(Side note: This approach has pros & cons. Pros: I could do it during the school year. I didn’t want to wait until the summer to do it all in one shot. I also weeded as I was genrefying and learned my collection at the same time. Cons: A lot of my other stuff took a back seat. I didn’t collaborate as much, I sat mainly at my desk during those three months, and I was really tired after every single day. As another approach, you could do it all in one summer, if you know your collection, and move books first, then catalog them. You could also try one genre at a time to see if your students/staff like the process. I went with the move-it-all-in-one-shot approach.)
Truth 1: Genrefying takes planning & work.
As soon as my co-librarian was on board, I started planning (December 2014). There were lots of details to figure out, and every single one of these questions took careful thought and deliberation.
1) How will I physically mark the books? Some of my books already had some kind of faded/outdated genre sticker on them (although some weren’t great, like “Black Fiction” or “Family”) so I went with using genre stickers purchased through Demco to cover them with our new genres. Ideally, I would have used the colored (but translucent) labels Demco has, but initial attempts to fully remove stickers proved futile.
2) What genres will I need? I chose 8 genres when I first started stickering: Fantasy, Realistic Fiction, Adventure, Mystery, Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror, and Humor. However, after going through our collection, I added Fairy Tale (for adaptation novels – our students LOVE these so I put them in their own section), Supernatural (different from Fantasy – these books had Supernatural as a subject heading in their CIPs), Classics (I discovered SO many when I was weeding – and most had been checked out fairly recently. I learned my kids liked reading Classics, so it got its own genre), Sports Fiction, and Romance. I’m not sure if every school needs these 5 extra genres, but they are all extremely popular with my students, so I’m glad I created these as I went along. Speaking of creating, I also took this planning time to research signage. I found a bunch online, but nothing I was really in love with. So I created my own (they’re here!).
3) How will I arrange the genres on our current shelves? This is a fundamental belief of mine: One of the primary reasons why I wanted to genrefy was to make it easier for students to access our collection and self discovery: for them to find new books they would love. Because a lot of people stated in my graduate research they were concerned students would only read one genre, it was a priority to me that like-genres should be near each other for impromptu student discovery. Since our fiction section was already organized into three \_/ U sections, I decided to put like-genres near each other. One section became “Other Worlds” and included Fairy Tale, Fantasy, SciFi, and Supernatural. Another section became “kind of reality” with Horror, Adventure, Mystery, Classics, and Humor. The last section was “Reality” – or things that could possibly happen. This was for Realistic Fiction, Romance, Sports Fiction, and Historical Fiction. Since our 3 sections of shelves aren’t all the same size, I ran some reports towards the end of the process that told me how many books were assigned to each genre so I could plan where each section would go.
4) How can I undertake this massive project and still maintain all my other librarian duties? This was probably the hardest part of the entire process. To be completely honest, I had to deliberately build in time to do it, just like I build in time to teach, or repair books, or go to department meetings. To me, genrefying was as much of a priority for me, my students, and my library as teaching, ordering, and running everything else. So I made the time. I didn’t say no to teaching opportunities, but I also didn’t actively seek out new collaboration opportunities either. There were far fewer department meetings I attended during this time and I was exhausted every single day when I came home from work. But it was the same level of exhausted as teaching all day. I made it a priority because it mattered to me, and I knew it would benefit our students. So to me, the exhaustion was worth it.
More of the Timeline, and Additional Details
In January/February 2015, I pitched the idea to my administration (with the same talking points as I gave my co-librarian) and they were on board as well. I used money from our book fair profits to purchase genre stickers and labels to start the project. I was super busy with teaching during these months, but thankfully (sort of) the Spring Writing tests were coming up in March. I set my sights to begin then, while I was holed away in my storage room (my office doesn’t have a door or windows, so I set up shop in the storage room so I could still work during testing).
Genrefying my middle school’s fiction collection took over three months of almost continuous genrefying, from the beginning of March until the 2nd week in June. One of my first decisions in the whole process was that I wanted to add all the genre stickers to books before I moved anything, so my entire collection was always available to my students throughout the entire time I was genrefying. This meant I added stickers & changed the catalog location for books alphabetically by author as they were organized on the shelf. Each morning (or if I was on top of my game, in the afternoon before I left for the day), I filled a cart of 100-150 titles on the next shelf that needed to be genrefied. In my computer, I scanned the book to bring up its catalog information and used mainly the subject headings & summaries to determine genres. Once its sticker was affixed, I changed the shelf location in the catalog, and put the book back on the cart. (Some books took all of 30 seconds, others took 5 minutes). Then it was onto the next one. It took me most of a day to genrefy each cart. Once the cart was finished, I put them back on the shelves and picked up the next 100 or so. (Yes, I changed each book individually, but I wanted to physically touch every book because I was learning my collection and weeding at the same time.) When a book could go in multiple places, my guiding question was, a kid browsing which section would most likely give this book a shot? It really helped to solve a lot of problems fast!
On top of genrefying by cart, I also tried to catch the books being returned each day. This was so they wouldn’t return to the shelves without a sticker & being updated in the system. Periodically, I went through the stacks I had already genrefied to see if there were any books that fell through the system.
To my knowledge, my students didn’t really notice the frequency of genre stickers. There was just an occasional sign that said “If you want the books that are normally on this shelf, see a librarian.” I didn’t tell them for a while, until almost the end of the year, when students were looking for historical fiction books for a project, and I told them to scan for the historical fiction sticker. Then there were a few “were these stickers always here?” questions. But that’s all I told them.
The Big Move!
The middle of June rolled around, and I had finished putting the stickers on books & changing them in the catalog. I combed the shelves for books I missed when they were returned. At this point, every book had a genre sticker, but they were still sitting on the shelves organized by author’s last name.
I knew there was no way I could move everything myself so I scheduled a day on the second to last week of school for “the big move” to happen. I have pictures of this somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t find them. I made sure my signage was done and ready to go (see my signage here) so I could put them on display where I wanted each genre to start. I enlisted the help of 4 parent volunteers, along with my co-librarian. It took us 4 hours, 6 carts, all of our tables, and a lot of sweat to move around. At first, we decided we would each focus on pulling different genres (having 1 cart per genre), but we quickly realized a lot of shifting needed to happen, so instead some of us focused on pulling the same one genre while others became the “shifting crew” – those putting the books on their new shelves and adjusting shelves where we already removed books. At the end, we felt so accomplished when everything was done!
I kept everything under wraps from the staff and the students during the entire process. Stay tuned for the next post to see how everyone reacted!