About Barbara Paciotti

Retired IB Middle School Librarian and at-risk alternative High School Science Teacher, continuing to help teachers and students be successful.

Organize Your School Library’s Fiction Books by Subjects

Reorganizing fiction books into subject groups (genre-izing) can be a wise professional decision that benefits our students and promotes independent reading. Here's how to do it without changing spine labels or Call Numbers! | No Sweat LibraryReorganizing the school library’s Fiction area by Subjects—or what some call genres—has been a hot topic among School Librarians for several years.

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.


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:

  • 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!
  • If we went strictly by DDC, we wouldn’t have a separate Fiction area at all. The Dewey Decimal Classification System 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.

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.


Increase student independent reading by reorganizing fiction books into subject groups. Here's how to do it without changing spine labels or Call Numbers! | No Sweat LibraryMany 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!


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. Demco has some excellent Subject labels, and you may want to use those. Common Subjects for the Demco labels are: Adventure, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Humor, Mystery, Realistic Fiction, Romance, Scary, Science Fiction, and Sports. I personally prefer Scary instead of Horror because the Scary label is much brighter…and because middle schoolers typically ask for “Scary books.”

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 for Historical Fiction, light blue for Romance, dark blue for Adventure, red for Scary, pink for Fantasy, purple for Science Fiction, orange for Sports, yellow for Mystery, and tan for Humor. 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 this 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 see 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.

image of CIP data for The Hobbit with Subject Fantasy circled

Example CIP Subject

I ran reports in my system for these MARC/CIP Subjects:

  • mystery (also mystery & detective stories)
  • science fiction
  • fantasy
  • 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 used ‘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

You want to re-organize your fiction area so it's easier for students to choose books, but it seems like so much work. I did it without changing any Call Numbers, nor did I have to close the library! Learn how you can do it, too! | No Sweat Library

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, determine the number of shelves needed for each Subject by running a report that gives the total number of books for the 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.

Map of Fiction Subject Layout of LibraryI 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, the major benefit of this method is 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!). Another benefit of the process is that 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 them into the final 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.


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). | No Sweat Library

line of books laying down
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This post is updated from 2015.

10 Informal Ways for School Librarians to Promote the School Library

There are many ways School Librarians can promote the school library to students, teachers, administration, parents, and the community. Here are 10 informal actions that help you effectively advocate for your school library program. | No Sweat LibrarySchool Librarians are often told to promote their school library program, to push its visibility within the school and out into the community. There are many materials available for library advocacy—from simple activities or events to entire programming kits—that allow us to be continuously alert for ways to connect with folks in the school and the community.

However, after years as a middle school librarian, I’ve found it’s our informal practices that are most effective for building awareness of the school library program. Based on what has worked for me, here are 10 informal ways to advocate for your school library program and promote its value to the school community.


Make the school library the place students need to go to get things done. I always have art materials—markers, poster board, scissors, tape, glue, etc.—in convenient totes so students can come in before, during, or after school to work on projects. The current catch-phrase is “makerspace,” but my students have always associated the library with “making” what they need!

Always have computers turned on, ready for students to use any time of day. I offer a “Tech Morning” once a week for kids to learn about a new app or online service. Believe me, kids love to learn new technology, and when teachers see students asking to use an app for a project, they become interested in learning more technology from me.

I have a variety of games that are fun, yet reinforce learning, such as Scrabble and Monopoly ($$ & math). I also have reading alcoves for students who want a quiet place to read when others are working at tables or on computers. (Our general guideline is that students can converse as long as they use 2-foot voices…a completely silent library is not conducive to collaboration.)

Student Pass to Library: Get the FREE Template to create your own customized laminated passes for students to come to the library during class-time. FREE download after joining my email group! | No Sweat LibraryMake it easy for students to come in during down-time in class. Every year I supply a personalized laminated pass for each classroom teacher to fill out with a dry-erase marker allowing students to come to the library if they need a book, computer, whatever.

You can get a FREE template to make your own personalized laminated passes for each classroom teacher by joining my email group!

Always let students help out. They may ask to shelve books—it may not be perfect, but it gets books back on the shelves and students feel good about helping. Utilize student input and help to create displays for bulletin boards and shelves. Student-created, eye-catching displays inspire kids to come inside.


Teachers have enough on their plate without us adding to it, so approach teachers with a written lesson plan that enhances their current classroom activities. This personalized service shows teachers how easy it is to include us in the lesson planning experience so we can provide quality skills and resources.

NoSweat Library Lesson Planner Template p1 - Begins with an overview area perfect for initial meeting with teacher; Section 1 delineates Subject and School Library Standards, Understandings, Questions, Objectives, & Vocabulary; Section 2 outlines Assessment. | NoSweatLibrary NoSweat Library Lesson Planner - page 2 (Download my specialized Library Lesson Plan template from the ‘FREE Librarian Resources’ page)

Make it a professional goal to be familiar with all grade level subject curricula and build the library’s collection and online resources to support that curricula. Colleagues then see us as the curriculum expert in the building and come to us for ways to enhance their classroom activities!


Collaboration is especially difficult if library skills are embedded into course curricula without specifying them as library skills. We then have to convince teachers they really aren’t responsible for teaching those (without actually telling them they don’t know how to do it and we can do it better). In fact, the biggest challenge school librarians face is getting teachers and administrators to realize we are an education professional, trained to teach students the specific information literacy skills so necessary for school, college, and their future in a global digital society.

