Looking Back @ Terminology for Fiction Stories

Looking Back @ Terminology for Fiction Stories - Students need consistency in the library. Your online book catalog uses the term 'Subject' search, we use the word 'Subject' to explain the Dewey Decimal System, students refer to their class 'Subjects.' It's our job as school librarians to make our libraries kid-friendly, so using the term "Subjects" to describe the organization of my Fiction area has made a huge difference for my middle school students as they search for and locate books to read.“Is there a common standard or system to organize Fiction books in the school library?”

A School Librarian interested in reorganizing her library’s fiction section asked this question in a listserv post. Actually, we do have a standardized vocabulary for Fiction. As I learned in my cataloging class (yes, take it, even if it’s not required; you’ll never regret it!) part of the MARC record for a book is the Subject Heading. Whether a library uses LOC Subject Headings or SEARS Subject Headings, all library books have at least one Subject in the MARC record and it comes from one of those standard vocabularies. Many books have multiple Subjects from one of those sources.

You can see what Subjects are used for a Fiction book’s MARC record by viewing the book’s copyright page: look for the CIP data from the Library of Congress. Among the listed Subjects are the most common terms to use for grouping fiction books: such terms as adventure, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and horror. Library vendors, like Demco or Library Store, sell Subject Classification stickers to put on fiction books, and they use the same terms as the MARC Subject Headings. Even if a librarian does not separate the fiction collection into groups, many will still buy and use these stickers to help students choose a book that appeals to them.

When speaking to students—and to avoid confusing them—I do not use the term genre to talk about my Fiction groupings:

  1. Since the MARC record uses the term Subject, your Online Book Catalog uses the term Subject Search, so using the words “Fiction Subjects” to identify your Fiction groupings will clearly indicate to students what words they should use when they search for a particular kind of story.
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  2. Students use the term Subject for their courses in school, so most School Librarians use the word Subject (rather than the proper DDC term Class) when explaining Science, Literature, History, etc. in the Dewey Decimal System. Similarly, if we use the word Subject for Fiction, students understand that they are grouped just like Dewey booksespecially if you start the association with ‘Science Fiction’! Students need this kind of consistency in the library.
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  3. The Common Core Standards for English/Language Arts uses the term genre for different types of literature—poetry, drama, narrative, expository—NOT the subject/topic of a fiction story. I tried, as some folks do, using the term subgenres, but it wasn’t any easier for kids to differentiate kinds of stories from types of literature. Students already have so much vocabulary to learn that we can at least make it easier for them by using the term Subject!

On a final note, I know some librarians have talked about using BISAC, which is what bookstores use for identifying subjects and grouping books. I’ve looked at it, and it seems too complicated for practical use with students; some librarians have even expressed their frustration at not finding what they want at bookstores! As for me, no thanks, I’ll stick with Dewey numbers and LOC Subject Headings!

I know others have different views, but I believe it’s our job as School Librarians to make our libraries as “kid-friendly” as possible. Since I began to use the term “Fiction Subjects, it’s made a huge difference for my middle school students as they search for and locate the kinds of books—Fiction or Dewey—that they want to read.

You can also read about my process for Organizing Fiction by Subjects and how I created Special Collections to Support Reading in Social Studies classes

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