Thoughts on genrefying a high school library

Wow! It has been a long time between posts – I guess this is what happens when blogging is not mentioned as an essential part of a subject!

Most of the assessment tasks for ETL505 were “practical” cataloguing exercises, however the final part of the final assessment was a mini-essay on the following topic:

“The literature provides good arguments for arranging primary school library collections by genres. Is this also the case for high school library collections? Critically discuss the advantages and disadvantages of arranging a high school library collection by genres.”

While I might debate the implication in the lead-in statement that the argument for genrefying primary school library collections is a slam-dunk, that was not my task, LOL. My quick and dirty opinion on the question we were posed – genrefication of the fiction section of the high school library is worth considering, for non-fiction I would hold off until there was a significant shift in the English-speaking library sector away from Dewey Decimal Classification for non-fiction collections. For a bit more information on why I came to those conclusions, you are welcome to read on:
ETL505 Assessment 2 Part C

Genrefication – classifying and potentially shelving library collections by genre or textually-identified subject categories – has been a hot topic over the past decade. From a special issue of Knowledge Quest in late 2013 to a panel discussion at the 2019 SLANSW conference in Sydney this past February, the question arises, “Is genrefication a classification system that makes sense for Australian high school libraries?” This paper considers that question with reference to both fiction and non-fiction collections and in light of the purpose, pedagogy, and post-schooling prospects of this sector.

Classifying fiction by genre is gaining popularity. In school libraries, genrefication of the fiction section has been shown to increase circulation (Hembree, 2013; North, 2017), increase “book talk” and peer recommendations between students and, potentially, relieve pressure on “high traffic” areas of the fiction collection (Hembree, 2013; Sweeney, 2013). Proponents point to the user-friendliness of this classification model for browsing and student familiarity with the model from bookstores. If increasing circulation and, presumably, wide reading amongst the student population is a priority in the secondary school library then serious consideration should be given to this model.

Even supporters of this system, however, point out that implementation in any particular school library must be done with attention to the school’s characteristics (Davenport, 2017). Decisions must be made regarding which genres to select, how to deal with books or series that cross genre boundaries, how to accommodate the characteristics of both the particular collection and the student users, as well as staffing considerations for switching to and maintaining the system. Notwithstanding the potential benefits, this is a decision that cannot be made (or unmade) lightly.

For secondary school libraries interested in investigating genrefication as a classification system, the fiction collection is a natural starting place. The main fiction searches in school libraries are leisure reading (in both primary and secondary), and class-related text searches either by type of text or targeted to a specific author or title (secondary). In any classification system, patron search will involve both browsing and OPAC search and identification. Genre-based classification makes browsing for leisure or curriculum-related resources by text characteristics easier because, even with genre tags or subject headings, this type of search can be frustrating and inefficient via an OPAC. Solving these issues through classification and shelving organisation by genrefying the collection, thus, has much to recommend it. Critics have complained, however, that genre-based shelving can make it more difficult to find a particular targeted resource for which you have author and title information. However, the brief catalogue search to find the location of “Dystopia – Collins” and then locate the physical copy will not be much more time-burdensome than a purely alphabetical-by-author physical search for “Collins”. So, overall, genrefication has the potential to increase the utility of genre-based browsing and minimally affect targeted searching. As such, it deserves consideration for implementation in fiction collections in secondary school libraries.

But what about the non-fiction collection? Should we “ditch Dewey” as various articles clamour? The arguments in favour of this are less compelling. Even some proponents of fiction collection genrefication declare their unwillingness to consider switching to a so-called genrefied classification for non-fiction (Sweeney, 2013; Weisburg, 2013). If you look closely at descriptions of “genrefied” non-fiction collections, the classification categories are word rather than number-based, but they still tend to be subject or topic classifications, not “genres”. Since DDC is a discipline-based classification system, it also groups resources topically, though it uses numerical notation to do so. Developmentally and pedagogically speaking, high school students are in the perfect developmental stage for learning the abstractions of the DDC (Snipes, 2015), unlike early to middle primary students who might benefit from a more concrete non-fiction classification system.

Additionally, the purpose of non-fiction research in secondary school is not only to expose students to content, but to help them learn how to search for information independently beyond their secondary schooling – to become lifelong learners. In 2016, Census numbers showed that more than 50% of the population aged 15 and over held a post-school qualification (Certificate, Diploma, Bachelor’s or postgraduate degree) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). The majority of TAFE and university libraries use DDC or a similar numeric classification system for non-fiction. Even for the minority of students who do not pursue some form of higher education, DDC is still the most widely used classification system in Australian libraries (NLA, n.d., para 8). With our duty to prepare students for independent learning, secondary school libraries should be followers rather than leaders in any change to more “user-friendly” word-based subject classification schemes.

Any decisions by Australian high schools must carefully consider the needs of the particular school population and the practicalities of creating and maintaining any new classification system. As we have seen, teaching the use of DDC in high school libraries makes sense while it remains the dominant classification scheme for Australian libraries in general. Therefore, for those considering genrefication, the purpose and pedagogy of secondary schooling would indicate that fiction collections would be the most likely to benefit from adopting this classification scheme while genrefying non-fiction collections may create more issues than it solves.




Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017, October 23). Australians pursuing higher education in record numbers. Retrieved from

Burk, R. (2018, September 21). Ditching Dewey: Library switching to more user-friendly classification system. In ciLiving. Retrieved from

Davenport, S. (2017). Genrefying the fiction collection. SCIS Connections, 102, 6-7. Retrieved from

Hembree, J. (2013). Ready, set, soar!: Rearranging your fiction collection by genre. Knowledge Quest, 42(2), 62-65. Retrieved from

LibWeb. (n.d.). Libraries in Illinois. In LibWeb: Library servers via www. Retrieved May 25, 2019 from:

National Library of Australia. Standards. In National Library of Australia. Retrieved May 25, 2019 from:

North, J. (2017). Genrefication in the middle school library and teacher and student satisfaction. Longwood Graduate Research Symposium 2017.

Snipes, P. R. (2015). Concrete to abstract: Growing past genre into Dewey. Library Media Connection, 33(4), 26-29. Retrieved from

Sweeney, S. (2013). Genrefy your library: Improve readers’ advisory and data-driven decision making. Young Adult Library Services, Summer 2013, 41-45. Retrieved from

Velasco, S. (2019, May 21). What are public libraries for? In experience. Retrieved from

Weisburg, H. K. (2013). The Dewey debate. Knowledge Quest, 42(2), 8-9. Retrieved from

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