Genrefication in NSW public school libraries: A discussion paper

This discussion paper has been prepared by June Wall, Library Coordinator, NSW Department of Education.

The paper provides an overview using the current research and articles available on the trend in libraries to organise collections in genres. It is written to elicit discussion so that a broad understanding of the issues is identified. It is anticipated that some system wide decisions may be development. However, and more importantly, it will provide a base level for schools to make decisions relevant to their community needs.

The problem

There has been discussion on various online forums, such as Yammer and NSWTL, about the place of genres as a location and browsing device in school libraries. It seems that some schools have started a variety of levels of change to their collection according to genre. In the process of this, it also seems, and there is data from Oliver to use as evidence for this, that the variety of genres and formatting of entries into Oliver means the possibility of a dysfunctional database if there is not an associated structure. As a result, and after a meeting between NSW Department of Education library support, SCIS and Oliver staff, it was determined that clarity on this was needed across NSW schools.

Defining genrefication

Genrefication is a broad term used for an entire spectrum of processes used to organise school library collections (Sannwald, 2014). However, there is no other official or informal terminology for the existing variety along the spectrum of genrefication.

‘In general, any form of grouping individual physical materials according to subject content qualifies as genrefication. This single term has been used to describe everything from revitalizing directional signage (Fialkoff, 2009) to non-traditional shelving (Cox, 2011) to ditching Dewey (Whitehead, 2012) and revolutionising the purpose of a library (Introducing Anythink, 2009).’

Outhouse, 2017 p.5

While genrefication in NSW schools has predominantly been applied to the fiction collection, it is important to note that the broad definition of category grouping could be applied to any collection in the school library. The concept of genrefication has been applied whenever the following terms have been used in a library:

  • Dewey light
  • Ditching Dewey
  • Bookstore model.

For the purposes of this paper, the term genrefication is not synonymous with literary genres, it is defined as category grouping. Category grouping is different from subject headings. A category is a larger concept than subjects, which tend to be specific to discipline areas. A category could be used as a literary category of Fantasy or a curriculum category of War and conflict. In the former example, subject headings such as Fantasy – Fiction; Space – Fiction; or Steampunk Fiction could be found. In the latter, subject headings such as World War, 1914-1918 – Australia – Pictorial works; World War, 1939-1945 – Australia; or Hastings, Battle of, 1066 which also mean different Dewey numbers could also be found.

Genrefication just means organising books, either fiction or nonfiction, by category in a scheme other than DDC or general alphabetical order.

Types of genrefication

Four types of fiction classifications have been proposed over the years (Baker & Shepherd, 1987; Collazo, 2011; Plemmons, 2016; Sannwald, 2014; Whitehead, 2013) and include:

  1. Format of work – short stories, picture books, junior fiction, senior fiction and young adult novels are examples of categorisation based on format.
  2. Literary quality – easy reads and other categorisation that define either the literacy level or the quality of the literature.
  3. Genre area – fiction books assigned a literary genre such as Science Fiction etc.
  4. Broad subject headings – book store signage and organisation such as War and conflict. It is important to note that these broad subject headings are usually across Dewey areas.

Various combinations of these organisational concepts exist across the modern genrefication spectrum, employed as seems best for each library (Outhouse, 2017, p. 20).

While moving physical location is often the result of a genrefication process, it is not always the case as many instances of genrefication have been used where items are labelled specific to the genre and remain in their original location.

Science fiction

Why genrefy?

The responsibility of all school library staff in NSW public schools is to ensure easy access to the collection for student learning and reading needs. This process of information access is determined and based on student and staff needs for each school within a framework of library standards.

The purpose of genrefication is to enhance students’ ability to browse a library collection without staff or technological assistance. The teaching program for each school library will always include awareness and developing skills on how to use a library catalogue or to locate information.

In a primary school library, the main purpose for genrefication has been based on literacy needs, for example, boxes of series collections, while it seems the main purpose in a secondary school library has been based on quick access to specific content, such as HSC study materials. Anecdotal conversations confirm that students more often ask the library staff, ‘Where is the green book on …?’ However, the collection needs to be organised based on ease of access to the material.

Genrefication of collections

There is a difference in responses about genrefication between nonfiction and fiction, primarily due to the difference between the original organisation of the subject base in nonfiction, (Dewey) in the first instance, and alphabetical listing in fiction. The following attempts to provide a top level view of the main issues in both nonfiction and fiction and a corresponding genrefication approach.

