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.

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.
    linebreak
  • 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.
    linebreak
  • 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!
    linebreak
  • 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.

WHY USE “SUBJECT” INSTEAD OF “GENRE“?

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!

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. 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.

MY RESULTS

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
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-List Library of FREE resources!

This post is updated from 2015.

Best Way School Librarians Can Increase Student Reading Achievement

Best Way School Librarians Can Increase Student Reading Achievement - School Librarians can convince teachers that regularly scheduled library visits with Sustained Silent Reading will improve student reading achievement. Augment that success with these strategies & lessons. | No Sweat LibraryIn our modern globally-connected world, reading is the most essential literacy for anyone.

There are probably very few professions now where you are going to be able to make a living if you are not capable of reading and understanding instructions or rules about your business. (Steve Gardiner, Gamber-Thompson, 2019.)

So, when School Librarian listservs and Facebook groups post a question about how to promote more student reading, we jump in with dozens of suggestions. As I read, I rarely see evidence of an increase in student achievement, yet that is our most important purpose as a School Librarian! So how can a School Librarian identify the best way to increase student reading achievement?

WHY SOME READING PROMOTIONS MAY NOT WORK

Unfortunately, some honestly sincere suggestions may not have a significant impact on student reading achievement, because they are based on extrinsic rewards, rather than giving students the intrinsic motivation to read.

Gimmicks like food or party rewards, tokens for quantity reading, and other incentives may seem to get students excited, but I believe the results of success from such promotions are skewed. Prolific readers jump at such ploys because they know they can “win,” whereas nonreaders see no gratifying advantage to participate—the reward simply doesn’t override their reluctance to read. Not that we should cease doing it; just that we shouldn’t expect it to make a difference in reading proficiency or achievement for students.

Fancy bulletin boards and book displays also seem to excite students to read more because we’re inundated with requests from students to borrow the books shown. While these exhibits are a valuable way to boost the visibility of the school library, they still won’t increase reading proficiency because most nonreaders aren’t motivated enough to look at the titles, let alone read them.

As more schools push English Language Arts teachers to create classroom libraries, School Librarians lament the limitation of reading choices and the decrease in library circulation. The more important point is that having books in the classroom doesn’t necessarily boost student reading achievement. It depends on how a teacher implements reading activities; improperly done it can discourage reluctant readers even more, rather than make them more proficient.

THE ONE READING STRATEGY THAT REALLY WORKS

The One Reading Strategy That Really Works - School Librarians impact student reading achievement when they have regularly scheduled library visits with Sustained Silent Reading. Here are 5 strategies we can implement in the library to make SSR even more valuable. | No Sweat LibraryTo make a real impact on student reading and a commensurate improvement in reading achievement, School Librarians can push for Sustained Silent Reading. There is substantial research that SSR works to improve student reading proficiency and comprehension, in spite of criticism: “When the research facts are unraveled from misinterpretations and opinion, we find that SSR is … supported by research.” (Garan & Devoogd, p336.)

No matter your feelings about standardized reading tests—state, national, or international—they are a valid indicator of reading proficiency and comprehension. At the time my middle school implemented SSR, our state reading scores were the lowest in the district, but over a 4-year period they increased by nearly 20 points. This included special populations, of which we had more than the other middle schools: highest diversity, highest poverty, highest transience. Our results astonished district administrators into pushing for SSR in all middle schools!

One major component of our approach is regularly scheduled full-period visits to the school library for Sustained Silent Reading. Each grade level chooses a certain day of the week, and they visit every other week for the entire school year. ELA teachers still provide short in-class read time, but having longer, continuous reading sessions in the library enables teachers to include more reading comprehension skills in the classroom.

Sustained Silent Reading is proven to increase student reading achievement. Here are 5 strategies that a School Librarian can implement to make it even more beneficial. | No Sweat LibraryAs the School Librarian, I implemented 5 strategies that heighten the impact of SSR. These strategies are the focus of my school library orientations, introducing them to new-to-the-school students and reviewing them with returning students.

