Some School Librarians question why we would change the way we’ve always done things, but we cannot let weak rationale stand in the way of a wise professional decision that can increase reading for our students and increase circulation in our School Library.
True, reorganizing Fiction may not work for every school, but most School Librarians who’ve tried it report improved—even startling—results. Here’s why and how a School Librarian may decide to organize the Fiction book area by Subjects.
WHY REORGANIZE FICTION?
The most often used argument against reorganizing fiction into Subjects is that it will hinder a student’s ability to locate books in other libraries. This claim doesn’t stand up:
- Nearly all academic libraries use Library of Congress organization, and thousands of college students who come from Dewey-organized libraries are still able to locate the books they need. They don’t have to know the LOC system; they know they just need to use an item identifier—the Call Number—and follow the signage to where the Call Number is located.
- Retail bookstores use BISAC, a subject-based system, and millions of people have no trouble finding what they need—again, because they can follow the signage.
- Many public libraries are now re-organizing their fiction book collections, to the delight of both young folks and adults—and they also use signage to guide patrons to what they need.
So, signage is the key in every library for finding materials, and signage will help your students locate the different Subjects in a reorganized Fiction area.
Another common argument against re-organizing Fiction is that it doesn’t follow professional standards, but again, a specious claim:
- If we went strictly by the Dewey Decimal Classification System, we wouldn’t have a separate Fiction area at all. The DDC assigns the number 813 to American Fiction Literature (and 823 to British Fiction Literature). It was only after fiction literature became such an overwhelming part of the 800s that librarians separated fiction books into it’s own area and replaced the Dewey number with F or FIC.
- Since the late 1800s, the Dewey Decimal System has provided a universal organizing structure for libraries, yet today it’s far different than it was 140 years ago…or even 4 years ago! Every year OCLC issues changes to DDC to collocate like disciplinary materials; some of these are massive changes, like moving all Pets from Science’s 590 Animals into Applied Science’s 636 Animal Husbandry. The Dewey Decimal System is not carved in stone…and our library shouldn’t be either!
The best argument for reorganizing fiction is that the purpose of a school library is to serve the needs of students. Many students prefer certain kinds of stories, and with the limited time students are given in order to find and choose a good book, we can make it easier for them by grouping like stories together. Using any library with a different organization system isn’t difficult, as long as students are properly taught about identifiers and locations. We can only know what benefits our students unless we experiment; and if it doesn’t work, we can always change it back.
WHY USE “SUBJECT” INSTEAD OF “GENRE“?
Many folks refer to “genre” when speaking of Fiction stories, but students learn in their English Language Arts class that genres are types of literature—narrative, expository, poetry, and drama—rather than different kinds of fiction stories. I recommend using the term “Fiction Subjects” to avoid confusing students and because our primary goal is to support curriculum.
Since we typically teach Dewey as “Subjects”, it’s easy for kids to associate “Subjects” in the Dewey area with “Subjects” in the Fiction area. We have Science, History, and Fairy Tales in Dewey, and we have Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Fantasy in Fiction. (I use the term “Dewey books” rather than non-fiction to avoid confusing students; one is the location on the shelves, the other is the content inside the book.) I’ve taught it both ways—genres vs. subjects—and using the term “Subjects” is wa-a-a-ay more successful!
NO SWEAT METHOD TO REORGANIZE FICTION BY SUBJECTS
The easiest way to indicate the Subject of a fiction book is by applying a Subject Classification label underneath the existing spine label. Students already know to look at a label, so just under it is the optimal placement. Common Subjects to use are: Adventure, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Humor, Mystery, Realistic Fiction, Romance, Scary, Science Fiction, and Sports. I personally prefer Scary instead of Horror because middle schoolers typically ask for “Scary books”.
Demco has some excellent Subject labels, and you may want to use those, but if you don’t want to repeatedly spend money on Demco labels, you may want to use my label templates, which print on blank label sheets that are much cheaper. They are available in No Sweat Library, my TPT store. See the images at the end of this post.
Busy school librarians do NOT want to redo Call Numbers nor spine labels on books, but need a way to more easily differentiate Subjects at a glance. Nancy Limmer, West Memorial Junior High Librarian in Katy TX, has the ideal solution: use Demco color-tinted label protectors. The only change needed to spine labels is putting different colored protectors on them (and you can peel them off later if you decide to return to alpha order).
I coordinated the color-tinted protectors with the labels: light green, light blue, dark blue, red, pink, purple, orange, yellow, and tan. I love explaining to students that “Blo-o-o-dy Red” is for Scary and that “Peanut Butter” is for Humor “because talking with PB stuck to the roof of your mouth is funny.”
