A girl in a library looking at her online library catalogue

Genrefying your library: Unley High School

How are your students choosing their books? Can you make book selection easier for them? With an increase in schools choosing to genrefy their fiction and non-fiction collections, we chatted with Rita Costi at Unley High School in Adelaide to gain insight and tips on their experience. Here’s what she shared:

 First things first

“The library team met with Kevin Hennah (a library consultant challenging the traditional ideas on library design, layout, image, signage and visual merchandising) in 2017. Based on his recommendations, we began the process of keeping our school library ‘relevant’, creating a level playing ground between our print collection and online resources.

Due to budget constraints, the process began in 2017 and has been ongoing for three years.

We began by tackling the easy changes. These included repainting the library using neutral colours, adding a “hero” wall to display our newest titles, and creating a lounge area with a magazine display and a wall TV screen.”

Tackling the fiction collection

“In Stage 2, we created a print strategy for the fiction collection. We purchased 6 portable double-sided shelving units (Raeco) with slatwall front facing acrylic display holders.

After a small “weed” we decided on several genre topics based on what our book collection consisted of. These are:

Mystery/Suspense
Love/Relationships
Dystopian
Science Fiction
Horror
Fantasy
Book Into Film
Adventure/Action
General

Each title was then reclassified and allocated a genre using Syba Signs stickers. The changes were reflected in Accessit Library. Each genre was added as a “Type” and made into a collection. The type e.g. “Horror” was then also added in the Genre field of the catalogue record.

As we had over 3,500 items to reclassify, this process took nearly 3 months to complete. The books were then moved to each allocated genre bay and placed in alphabetical order by author.

New signage from Merchandising Libraries completed the shelves by “Genre” title. As the shelves are on portable castors, we were able to place these in strategic positions enabling us to create different seating areas for individual study and also accommodate class space.

Genrefying your shelves

To familiarise the students with the new process, we made posters promoting the genres by using the graphic of each genre and also conducted orientation sessions during class time in the library. Students became familiar and adapted to the new library arrangement quickly. Now they go straight to the genre that interests them, saving time and simplifying the search process.”

Non-fiction strategy

“The next phase was to reclassify the non-fiction print, which has been an ongoing process throughout 2018-19. This task was considerably more challenging, as the strategy here required the rearranging of the collection based on curriculum areas of enquiry.

To achieve this, Kevin recommended we “weed” our collection by 50%. The deciding factors for this were: the condition of the book, the date it was last borrowed, relevance to curriculum subjects taught, and richness of content. This process is ongoing and we will continue to undertake to ensure a relevant and usable collection.

As we were venturing into a new area for school libraries, we decided to do some research and looked into how other libraries were reorganising their non-fiction collections. Several public libraries in South Australia have been doing this for some time. After talking with staff, it was decided we would adapt their model to complement curriculum subject areas taught at our school.

Our topics of enquiry were decided as a first step. These were:

Our Society
Health & Nutrition
STEM
The Arts
Leisure & Sport
Our World
Languages
True Stories

We allocated portable shelving unit/s to each topic. We then designed a sticker reflecting each topic and each book was reclassified accordingly. As an example, all the books on the ‘Our Society’ shelving unit will have the attached label on the spine.

Our society infographic

Further subtopics for each shelf were decided on once the collection was reclassified.

Genrefying your shelves

We also decided that we would use the Dewey Decimal System as a general guide where possible when ordering the subtopics on the shelves. In subtopic areas such as ‘Medieval History’, where there were books scattered in several areas of the original collection, these were grouped together, the same call number was assigned, and all were placed on the same shelf. This was a rather time consuming process as it involved allocating a subject area for each book and then amending the catalogue record accordingly.”

Representing genrefication in Accessit

“Being able to globally change collections on Accessit and append genres was beneficial in areas where all the books were allocated to the same collection. To further assist finding a book on the shelf, subtopics have been created in the ‘Genre’ field.

This is how a book record displays on the Accessit Web App.

Genre on the Web App

“Cooking the French Way” will be located on the HEALTH AND NUTRITION shelf under the subtopic “World Recipes”.

Genrefying your shelves

Further representation in the Accessit catalogue record includes using the Type entry in the Tag field. (This was a tip from Helen when she was here for the Accessit Roadshow.)”

Genrefying with Accessit

Impact on student engagement with the library

“The new shelving and reorganising of both fiction and nonfiction collections has had a positive impact on student engagement and teacher interest. The portable units have allowed us to create virtual room dividers and different seating arrangements. We are hoping to further enhance this with new furnishings in the near future.

Because the new shelving is black, the books stand out and students are able to engage with the collection. The bay end slat walls enable us to display our most current titles and we are finding that we need to replace these books regularly.

Genrefying your shelves

Feedback indicates that students are finding the library space more welcoming and easier to navigate. The library has become a hub of activity during breaks as well as lesson time.”

Lessons learned

“This process is a major positive change and needs to be a team project. All library staff need to be on the same page during the transition stage, letting go of ideas and habits that restrict progress. Genrefying the non-fiction collection challenges traditional ideas of thinking. What are you hoping to achieve by making the changes? What part, if any, is the Dewey Decimal System going to play? Be clear on your goals.”

Top tips:

Budget Restraints: Consider the cost of shelving, directional signage and staff time.

Research: Consider the benefits of professional consultation versus DIY or a combination of both. Liaise with libraries that have already undertaken changes, consider their processes and adapt these to suit your library.

Planning: How is the process going to happen? Create a clear flow chart on process and timeline. Be flexible in making changes. Accept that everything may not go to plan and be willing to adapt to ideas that come to light during the process.

The process for the fiction collection is far simpler than non-fiction. We would recommend starting with fiction as generally we felt this was smoother and less time consuming.

Know your collection. Identify the number of books you have for your selected genres. This will determine how many genre collections you need to set up.

In the non-fiction process weeding is the most essential element. Keep books only if they are still being used, in good condition and content-rich. A small usable collection is better than rows of books that don’t get utilised.”