Some quotes from the research and practitioner experience are:

Case for and against


The question as to why a nonfiction collection should be organised in any other way apart from the standard Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) as per SCIS standards has not been asked as frequently as genrefying the fiction collection. However, when the concept of genrefying the collection is considered, as has been outlined in this paper as being more than like subjects, for example, an HSC collection, then the process and decisions about nonfiction need to be included in this discussion.


Much of the contemporary research, as cited in Outhouse (2017, p. 33), states that genrefication has had a visible increase in:

  • circulation
  • library attendance
  • positive general patron feedback

(Buchter, 2013; Collazo, 2011, September 10; 2012 Dec 26; Cox, 2011; Kaplan et. Al, 2012; Whitehead, 2011, Jan 15; 2012, April 9; 2016, January 23; 2017, January 11).

The primary value in category grouping in nonfiction is:

  • browsing the collection more easily. Student’s ability to search for specific material is enabled.
  • providing a different location schema other than the decimal system. It is important to note here that decimals as a maths concept does not cover sequencing of decimals until Stage 4 maths in high school and they move beyond 3 places past the decimal point.
  • being able to categorise materials based on curriculum rather than the Dewey system.

Trott (2016) also suggests that the main reasons for dropping Dewey are:

  • elimination of barriers as it constrains access
  • browsability
  • customer driven information as experience, which is in line with current patterns of information behaviours of students
  • the structure of DDC means that often there are differences in location of seemingly similar topics. For example, sport stats (613), famous sports people (796 or 920), teaching sport etc.

The Book Industry Standards and Communication (BISAC) codes have been used in libraries as an alternative to Dewey. This is another example of genrefication.


Most of the disadvantages associated with genrefying the nonfiction collection are based on lack of consistency across libraries and the main argument being ‘why change something that still works?’ Genrefication of any kind is dependent upon community communication and the purpose espoused. On this basis, genrefication should only be examined as a result of local community needs or requests.

There are two main objections.

  • It can disable quick retrieval of a single resource for a researcher.
  • Standardisation across the profession is destroyed, the very purpose for which DDC was created (Dewey, 1864; Snipes, 2015), as cited in Outhouse, 2017, p.32.

The primary argument is uniformity of resource location across the profession versus increase of patron use and circulation.

Books on shelves



In school libraries most of the literature reflects a genrefication approach in fiction collections. The experience reflected identifies that genre areas consistently expose overlooked fiction authors to student because having a genre narrows the reader’s choices, a benefit for untried decision makers (Outhouse, 2017, p. 19).

Reasons for genrefying

  • Circulation increase for fiction owing to simplified browsing – anecdotal data suggests anywhere from 50% to triple circulation statistics.
  • Particularly of use for reluctant readers or learning support where the decision-making process needs active support structures.
  • Circulation increases and browsing a range of topics is enabled.
  • Younger students read symbols or images more than text and, as genrefied collections tend to have symbols and images as location devices, this supports the user.
  • Community needs met by responding to requests for easier location mechanisms.


The primary reasons stated against genrefication in fiction collections are similar to the disadvantages identified for nonfiction collections – that of the alphabetical order of the current system is appropriate. Additional issues have also been identified by Trott and Novak (2016):

  • Defining genre. There are a variety of definitions available to use for literary genres and many books have multiple genres. The question is how should the school library approach the difficulty of assigning genres, for example, students may seek a book that has been classified as suspense when the student thinks of it as a thriller?
  • Stigmatisation of genres.
  • Time and space issues. It is time consuming to place stickers or move books and, depending on the number of genres within a library, there may be space issues for storage.
  • The role of the readers’ advisor. Those who argue against genrefication place emphasis on the role of the teacher librarian in providing the guidance to students for reading selection and so some of the main reasons to genrefy are not justified if a reader’s advisor capacity is implemented effectively in the school.

Some issues to consider

This paper has been developed as a discussion piece at this time for NSW public school libraries. Discussion on both sides of the argument is encouraged so that effective decisions are made for school communities. However, there are some issues that need to be considered at a system level.