1. Identify Book Titles For Each Subject
Most School Librarians can’t close up the library or stop circulating books for the duration of the project, so this process allows you to label books whenever time is available, and then make the bigger changes once all the labeling is finished.
Library automation systems have different types of reports, one of which will compile books based on the Subject field in the MARC record (my report was called Bibliographies by Subject). That MARC record ‘Subject’ is the same as the ‘Subject’ found in Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) data on a book’s copyright page, and what students get when they search the catalog “By Subject” …yet another reason to use the term “Subject” instead of genre. The report can sort by Call Number to make it easy to locate books on the shelves.
I ran reports in my system for these MARC/CIP Subjects:
- mystery (also mystery & detective stories)
- science fiction
- adventure (also adventure & adventurers)
- humor (also humorous stories)
- historical fiction.
I had to get creative for difficult Subjects:
- For romance in a middle school library, I searched ‘dating’ and ‘relationships’.
- For Scary, I did ‘horror’ and some of its alternatives, such as supernatural, paranormal, good & evil.
- For sports I ran lists of specific sports. In the end I expanded my Sports and Humor sections by pulling relevant books from other Subject groups.
- The term “time travel” produced mixed results, and I decided to put these books into Fantasy or Science Fiction depending whether the travel was magical or machine.
2. Label Books with Subject Labels & Color Label Protectors
Pick one Subject, then when shelving books or when there’s extra time, go down the aisle with the list, add Subject labels and spine label covers, and cross each book off the list. You’ll have to go through the lists more than once to pick up returned books, but this method allows you to continue circulating books throughout the project. I did mine during a fall semester, and by the middle of December I was done identifying and labeling. It was pretty cool to walk down the aisles and see such colorful shelves.
(If you don’t want to physically move books into separate sections, you can stop here.)
3. Change Shelf Location in the Library Automation System
Every library automation system has a Home Location field that changes when a book is checked out to someone. Our system’s default term is “On the Shelf” and changes to “Checked Out”. We added our Fiction Subjects to the Home Location field so when students do a book search they see the Fiction Subject instead of the default term and know to go to that Subject location to find the book.
To begin the location change, go through the bookshelves and pull books of one Subject onto a cart, then use your Batch change feature (mine is called Global Change) to change the Home Location for the entire cart of books. Return the books to their alphabetical shelf as a group, since you’ll be pulling them off again when you move them to their final shelf locations.
Move on to the next Subject and do those batch changes; continue with each Subject until you’ve changed the Home Location for the entire Fiction area. I did this task during final exam week in December when the semester’s books had been returned and I didn’t have students checking out. It only took 2 days to change the Home Locations for all of our ~10,000 Fiction books.
4. Determine the Number of Shelves for each Subject
Once the Location is changed for all your books, you can determine the number of shelves needed for each Subject by running a report that gives the total number of books for each new Home Location/Subject—mine is called “Count Items by Home Location.” Create a map of your shelving and, allowing about 25 books/shelf, decide the best group of shelves for each Subject, and a plan to expeditiously move books.
I did my map over winter break, and at left is the arrangement I ended up with. The first 3 days back at school in January I moved books and created new signage to coordinate with the colors of the Subject labels. On Thursday the Language Arts classes began coming in for checkout and were delighted to see our new and improved Fiction area!
Looking back, there are two major benefits of this method and why I keep pushing it to other school librarians:
- no changes to the book’s Call Number, either in the automation system or on the spine label. Changing Home Location was quick with the batch feature, and it would be just as easy to change back to alphabetical with the default location term if the next librarian so desired (although I can’t imagine why they would!).
- I could keep the library open for the entire time, taking advantage of closed days at the end and beginning of semesters to complete larger tasks.
Organizing by Subjects has been a big hit with students—EVERYONE can find a book and our circulation numbers tripled for the second semester. I got so excited I ordered new Demco bookends and carts, color-coordinated with label colors, to make it more fun to shelve books!
Preparing new book orders is very easy. Create a separate purchasing list for each Subject, then print them out before combining the lists into the final alpha-by-Author order. When new books arrive, use the printed lists to organize new books on carts, then apply the Subject labels and color protectors.
For more information about the Subjects I used for my reorganization and how you can decide which ones to use, read my blog post: Library Terminology for Fiction Stories.
If your budget is tight—as many are now—you can create your own Subject spine labels and signage with my Fiction Subject (genre) Signs, Shelf & Book Labels, available in No Sweat Library, my TPT store.
This post is updated from 2015.