When there is no written library curriculum, we must create one. It shows our colleagues that we have a curriculum we need to coordinate with their classroom content. To make it easier to integrate information-literacy skills into subject curricula, I created a curriculum matrix where I can track opportunities for library visits and design truly relevant lessons that scaffold info-lit skills across subjects and grade levels.

Sample No Sweat Curriculum Matrix
click to enlarge
My Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Composite example of an older version for the 1st grading period. You can get my No Sweat Curriculum Matrix from No Sweat Library, my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


Given the easy access to information through the Internet, every school librarian faces the lack of understanding from colleagues about our role in the school.  We must show colleagues that the Web increases the need for a school librarian, and that we have the training to curate and refine information overload. We must continually emphasize that it’s our responsibility to show students how to legally and ethically curate and use online information, images, and other media.

Each month I send a Media Minute email to school staff highlighting digital and online curriculum assets. This very short, one-minute contact shows we are curricula-oriented specialists:

  • an upcoming content area library lesson activity
    (gives other teachers an idea of what we could do together)
  • a new teacher resource in the library
    (builds a professional area of supportive curriculum materials)
  • a useful current lesson-related feature on a subscription service
    (reminds teachers that these are the best quality information sources for students).


Getting parental support at the start of the school year is essential. In our school students took a packet of paperwork home on the first day of school. I include a brochure about library services and a bookmark listing online resources with IDs & PWs for home access. I’ve heard that the bookmark is stuck to a lot of refrigerators!
A couple times a year I create a Library Newsletter that’s copied on the back of student report cards to tell parents about library activities and supporting resources. It’s also prominently posted on the school library website.

Intermittently I make positive phone calls to parents giving feedback about a particularly memorable thing their child did in the library, especially for those students who often get negative calls home. This makes me a visible and valuable member of the school faculty, and these positive contacts make a world of difference for getting overdue books returned at the end of each semester!

Most importantly, the school’s PTA can be our best supporter, so do favors for, and become good friends with the ladies who run it, since they often have a direct line to the principal’s ear!


Within the school, the principal is definitely the most influential person when it comes to the school library. Submit regular reports showing both hard & soft data about the library and its activities—and make it colorful so it stands out among all the other paperwork on the principal’s desk! Give copies to the assistant principals and counselors, too…they have more direct contact with students and that increased awareness will often encourage them to send students to the librarian for assistance.

At the district level, the curriculum coordinator can impact school libraries and librarians. You may have a district library coordinator who works with them, but individual librarians can also share information. I include the curriculum coordinator on my Media Minute email list.

I’ve discovered our greatest district advocate is the Public Relations department—they control the public’s perception of the school district and if they are on your side, you are gold. They’ll post pictures of library activities, promote reading programs, and make sure everyone in the community, from parents to businesses, and administration to support staff, is aware of your importance. They can also be instrumental in publicizing fund-raising efforts!


Here are 10 informal ways School Librarians can advocate for the school library program and show the importance of having a certified school librarian! | No Sweat LibraryHelp folks realize you can do more than checkout and shelve books. Be a troubleshooter and trainer for technology used in the classroom. Volunteer to photograph or videotape student presentations in the classroom. Make the library website an essential part of the school’s web presence.

Sponsor a school club in the library (chess? school news?). Open a school supply shop during lunches with essentials (pens, pencils, notebook paper) and periodically offer “fru-fru” (feather pens, funny erasers, neon color paper).

In other words, don’t advocate with words about the importance of a school library; advocate with actions to show the importance of having a certified school librarian.


Volunteer for any committee that even remotely impacts the library program or the school librarian, especially those that showcase your librarian and personal skills. Nurture ties to subject area department heads so any curriculum-planning activity includes you. Become best friends with your school secretaries, custodians, and cafeteria staff so they view you as an essential member of their team, too. It’s amazing how often the phrase, “Let’s see what the school librarian has to say about this!” shows how vital you are to the school and its mission.


One year we got a new principal, and to familiarize himself with the school culture, he set up interviews with staff members during the summer. One question he asked each person was, “If the principal was suddenly gone for some reason, who are 3 people in the school you could rely on to keep things running smoothly?” I was flattered that quite a few folks mentioned me, the school librarian, so I made it my goal that everyone would mention the school librarian in answer to such a question! By encompassing that broad concept I was able to see more possibilities for involvement than listing disparate things I wanted to accomplish.


I’m fortunate that my district supports the library program with substantial funds for books and online resources, so I don’t have to, as so many do, weasel money from a principal or try to raise funds on my own. I am, however, adamant about one way a librarian does NOT raise money: with fines for overdue books.

Fines don’t work. Well-off students don’t care about the paltry amount and poorer kids get stressed trying to pay a fine and still have money for lunch (or dinner on their way home), and basically it just makes a lot more work for the librarian, especially if there’s a whole class trying to check out books in the last 10 minutes of the period.

There are much more effective ways to tease kids into getting overdue books back. And really, it’s just a book and there’s plenty more on the shelves—a child and their feelings are a lot more important than a fine (or even a lost book)!

Well, those are the 10 informal ways I promote our school library program. I hope you find these ideas helpful. Happy advocating!

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

Join my mailing list to get a brief email about new posts on library lessons & management . You'll also gain access to my exclusive e-Group Library of FREE resources!

This post is updated from 2015.