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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kristen Mattson

Tips and Tricks for Genre Sorting

So you have decided to genre sort your library? Awesome! I don’t think you will regret it. There are definitely some things you must think about before you get started, though. Here are a few tips and tricks I have for making the process go as smoothly as possible.

  1. Do some research. What types of tagging do you already use in your cataloging system? Make a list of every genre that appears in your records and the number of books tagged with that genre. Will you need to plan space for 300 Science Fiction books? 500 Graphic Novels?

  2. Choose your genre labels with purpose. In my high school, Urban Fiction is a genre that many students are interested in and ask about. Depending on your school’s population, Urban Fiction may just be blended in with Realistic Fiction. Do you want to lump a few genres together? For us, it made sense to pair Mystery and Suspense rather than separate the two. Knowing your collection and your students is the most important part of the decision making process.

  3. Consider the arrangement. Once you have all of these books sorted, how will they appear on the shelves? Sorting the genres alphabetically would put Action next to Classics which would be followed by Fantasy. My staff and I decided this arrangement did not make much sense. We wanted our genre sort to encourage browsing! Therefore, we made the decision to put similar genres next to one another. If I enjoy reading Science Fiction, my interests may lead me into the Fantasy section which is just one shelf over.

  4. Consider the placement. The beauty of genre sorting is that you now have these smaller collections that can be separated from the other genres and placed around the library. Fiction no longer needs to be contained to several stacks all in a row! We chose to place our more popular genres in prominent locations – shelves that were flat against the wall opposite our entrance. These popular titles are now one of the first things visitors see when they walk in! Genres that do not circulate as frequently, such as Historical Fiction, still have a place, but not such a prominent one.

  5. Call in the volunteers! Genre sorting is a HUGE task. Do not expect to do it alone. Share your vision with others and generate a list of parents and students who are willing to pitch in.

Now that you are ready to start the physical work, here is the order of operations I would recommend:

  1. Start with your largest genre. Trust me on this one. Once you get your biggest genre out of the way, it will be easier to locate titles as you move on to the other genres.

  2. Generate a report. To get started, I pulled a report of all books tagged with the word “Fantasy” in our catalog and handed the list and a cart to a volunteer. If your digital records are in decent shape, your report should catch many of the books.

  3. Create and affix a label. Create and print a small label with the genre name on it that can be affixed to the spine of the book. We found it helpful to pick a different color for the font on each genre label. This makes for easy sorting and re-shelving as our books come back after a checkout. These labels fit just below the call number labels that were already on the spine.

  4. Update the digital record. Choose a two to three letter code that represents each genre you have selected. A book that used to have the call number FIC SMI might now have the call number FAN FIC SMI (Fantasy) or MYS FIC SMI (Mystery).

  5. Put the books in their new home. But save some room! You will find more books that fit the genre that were not picked up in your initial sweep of the shelves.

  6. Return to step one with a new genre.

But what if….

  1. I don’t have room on my shelves to store books during this process? Get ready to move books. Often. Our process was messy at times. We had to snake together what was left on the shelves in order to make room for a newly labeled genre even though we knew that the same books we just snaked were going to be taken off of the shelf soon when it was their turn to be processed. Also, use this process as an opportunity to embrace your inner weeder, letting go of books that are no longer needed in your library. This will free up some shelving space and really help highlight the awesome books you keep.

  2. We have books that fit into multiple genres? Darn that Edward Cullen! Is it Romance? Is it Fantasy? Basically, you have to prepare yourself to make some choices. Amazon was actually a great help to us. When you look up a title and scroll down the page, Amazon will show you which genres the book has been a top seller in. When all else failed, we tried to think about our students. Who would be more attracted to Twilight? Someone seeking a love story or someone who enjoys books like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings? I’ll let you guess where that title ended up 😉

  3. I have books that do not seem to fit ANYWHERE? We had that problem too, and I actually ended up creating a whole new genre out of these odd titles that just kept grabbing my attention. Books like Beastly by Alex Flinn and Cinder by Marissa Meyer ended up in a section all of their own that we lovingly labeled Remix. If you have enough of something that is unique and can create its own category, go for it. If not, go back to your reader. Ask yourself, who is most likely to pick up this seemingly random book? Then, listen to your gut!

Genre sorting is messy, difficult work. But, it is also very fun and rewarding work. You will reap the reward for all of your labors through wonderful conversations with kids – especially when they are standing in front of a shelf seemingly curated just for them.

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