School Library Terminology for Organizing Fiction Stories

Library Terminology for Fiction Stories - Students refer to classes by "subject," we tell students to search for books "By Subject," and we use "Subject" to explain the Dewey Decimal System. Let's make our school library consistent and kid-friendly by using the term "Subject" for Fiction, too! #NoSweatLibraryA School Librarian wanting to reorganize her school library’s Fiction area may ask this question before embarking on such an endeavor:

“Is there a common standard or system to organize Fiction books in the school library?”

Actually, librarians do have a standardized terminology for books: Subject Headings.

As I learned in my cataloging class (Take it even if it’s not required—you won’t regret it!) part of the MARC record for a book is the Subject Heading. All library books have at least one Subject in the MARC record which comes from one of the standard vocabularies: Library of Congress Subject Headings or SEARS Subject Headings. Many books have multiple Subjects from one of those sources.

You can usually see the LCSH or SSH Subjects for a book’s MARC record by looking on the book’s copyright page at the LOC Cataloging-In-Publication data (CIP). In the ‘Subject’ lines are the most common terms for fiction stories: adventure, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, romance, and horror.

image of CIP data for The Hobbit with Subject Fantasy circled

Example CIP Subject

Library vendors, like Demco or The Library Store, sell Subject Classification labels for fiction books, and they use the same terms as the MARC Subject Headings. Even if a librarian does not separate the fiction collection into Subject groups, many still buy and use these stickers to help students choose a book that appeals to them.


I do NOT use the term genre for my Fiction groupings, because I don’t want to confuse students:

  1. Our Online Book Catalogs use Subject Search which searches that Subject field of the MARC record. Using the words “Fiction Subjects” to identify our Fiction groupings clearly relays to students the terms to use and how to search for a particular kind of fiction story.
  2. Students use the term Subject for their school classes, and we use the familiar term Subject for the 10 Dewey Classes—Science, History, Literature, Languages. Students grasp Subjects as a mechanism for representing specific groupings, whether in school, or in Dewey, or in Fiction.

    NOTE: Dewey actually does use the term Subject. It’s third in the hierarchy of groupings for the number just left of the decimal: Class, Division, Subject. So, in the Dewey number for Literature, the Subject number is the 3 in 813 American Fiction in English. DDC does use the term genre for the decimal numbers after 813. they aren’t listed in DDC Abridged 14.

    Since I use Subject for fiction stories, students understand that Fiction is organized into Subjects just like Dewey books.  I associate the Dewey Subject of Science with the Subject of Science Fiction and the Dewey Subject of History with the Subject of Historical Fiction. Students need this consistency in the library.

  3. In English Language Arts and library cataloging the term genre is types (or forms) of literature—narrative, expository, poetry, drama—not kind of fiction story. I tried, as some folks do, using the term subgenres, but it was even more confusing 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 consistently using the term Subject!

Since I carefully avoid using the term genre for books in the Fiction area,
ELA teachers appreciate that I don’t confuse what they are teaching students!


Are There Standardized Terms For Fiction Stories? - If you're a School Librarian wondering about the topics or "genres" of Fiction books, read this to learn the right terminology used to identify the subject of fiction books. #NoSweatLibrarySome fiction books no longer contain CIP data on the copyright page, so the Subject Heading may not be readily available. To aid librarians who wish to organize their school library’s fiction books by Subject, here’s a list of some common LOC Subjects used for fiction literature.

  • Adventure stories OR Adventure and adventurers OR Survival fiction OR Plot-your-own-stories
  • Families fiction OR Domestic fiction
  • Fantasy fiction OR Heroic fantasy
  • Historical fiction
  • Horror fiction OR Horror stories OR Scary stories OR Ghost stories OR Occult fiction OR Occult stories OR Paranormal fiction OR Supernatural fiction
  • Humor OR Humorous stories
  • Mystery and detective stories OR Detective and mystery stories OR Suspense fiction OR Thrillers OR Spy stories OR Code and cipher stories
  • Outdoor life fiction OR Nature stories
  • Paranormal Romance
  • Romance fiction OR Love stories OR Dating (Social customs) fiction OR Coming of age stories OR Social life and customs fiction
  • Schools fiction OR High schools fiction OR Middle schools juvenile fiction
  • Science fiction OR Future life fiction OR Alternative histories fiction OR Cyberpunk fiction OR Steampunk fiction OR Life on other planets fiction
  • Sports stories
  • Stories-in-rhyme
  • Urban fiction OR Street life fiction OR City or town life fiction OR Suburban life fiction
  • War fiction OR War stories
  • Western fiction OR Western stories
  • Young adult fiction


Minimize the time it takes students to find the kind of story they want to read: identify Fiction books by Subject. This package includes colorful bookcase signs, shelf labels, and book spine label templates for 16 common Fiction Subjects (genres). #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #fiction #genres #librarysignageI 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 in understanding how to search for and locate the kinds of books—Fiction or Dewey—that they want to read.

Some librarians talk 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, so no thanks, I’ll stick with LOC Subject Headings and Dewey numbers.

Another librarian said they’d reorganized their library according to the subject classes their students take in school. That’s how I relate Dewey Subjects to students, and I change Dewey numbers to work for them by placing books where they’ll be found for class assignments and pleasure reading. And while, as stated above, I do relate History to historical fiction and Science to science fiction, I don’t see how other subject area classes would fit with organizing Fiction.

Regardless of what terms are used, careful and consistent topical labels on book spines, especially when used with some form of color-coding, can make our Fiction area as kid-friendly as possible.

line of books laying down

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