When we officially decided to ditch the Dewey Decimal System, devising a new method of organizing was essential. We knew we had to find a way to make non-fiction appealing to the eye, efficient to navigate, and easy to implement. After scouring the internet for examples of high schools who had overhauled their non-fiction sections, I realized we might be one of the first. I want to document our process in hopes of helping any librarian looking for tools and methods for genrefying non-fiction.
Studying Barnes & Noble
We spent a lot of time studying how Barnes & Noble organizes its store because students and faculty voiced shopping for non-fiction there, while avoiding it in our school library. We wrote down all of their genre categories and combined categories into larger headings that matched our library’s collection and patron interests. We learned that Barnes & Noble stocks multiple sections with the same titles, improving customers’ chances of finding a title. We do not have this ability for most titles, so we had to ensure that our major categories were broad enough for students to intuitively navigate. Our major categories were as follows:
- Study Aids
- Lifestyle & Relationships
- Psychology & Sociology
- Science & Technology
- Animals & Nature
- Arts & Culture
- Poetry & Plays
- Business & Economics
- Politics & Social Issues
- History & Geography
Stacks on Stacks on Stacks
After creating our larger categories, we had to start reorganizing the books on the shelves. To free up space on the shelves, though, we started by making giant piles of books all over the library’s floor. We categorized each book into its corresponding, major genre. Unlike Dewey, we did not put biographies and autobiographies into a separate section. We felt students were more likely to know they wanted to read a sports biography or a memoir by someone suffering with depression than know the specific name of said person. Therefore, embedding these personal stories within the various sections made biographies easier for students to locate while browsing.
After all of our major categories were re-organized, we had to start making sub-categories. We needed a way to narrow sections, making it easier to hone in on a specific title, while keeping them broad enough for multiple books to fall under the heading. Our goal was to make sure there were at least 10-30 books in each section. If the numbers seemed to climb, we knew we needed to sub-divide even further. If the numbers were small, we knew we needed to combine sections. Here is a link to our final list of categories.
Re-Labeling and Shelving
One of the reasons we wanted to reorganize our non-fiction was our hatred for shelving with decimals. We wanted to create labels that made shelving easy at a glance, but also helped patrons browse. In large font, we put the first letters of each major section, and then in smaller font underneath, we put the entire sub-category title.
When re-shelving, we do not further organize the titles or authors by alphabetizing. Instead, we simply ensure all of the subcategories remain together on the shelves. We have found that scanning 20 titles is just as fast, when looking for a specific title, as searching for a lengthy decimal point. It also has been easier to ensure titles are in the right spot, because one can see an out-of-place sticker at a glance when every book in a section has a matching label.
Prior to starting this process, we weeded a large amount of titles to free up space on the shelves. Students voiced that one of the reasons they love Barnes & Noble is the amount of covers they see. We put multiple titles on stands at the start of each section, which act as a visual marker for what types of books are in each section.
We won’t lie, the process of changing was exhausting and mentally numbing at times. However, we have seen so many great payoffs from implementing it! It is my hope that our experience can encourage any intrigued librarians to take the plunge.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read about why we took the plunge, click here.