  1. Fiction Subject Spine Labels – Krashen’s evaluation of SSR research found that having interesting books was critical for success with SSR, and we must accept that most students have a preference for the kind of stories they like to read. So, adding Fiction Subject spine labels to books makes a huge difference for student buy-in of SSR. I eventually added color-coded transparent labels over the call number label and distributed books into Subject sections to make book selection even easier.
    linebreak
  2. NoSweatLibrary IT IS FOR ME appIT IS FOR ME checklist – This form—and the short video I created to introduce it—helps students quickly scan a book so they can decide if it’s right for them. They take one with them to the shelves at every library visit, and ELA teachers collect them for a no-stress daily participation grade.
    Get the checklist from my FREE Librarian Resources page!
    linebreak
  3. The 5-Finger Test – For SSR to succeed with reluctant and/or struggling readers, their book choice must be at an appropriate reading level, but we don’t want to label books. The 5-finger test helps them: Turning to the middle of the book they read the two pages in front of them, holding up a finger for each word they come to that they don’t know. If they reach 5 fingers, the book is a bit too hard and they need to find a better (don’t say easier) book.
    linebreak
  4. 20-page Guide – Students only read freely a story they like, and nothing is more discouraging than requiring students to finish a book they don’t like. I tell students to allow the author to introduce the story setting and characters, so read 20 pages and if they still don’t like a book, then definitely return it and get a different one—that’s why we offer them thousands of choices in the school library!
    linebreak
  5. Silent Invited Book Checkout – This is the one that made the most difference! I give students plenty of time to find a good book—at least 5-7 minutes–and they return to the table for Sustained Silent Reading time. This allows students to become immersed in their book so they’re more likely to continue reading and finish it. After a while, I walk over to a pair of tables and signal students to come up for book checkout. They line up single file, still reading. When finished with that group, I invite another pair of tables for checkout, continuing until all tables are done. Just a few students at a time for checkout ensures an orderly & quiet environment and I can do 2 full classes in about 10 minutes. Typically students have about 30 minutes total for SSR.

ENHANCE SSR BY SUPPORTING CLASSROOM LEARNING

Sometimes, I augment an ELA library visit with a short lesson to support classroom learning, which research confirms can make a difference in student reading achievement.

Indeed, having librarians take an instructional role — and do it well — has been correlated with students’ success at meeting academic standards. … [when] librarians did an “excellent” job teaching to state reading and writing standards, students in their schools were more likely to excel and less likely to score poorly on corresponding tests. (Lance & Schwarz, 2012 in Lance & Kachel, 2018.)

Rendering “do it well” and “an excellent job” demands a School Librarian know best practices of SSR in order to bridge it with ongoing classroom instruction:

…reading widely across selected literary genres, setting personal goals for completing the reading of books within a timeframe, conferring with their teacher, and completing response projects to share the books they read with others. (Garan & Devoogd, p 342.)

School Librarians can use these standards-aligned lessons to ignite student independent reading and increase reading achievement. Use with library classes or as collaborative unit supporting ELA narrative literary text. | No Sweat LibraryGiving students a glimpse into the world of books expands their appreciation for reading and the school library. That’s the hook for my 3-Lesson Reading Fiction Books Unit that supports 6g ELA study of narrative literary text. Each of the lessons incorporates one practice mentioned above:

  1. How do folktales relate to fiction Subjects? helps students identify the characteristics of different kinds of fiction stories by associating them with types of folktales they learned about in elementary school. It incites students to try out different “Subjects” of fiction they hadn’t considered before.
  2. How can I find the “best” books to read? introduces national book awards, multicultural books, and state awards & reading lists, and provides a personal Reading Record for students to track the books they read.
  3. How can I help others find a good book to read? uses the 5 elements of fiction literature and a 3×5 index card to help students create a simple book “quick-talk” that they can share with peers.

The beauty of this unit is that it can be used as a collaborative ELA lesson or by those School Librarians who are “in the rotation” with regularly scheduled library periods. It’s a perfect follow-up to the library orientation, with enriching activities that continue to promote reading.

TIME TO READ IS THE GREATEST GIFT

The greatest gift a School Librarian can give students is time: plenty of time to find a good book to read, and then plenty of time to begin reading and become immersed in the story. When we provide a guide to make browsing time profitable and offer evidence that Sustained Silent Reading works, we can convince teachers that this “time” is necessary for students to improve their reading achievement. The true value of Sustained Silent Reading is expressed by teacher Steve Gardiner:

Then my students would come back from college and say things like, “Wow, I got into this engineering program and I never imagined how much I was going to have to read for it. Thank you so much for teaching me, giving me that SSR that helped me learn that I was a reader, that I could read a full book from start to finish, and that I could stick with reading projects.” They would say things like, “It’s been so valuable for me now.” Dozens and dozens of students came back and thanked me for SSR. (Gamber-Thompson, 2019.)

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

Gamber-Thompson, Liana. How Sustained Silent Reading Keeps Students Curious and Engaged. EdSurge Oct 7, 2019
https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-10-07-how-sustained-silent-reading-keeps-students-curious-and-engaged Accessed December 27, 2021.

Garan, Elaine & Devoogd, Glenn. (2008). The Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading: Scientific Research and Common Sense Converge. Reading Teacher – READ TEACH. 62. 336-344. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/250055938_The_Benefits_of_Sustained_Silent_Reading_Scientific_Research_and_Common_Sense_Converge Accessed December 30, 2021.

Krashen, Stephen. Non-Engagement in Sustained Silent Reading: How extensive is it? What can it teach us? Colorado Reading Council Journal 2011, vol 22: 5-10. http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/non-engagement_in_ssr.pdf Accessed December 28, 2021.

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan Online. http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research Accessed December 27, 2021.

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-List Library of FREE resources!