I still recall with a shudder the second school library I worked at in NYC: a small, cramped space that needed to be weeded, a large circulation desk taking up valuable real estate in a 500 square-foot room, and worst of all, a collection organized by category like a bookstore. And it wasn’t in any logical order. The music section was not by the arts but by science. The fairytales were separate from the folktales. The catalog was fine – the books were listed by their correct call numbers; they weren’t placed on the shelves that way.
The result was a hard time finding books for students when they wanted them and months of work reorganizing the collection to be searchable and accessible. Ugh.
The problem wasn’t the intention of my predecessor; she arranged the books according to a system that made sense to her. But the result was the problem because it made sense only to her.
Why Genrifying Your Collection Makes It Harder to Find Things
And therein is the fault with genrifying our libraries on the shelves; a title one person might classify as a mystery might be considered romance to another. Or what if it’s both? Or both and also dystopian? You can add different tags if the book is in your library catalog. The book probably has multiple subject listings. Students and teachers have various search pathways: keyword, subject, title, and an advanced Boolean search. But it only has one location on the shelf.
Why We Discourage Genrification in NYC
It’s hard to find anything consistent in education in this country, let alone in a colossal district like New York. I recently met a school librarian from Sweden who said that every school in her country has the same curriculum, funding, and pedagogy. Alas, schools in NYC can buy different curriculums, funding varies, and initiatives change every time there’s a new Chancellor. But at least our school libraries are organized by the Dewey Decimal System like our public library partners. No matter what library you visit, a book on cats is under 636.
Unless people have taken it upon themselves to genrify…
Teach students to find books they want
Students need to have an informational, organizational structure that they can learn and understand. We can’t unpack the complex algorithms underlying the Internet and social media. Still, we can give learners the knowledge to empower themselves to find books on the shelves they want to read. And we can teach them searching strategies to locate books and series in our library catalogs like Boolean, related terms, subject v. keyword, and viewing curated lists and tags.
Genrify your catalog
So why not help students locate books they want with helpful tags that aren’t listed in the MARC record? Add multiple tags if the system allows it. Genrify your catalog, not your collection. It’s much easier to batch process a change in a library catalog than to relabel, reorganize, and reclassify books on the shelf. Not to mention updating specs with your vendors, explaining your system to someone else when you leave, and so on. Add stickers to books if you must, but keep them where students, teachers, parents, and your fellow librarians can find them!
Author: Leanne Ellis
I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.