Serendipity and genrefying collections

A post for #GLAMBlogClub

Serendipity “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for” (Merriam-Webster)

Serendipity and libraries are often linked by the idea of browsing and discovering in the stacks. When this month’s topic was announced I was already thinking about serendipity in relation to school library collections, in particular genrefying the fiction collection.

(Some context: I am not a school librarian. I am currently working in tech services in an academic library. I’m exploring this topic because I am a school council member at the primary school my children attend and they are about to construct a new building which will house the library, STEM and art rooms. I have been invited by the principal to assist with the library vision and move).

“If a skill is ONLY necessary in the library, is really necessary at all?”

Although genrefying collections is not a new idea, I’ve found it to be a contentious one. The main arguments I heard against genrefying included that it would pigeon hole readers (and potentially authors), many books could fit into more than one genre and that it was a lot of work. However I have been unsuccessful in finding any data reporting this to actually be the case (except for the bit about it being a lot of work). I searched. I put it out to my Twitter network. Many of the arguments do not seem insurmountable.

“You finally have books I want to read!”

On the other hand I found plenty of positive information on genrefying. Circ stats going up, users reporting that it is easier to find books they want to read, identification of collection gaps*. This did make me wonder, are there no negative reports because genrefying is generally received positively…or because of a tendency to report only the success stories and not the failures?

“Successfully browsing, previewing and selecting is a critical first step towards reading engagement, and choosing ‘the right book’ to borrow can be a challenging first hurdle to overcome”

The positive reports were enough to convince me that it was worth putting the idea to our principal, and the school community. I’m excited to hopefully put into practice some of the things I learned at Library School™ about evidence-based practice and user centered design. Given that student voice and agency is a big part of our school’s strategic focus I think our principal will be receptive to the idea of me organising some focus groups and surveys to explore the idea further.

Genrefying seems to have an overall positive impact on collection navigation, use and development. To me it makes sense that supporting students to be independent users of the library, and improving the browsing experience in the stacks should have a flow on effect of encouraging more serendipitous discovery, of books, authors and genres students might otherwise not have encountered.


*Most of what I was reading related to full genrefication, moving books into genre sections. There is also what I think of as the ‘halfway’ method of adding genre stickers to books but leaving them in author order. 




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