SCIS genres

The cataloguing standard for NSW public schools remains the SCIS standards. These standards contain a specified list of literary genres. Other types of genres for both fiction and nonfiction, such as format (e.g. HSC materials) or subject based (e.g. War and conflict) are not included in these standards. To implement a genre approach that is not included in SCIS standards requires a considered approach based on library standards.

Scot genres

Scot terms are also available from SCIS records and these have genres as well. Where there is a disparity between Scot and SCIS, the SCIS record should be maintained.

Genres in Oliver

The genre field in Oliver has been used for many variations of the theme of genres. A library management system that is state wide needs state wide guidelines. It may be proposed to constrain the genre field to a controlled vocabulary (as for subject headings).

Library standards

As a profession, adhering to standards is the basis of resource collections and location devices. It is critical that cataloguing records meet SCIS standards. It may be that changes will be on location only (the collection field in Oliver) and not within the Dewey field.

Ways forward

System level

  • It is recommended that there may be a need for core genres to be used in Oliver as a controlled vocabulary.

School level

  • Localised identifying labels should still be used if this supports browsing and location skills for students.

Next steps

To paraphrase a famous playwright – is the question:

‘To genrefy or not to genrefy?’

And therefore, is the answer –

Local schools, local decisions? Within an umbrella of school library standards?

The topic of genrefication tends to have proponents and opponents and both sides of the argument feel strongly about the topic. This paper has been an attempt to identify the core advantages and disadvantages and present some issues that need to be considered. It is not presented as an exhaustive overview of the research, rather as a practitioner approach to the topic. Critical discussion on this is an important part of the profession. Feedback is sought to:

  • further inform school library staff
  • develop a procedure as guidelines for this.

Please join the discussion on the Great School Libraries blog and provide feedback and your thoughts

Once the discussion has presented all items to consider, and conclusions have been released, a guidelines document will be published for schools to follow.

References and further reading

Anythink. (nd). Browse the catalog. Anythink: a revolution of Rangeview Libraries. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Arranging library fiction by genre. National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Beezley, S. (2011). Dare to be ‘Deweyless’: An evaluation of BISAC-based headings in public libraries. A Master‘s Paper for the M.S. in L.S degree. July, 2011. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Book genre finder. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Complete BISAC subject headings list. (2018). BISG Book Industry Study Group.Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Cornwall, G. (2018). ‘How genrefication makes school libraries more like bookstores’, Mindshift. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Dewey or don’t we: Transitioning to a Deweyless library. (2016) CSL in session.Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Darien Library (2019). Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Davenport, S. (2017). ‘Genrefying the fiction collection’. Connections, 102. Schools Catalogue Information Service. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Davis, S. (2016). Deweyless, No regrets! Life without Dewey. Indiana State Library. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Dunne, K. (2015). Genrefication of the fiction collection in an elementary school library. Masters thesis. University of Central Missouri. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Eichenlaub, I. (2018). ‘Genrefication: Removing barriers to access’. Knowledge Quest.American Association of School Librarians. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Gray, M. (2018). ‘Genre wars’. Connections, 104. Schools Catalogue Information Service. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Hamm, S. (2019). ‘Why I chose not to genrify the fiction section’. Teen services underground.Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Library genrefication: the do’s and don’ts. Alexandria. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Martin, C. (2019). ‘What school librarians have to say about genrefication’. Demco. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Martin, L. (2019). Ditching Dewey …? Re-imagining our fiction and non-fiction collections. Presented at AIS Teacher Librarians Conference. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Metis: Library classification for children. (2011). Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Outhouse, R. (2017). Genrefication: Introducing and explaining the exponential trend. UNC. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Potter, J. (2016). ‘The effects of genrefication of fiction on the book selection process in elementary schools’. Culminating projects in information media. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Rendina, D. (2019). ‘Genrefication: How to organize your fiction collection by genre’. Renovated Learning. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Sannwald, S. (2015). In defense of library genrefication. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Trott, B. & Novak, V. (2006). ‘A house divided? Two views on genre separation’. Reference and User Services Quarterly, 46(2). Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Whitehead, T. (2013). ‘Ditching Dewey: choosing genre categories’. Mighty Little Librarian. Retrieved 23 October 2019

Williams, I., Chapman, H., Kerby, M. & Barker, R. (2015). Genrefying a library collection. Australian School Library Association slideshare. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

How to cite this article – Wall, J. (2019). Genrefication in NSW public school libraries: A discussion paper. Scan, 38(10).

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