Ditching Dewey: Hot Topic in Hartford | AASL 2013

At the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) 16th National Conference in Hartford, CT, common themes and hot topics of discussion emerged. One popped up numerous times—"genrefication," the reorganizing of one’s collection away from Dewey Decimal Classification.
At the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) 16th National Conference, held in Hartford, CT, November 14–17, common themes and hot topics of discussion emerged. One topic popped up numerous times—the issue of “genrefication,” or reorganizing one’s collection away from Dewey Decimal Classification into student-friendly, genre-based categories. At “Ditching Dewey: Genrefication in Your Library,” a concurrent session on Saturday morning, five librarians who made the switch shared their reasons for the change and the positive feedback from their students. For Tiffany Whitehead, library media specialist; Megan Scott, school librarian and English teacher; Shannon Miller, teacher librarian; Sherry Gick, school librarian; and Kathy Burnette, library media specialist, the benefits are clear. Here are their top reasons to ditch Dewey and genre-fy your library: 1. It’s student-centered. School librarians (especially solo ones) spend an enormous amount of time helping students locate the book they want. The easier it is for kids and teens to locate materials, the more content-rich conversations can be happening about the actual books! 2. It makes browsing easier. Like materials are grouped together. Students and patrons looking for their favorite kinds of books can find them faster and often without having to rely on the catalog.  3. It allows for closer arrangement of related fiction and nonfiction sections. Some genrefied libraries group fiction and nonfiction subject in the same section or side by side. Students who love sports fiction will also find sports biographies nearby. It’s a great CCSS tie in; students read more nonfiction because it is more visible.Students read more broadly. 4. It can be adapted to meet the changing needs of students. As curriculum changes or trends in student reading habits shift, the collection can evolve and grow with them. 5. Students discover new authors and read more broadly within their favorite genres. For a child who loved reading J.K. Rowling, she may branch out to enjoy C.S. Lewis, Tolkein, Norton Juster, or Ursula K. LeGuin by browsing deeply within that genre. 6. It allows librarians to examine, evaluate, and really get to know the collection. By separating into genre-based sections, librarians can see clearly which areas need weeding and which ones need an influx of new titles.

A genre-based shelf in Tiffany Whitehead's library.

An informal poll of conference participants revealed, as expected, a lot of support for the concept and how it can improve student learning and inquiry.

However, dissenters made their case, too, in informal learning sessions throughout the weekend—and none so vocally (and boisterously) as during Joyce Valenza's late-night “unconference.” Midway through the high-energy event, Dan Callahan, co-founder of EdCamp, presided over several rounds of “Rocks/Sucks,” in which participants took sides over various issues. Of all the various topics—including the integration of technology and the use of Facebook to communicate with students—ditching Dewey inspired some of the most spirited debates. With those in favor of the new concept and those opposed rushing to cluster on opposite sides of the room, the lines became drawn. Though slightly more participants came down on the side of favoring the shift, many in attendance were quick to point out why “Genrefication sucks!” Their top reasons for why they are against rushing to ditch Dewey? 1. Because student collections should resemble those in the public libraries. School librarians should be encouraging students to be lifelong learners by teaching them the rigors of the type of library organization that they’ll find in academic and public libraries when they get older. 2. Because genrefiction could encourage administrators to reduce the librarian’s time with students helping select materials, or rely on classroom collections instead. After all, bookstores specifically began creating genre-specific collections in order to eliminate clerks and other employees. 3. Because reorganizing one’s collection “is a siren taking me away from keeping me in the classroom,” as one naysayer put it. Although the idea is interesting and attractive, the time and resources required for such a switch is out of reach for many school librarians, she noted. In all, though, perhaps the most persuasive argument ended with the Common Core. “It’s supported through genre, and putting fiction and nonfiction together” as one pro-genrefication unconference attendee said, "is the best way to do that." What do you think? Are student-friendly and librarian-friendly collections mutually exclusive? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Dede Coe

I think that it is very interesting that most of us who support Dewey vs. genrefication by personal preference (as do I) have experience with both school and public libraries. ( I also have managed a bookstore and have experience with the store marketing mentality.) I acknowledge that "reading" "learning" and "resources" are the benefits but feel that "genrefication" can occur within the structure of utilizing Dewey by catalouging and using genre labels on the spine. :) and YES by the way I do consider myself progressive.

Posted : Nov 16, 2014 02:32

Anni West LaPrise

I have worked in both public and school libraries. I can easily teach my kids how to use Dewey and have been for at least 10 years. You don't know how many have come back so excited about finding books in the local public libraries. Dewey is set up for easy browsing if you understand it. I teach it as 10 big ideas not just a list of numbers so the kids understand why books are next to each other. I have adults that visit my school libraries tell me how impressed they are with my kids and how they can find books so easy. I also have those who have started research in high school come back and tell me how glad they were that I did teach them how libraries are set up. I will gladly share my lessons to those who need them. Pre Dewey libraries were set up differently by individual librarians. Do we really want to go back to those days that users can't use every library because each are different? My kids and I sure don't!

Posted : Nov 22, 2013 08:03

Beth Meier

I agree, having worked in both school and public libraries, that Dewey is still important. It always amazed me that adults didn't realize that the children's nonfiction was organized exactly the same way as the adult section. I've had my fiction collection organized by genre for about 10 years and it does encourage reading broadly and exploring, but I don't believe that I will ever merge in the nonfiction collection, just seems too confusing.

Posted : Nov 22, 2013 07:51

Becky Stiles

I'd love to hear about your approach to teaching the Dewey system ("10 Big Ideas") Thanks for sharing, Becky

Posted : Nov 25, 2013 11:39

barbara letourneau

I am interested in your lesson plans for Dewey Decimal if you're interested in sharing....

Posted : Dec 12, 2013 11:14


The fiction aspect makes a lot of sense, especially to encourage kids to discover great read-a-likes outside of the popular titles in the genre. I never thought of integrating the non-fiction, though. I'm not dead set against it, but maybe would start with some select titles to integrate at first. There would be a lot of non-fiction that wouldn't apply to any, or those that could fit in more than one genre, begging the question: Would the layout of the library's collection be MORE confusing than it (supposedly, according to Dewey-haters) already is?

Posted : Nov 21, 2013 09:06


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