deal with (Take a look at this from a cataloger’s POV). Remember, you are probably working with a team of library professionals (I’ll skip the para vs professional talk here). Show them a bit of respect for the work they have already done. If you do happen to disagree with a subject heading or want to use another one, then talk to your catalogers and see if you can add one or argue for a replacement.

3. Put those students and parents to work.

The library is more than a reading room; it is a community learning space. Take the people you have and put them to work in creating their library. This can take the form of a learning experience for everyone involved since many students may not know what genres are, much less understand how to differentiate the genres. The same goes for parents, teachers, and principals.

Side note on this: We all know that school principals usually have no idea what a librarian does, but genrefication and shelving projects have been my one way to demonstrate the complexity of what it is we do. I once had a principal and group of volunteers come help me shelve, alphabetize, and shift an entire library over a week. It was during this activity the principal turned to me, with wonder in her eyes, and said, “This really requires three dimensional thinking. I didn’t know it was so complex.” After this, she had a hell of a lot more respect for me and consulted with me more often on a multitude of school activities, both in and out of the library. Gaining administrative support will help you in more ways than you can imagine.

4. Your biggest expense is always going to be labels and tape.

This is not really based on some big study, but after I built a school library as well as spoke with other people, the one thing everyone had to run for at one point or another was tape and labels. You will probably run out at some point. Plan ahead and don’t skimp. You’ll need it, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than having to tell your users it will take another week or two because you have to wait for those very specific labels.


Photo Credit: Semanticseosolutions


5. Keep track of your circulation numbers from before and after.

While many people may see their circulation numbers as merely End of Year report fodder, it is wise for us to remember these statistics can be pulled up at almost any point in the year for things like reports to administration as well as used in grant writing. Keep those number


Photo Credit: Statistics and Maths Tutoring


s handy as well if you want to argue for increased library funds form the school district. If you can demonstrate greater use, your argument for funding goes up as well.

This list is by far not definitive. I’m sure many of you will read over these and have some argument or add in another point of important. But I also hope this post leads to deeper thoughts on what you can do and how to branch out on your programming as a whole. Let us not forget as well, and as I said before, the LIS community needs to take the time to study and research genrefication more. We cannot rely entirely on anecdotal evidence to add efficacy to the genrefication movement.