Friday, October 31, 2014

Ditching Dewey? A "Genrefication" Project

On Thursday mornings I volunteer for a couple of hours in the Boulder High School Library.  It's an active place with space for groups of students to study and socialize during their "off" periods and for classes to work together on research projects, but it also has a quiet area where individual students can  read and do their homework.  There are two personable and knowledgeable librarians who preside over the constant hum of activity.  

I am a librarian and it feels good every week to use that part of my mind and talents.  I'm helping with their "Genrefication" project, an outcome of the librarian's thinking about a current "hot topic" in school librarianship right now, whether it's time to "ditch Dewey" and file books simply by broad subjects or genres, such as "mystery" or "baseball."  

You may not realize this, but if a child is interested in "books about horses" a school librarian will help him use the library catalog to find the shelving number of the books which will likely be found on many different shelves.  Fact-based books about wild horses will be shelved under one Dewey decimal number while fact-based books about domesticated horses will be under a different one, and made up stories featuring horses will be filed by the author's last name.   In the past few years school libraries have begun to think that maybe it's better to pull all the books on a subject together so they can be quickly found in one spot without having to use the library catalog.  

This overthrow of a long standing system of organization has its pros and cons, as you can imagine.  You can Google "school library gentrification" if you'd like to read all about it.   

I dabbled in this question during my years as a middle school librarian.  Kids would repeatedly ask "Where are the mysteries?"   There was no way to quickly answer this question since a trip to the library catalog was always involved unless you simply thought of an author who wrote mysteries and took the child to that shelf.   But if you wanted a choice of authors, you had to look them up.   Not being willing to discard the traditional library system, I finally added genre labels to fiction books so that I could say "for mysteries, look for books with a the red label on the spine showing a spy glass." 

At Boulder High they are moving a step further and creating separate shelves for fiction by popular subjects, such as horror, mysteries, science fiction and fantasy, personal issues and relationships, and sports.  My job is to identify and pull the books on these subjects; someone else does the labeling and makes the necessary changes to the library catalog. I get to look through the entire fiction collection, which has been a lot of fun and very interesting.  

This week when I came in many of the books had been labeled and were on their new shelves. I loved the shelf labels the librarian had made and think the new system should be very appealing to students.   


 Hope you have a great Halloween!  We're hosting  friends for dinner while Paul gives out candy to the trick or treaters.   Can't resist sharing this funny picture I found somewhere online.


  1. Funny picture...elicited a bona fide chuckle. As a long-time bibliophile (gosh, since the 60s at least) I would be perplexed if Dewey was sent packing. I can go into any library anywhere and know that the cookbooks are in the 640s and the travel books are in the 900s. Fiction is always on the other side, sorted by author, but my library has a skull on the spine of the mystery books. Of course a real book nut will know the authors of the best mysteries.

  2. I have never been able to cope with Dewey and would happy to see him go! I am quite sympathetic to the genre approach, especially in public and school libraries. Interesting times for librarianship.


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