Fiction Genrefication at the Elementary School Level

This summer I undertook the huge project of genrefying my library. This gargantuan task involved lots of stickers, tape, and sweat. Now that the dog days of summer are over and a new school year has started, I am so happy with my newly genrefied fiction collection.

Why the Need for Genrefication?                                                                         

Many high schools, middle schools, and even public libraries have been sorting their fiction collections into genres. At our last library meeting, the question was raised, “Would anyone be interested in genrefying their fiction section at the elementary level?” I had been toying with the idea for a while, so I thought I would try it. I had a few reasons for wanting to undertake this task.

Student Need. Most of my third, fourth, and fifth graders are assigned a reading log, which requires them to read books from a variety of genres. During check-out, students are always asking me for genre-specific books. I have 1 or 2 great suggestions ready, but after those books are gone, I have no idea where to go next on the shelf.

Teacher Need. I also have teachers who come in looking for books from a specific genre.

Collection Development. My fiction collection desperately needed to be weeded and updated. I was finishing my fourth year in this library, and fiction was the one section that I struggled with each year. Did I really need all 23 Redwall books by Bryan Jacques? (Yes, I counted!) Placing books into genres let me actually see which genres needed more books added. My sports section only contains two shelves of books, whereas my fantasy section has an entire two bookcases of books!

Who Creates the Genres? 

The first thing I had to do was decide whether I wanted our book supplier (Mackin) to genrefy my collection or whether I wanted to do it myself? If I went with Mackin, my new books would come with a genre sticker already affixed to the spine. They would also add an abbreviated, typed version of the genre on the spine label. This service would cost an extra 10 cents per book. There were two problems with this:

  • None of the new spine labels would match my current spine labels. Having two different spine labels next to each other on the shelf would be confusing for the students. It would also, personally, drive me crazy. I would feel compelled to create matching spine labels for all of the books in my current fiction collection!
  • Mackin would have final say on the genre of the books. There are so many books that can fit into more than one genre. As the librarian, I want to have full autonomy over my collection.

Decide on Your Genres

Next, I had to choose which genres I wanted in my fiction section. First, I searched through Demco to look for labels that I liked. Based on my collection and student population, I decided on the following genres: Classics, Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Humor, Mystery, Scary, Science Fiction, Sports, and Realistic Fiction. I could not find a sticker that I liked for Realistic Fiction, so I adapted a blue Fiction sticker. It is blue with a white book in the middle with Fiction written under the book. I wrote the letter R on all of the labels with blue sharpie. My non-fiction section is still organized by Dewey.

Accept That Some Books Just Don’t Fit

There were plenty of books that were hard to genrefy. When that happened, I would look up the book on Mackin to see how they classified it. A few books, like Among the Hidden, were classified as Dystopian, but I placed them in Science Fiction since Dystopian is a recent off-shoot of sci-fi and a majority of dystopian novels are geared for middle or high school. I put Adventure books with realistic characters in the Realistic Fiction section.

Allow Yourself Plenty of Time to Complete the Switch

I have to admit that this took most of the summer to do. I had to physically sort through my entire fiction section and start putting books in piles. The process would slow down when I came across a book that I didn’t recognize. I would have to scan it to see when it was last checked out. If it hadn’t been checked out in a few years and looked old and worn, I would discard it. If it still looked new, I would sort it into the appropriate genre pile.

After all the books were sorted and the shelves were wiped down, I decided where each genre would go. Then, I started placing genre stickers on all of the books. This took forever. During teacher work week, I had a group of five instructional assistants, my library assistant included, affixing stickers to books. I called them the Sticker Brigade. The weekend before school started, my husband and son joined me to finish the job.


The first week of check out, students were saying, “Look how many new books you have!” This made me laugh because I hadn’t added any new books over the summer. They were just in a new place, and more students were noticing them. Students are more self-sufficient once I point them in the right direction. Now when students ask for a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, I take them to the Humor section and show them book after book of selections that they might like. I had Wimpy Kid fans try Space Headz and Two Dogs in a Trench Coat with great success.

I love my new and improved fiction section. The shelves are neat and spacious. Students have more options and are more self sufficient. My hard work was worth it.


Author: Colleen R. Lee

Colleen R. Lee is a former middle school English teacher and Elementary Teacher. She is currently the Elementary Librarian at Greenfield Elementary School in Chesterfield County, VA. Follow her on Twitter @MrsLeesLibrary.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development

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4 replies

  1. An entire summer spent doing what? It takes about 10 minutes in your online catalog to look up all those fiction subjects, print a list, laminate them and put them out on a table for students to pick up when they come to the library. Make enough just printed lists so each student has their own personal list to check off what they read if that’s the assignment. They might just find another book by the same author that wasn’t the genre.

    A better use of the summer would be reviewing what teachers teach and deciding which units could be co-taught with a colleague and maybe even have lunch with that colleague to plan the unit.

  2. Such a great way to make the experience in the library more meaningful for elementary students! The icons on the books make easy for even kindergartners and 1st graders to identify the genre of fiction books.

  3. I saw this process in action in a middle school library — just with nonfiction instead of fiction, and during the school year instead of over the summer. Kudos to you for getting it done! I recall from the NF project the labor involved in the sorting. It looks like you kept the original spine label and added the genre above it, shelving them by author within the section. This is a great approach! It not only helps students find a genre of choice, but also helps them clean up after themselves. My only concern would be a student “living” in one genre — although you mentioned that teachers had them choosing from different genres on purpose. Without that tie-in, you may have people who never deviate from the humor, just like they never deviated from Wimpy Kid (glad to hear you got some of those kids into other series!!). Good work and solid approach.

  4. I’m VERY NEW to the library but am extremely interested in setting up the fiction section of my elementary library by genre. What I am struggling with, is how to determine what category a book will fall under. For instance, Owl Diaries…what genre would this fall under and how do I work through 6,000 books and put them under the proper genre?

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