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Dewey or Don’t We? Dewey Decimal vs. Genrefication

Library Genrefication Advantages and Drawbacks
Twenty years ago, ditching the most widely used library classification system was unimaginable. Today, we are still teaching children the Dewey Decimal system. This is one of our most viewed blog post—so we know that librarians are creating lesson plans, scavenger hunts, and games to teach Dewey. However, have we grown too comfortable with this 143-year-old system? As we adapt to new library technologies and build out 21st-century learner programs, is Dewey falling short of the modern library’s needs?

Dewey vs. Genrefication

We've seen librarians making drastic changes to their library in recent years using the “bookstore method”, better known as Genrefication. Genrefying your library means arranging the library collection by category, subject, and genre to help patrons find books that fit their interests.

Librarians are on both ends of the spectrum; there are those who are eager adopters to Genrefication and those who are happy with Dewey's system. To keep Dewey Decimal or to switch to Genrefication depends on your patrons. If you are contemplating whether or not to genrefy your library collection, a good pros and cons list is the perfect opportunity to work through your thoughts.

To help you get started, we've laid out the advantages and drawbacks to consider before genrefying your school library.


Aid Literacy and Discovery
Librarians who have genrefied their library collection didn't do so on a whim. They did so with a goal in mind. A common goal is to increase reading literacy by making books easier to find.

When students come to the library, they have an idea of what subject or genre they want. Genrefication empowers patrons to discover new books in genres they already favor, by placing similar books near each other. Not only are frequent library patrons finding new books and reading more, but it is less difficult for struggling or reluctant readers to find a book they enjoy.
Improve Circulation and Efficiency
Despite efforts to keep their collection as close to Dewey standards as possible, most libraries have some inconsistencies. Disparities to Dewey are a result of librarians trying to match the right books to the right students and improve circulation.

Teacher librarians are using tools like Lexile Scores and color-coded category stickers to match readers and books. Genrefication can achieve the same result more efficiently. When students and educators can find the right books, librarians can focus more time on programs like makerspaces, digital citizenship, research skills, and more.
Know Your Collection Better
Library genrefication has loose parameters. Each librarian who genrefies their library will do so based on the needs of their students, collection, and curriculum. We like to think of it as a fingerprint; no two school libraries will be the same.

Genrefication will give you the opportunity to understand the books in your collection better. You'll see the strengths and weaknesses in each genre category. Having a better understanding will allow you to curate the right materials to improve weak points in your library collection.


Genrefication may enable students to become "stuck" in one genre. Sticking to one genre can limit student learning and their ability to find joy in other types of books. Furthermore, librarians have a concern that genrefying will increase circulation for some titles while decreasing circulation for others.

Another organizational issue is the separation of books by the same author. This would be a consideration for middle and high school libraries since students more often come to the library seeking specific books by authors.
Library Standards
Pushback from librarians against genrefication comes from the lack of library standards. Books are already grouped by subject in Dewey Decimal, and students need to have consistent skills for using any library.

This drawback is an important consideration. It may even be a deal breaker for some librarians. Ultimately, it doesn't come down to whether or not you are using Dewey Decimal, but if students know how to search for books in the library catalog, regardless of the classification system.
Genre Selection
Loose parameters make it hard to judge which genre a book should be placed in, especially when some books can have more than one genre category. What makes sense to one librarian may not be the same to another.
Time and Effort
Genrefication isn't a simple process. It will require time and energy, which isn't always available for teacher librarians. The number one drawback to genrefication is the act of juggling a full class schedule and completing the flip without aides or extra help.

How to Decide If Genrefication Will Work for Your Library:

Only you, as the librarian, can decide if genrefication is right for your school library. If you are still working out the pros and cons, we have a simple question for you to think about: what is your goal for genrefying? Genrefying your library collection should be motivated by a goal or desire to improve an aspect in your library.

If you are still torn about the decision, we have a few ideas to help you test drive genrefication.

  • Create genre lists in your library automation system for students to access.
  • Make book displays for each genre.
  • Sort students' favorite books into bins by genre.
  • Place stickers on the spines of books in popular genres.
  • Survey teachers and students to see their thoughts on categorizing books by genre.

Finally, you can use student opinions to see if genrefication will work in your library. Take a pile of books and ask students to sort the books in a meaningful way. Have students lump books together and see what categories they create. Afterward, you can ask them if this type of book categorization makes sense.

Final Considerations
We want to leave you with these final considerations. Be sure to think about the size of your library collection and how genrefying will affect the space you have to grow. Don't just design for now. Design for the ever-changing future.

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  1. Linda says:

    I intensely dislike genreification! Your beginning paragraph states one of the advantages to genrefication (gen) is arranging books by subject. Here’s news — that’s what Dewey does. I have worked in a library that went to gen and it was (and is) a mess! Often people could no longer find things without help. It was a HUGE time waster to change all the labels, not to mention budget waster to pay the hours to have it done and for the supplies. The public library I worked at is now infamous in our county for having done this. They are in a cooperative agreement with other libraries and I’ve heard several people say they just go to one of the other libraries because they have not bought into this disaster.

    For me, personally, last week I went to the library looking for a couple of audio books and was ticked when I had to go to three different spots to find the Grisham books (mystery, drama, and I can’t remember what they called the third one.) For crying out loud, put all the Grishams in one spot!

    I had an open mind when I first read an article on gen years ago and I visited a nearby library to see it in action. (Thank heaven there are only two libraries in our area that have done this!) I wanted to see if this was a better way. It only took a few minutes in the library observing patrons’ confusion and then trying to find a book myself to see that it is very overrated.

  2. Linda says:

    I should have added that I’m impressed with you showing both advantageous and disadvantageous, or two sides to the story. Do you think you could teach that to the mainstream press?

    • Alexandria Library Software says:

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you for taking the time to read our article and sharing your perspective.
      We do see both sides of the coin. Dewey Decimal System and organizing fiction by author works. It’s why we’ve used it in our libraries for over 140 years! Genrefication is still a new method, and like all new methods, needs some refining. Whichever classification system a librarian uses, the most critical factor to consider is: can you patrons find books? We enjoy being part of the conversation and sharing thoughts with our librarians. Thanks again, Linda!

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