Genrefying the High School Fiction Collection

Over the past two years, the high school library has undergone massive transformations: organizationally, physically, technologically, and instructionally. This post will examine the ways that it has changed from an organizational perspective.

books-164530_1280First, one of the most striking characteristics of this library when I first arrived was how HUGE, bloated, and packed-to-the-gills the collection was. All of our shelving for both Fiction and Non-Fiction is six shelves tall, and every single shelf was packed to the edge with books: approximately 28,000 of them, to be precise. It also felt like a very old collection. If you walked through the stacks to browse, it seemed like a too-large percentage was dated, unattractive, falling apart, etc. Although I would normally advise waiting for a year or so before undertaking a weeding project, the situation was dire. We began with the Non-fiction section and then, when that was completed in about February of my first year, we moved on to the Fiction section. Each time we finished weeding a few hundred books, we advertised them to staff using Smore flyers such as this one and this one.

By the time my second year rolled around, it was time to get creative! Now that the collection was much more manageable (and after one more round of comprehensive weeding– all told, we weeded approximately 7,600 books between the two years), we decided to turn our attention to the Fiction collection, because that’s where you can really have some fun. After observing that high school students here were not perusing the Fiction section looking for books, or asking for recommendations, or being required to have books to read for pleasure, and just generally were not engaging with much Fiction, we decided to make it really easy and attractive for them to quickly find books that were right for them. Yes, we decided to GENREFY! Genrefying as a concept has been around for a while, but I had not felt compelled to explore it at my previous school, as our collection was not very large, and because students were regularly and successfully asking and browsing for books. At my current school, however, the question of how to get books into students’ hands has been much more of a challenge. After doing a little online research, I found inspiration and great ideas from The Mighty Little Librarian (@librarian_tiff) and Mrs. ReaderPants (@mrsreaderpants), and decided to embark on a genrefication journey of our own.

The rest of this post details the steps we took to complete this project.

Step 1. We came up with 10 initial categories for genrefication: Action Adventure; Classics; Fantasy; Historical Fiction; Inspirational; Literary Fiction; Mystery Suspense; Realistic Fiction; Romance & Relationships; Science Fiction Dystopia. We knew that these might change as we went through the collection.

Step 2. We created 2-letter abbreviations for each genre, which is how they would be initially labeled and then how they would be identified in the catalog. We walked through the entire Fiction collection and made a light pencil mark indicating genre on the Date Due slip of each book.

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Step 3. We adjusted the categories according to the needs of the collection. It immediately became too difficult to differentiate between “Classics” and “Literary Fiction”, so we scrapped Classics and kept Literary Fiction. Also, near the end of the initial identification process, we still had only about 15 books in the “Inspirational” category, so we discarded that category and added most of them to Literary Fiction. We finished the identification process with a total of 8 genre categories.

Step 4. We color-coded each genre and created labels to affix above the call number sticker on each book’s spine. We did this so that we did not have to generate unique new call number labels for every book in the entire Fiction collection. This was suggested by the library assistants and was a BRILLIANT idea that avoided hours of the painstaking work it would have required to generate new unique call number labels, peel off old labels, and affix new labels.


Step 5. We began to take books off of the shelves and put them onto carts. We then affixed the genre labels to each book, according to the genre indicated on its cover page, and then adjusted the catalog record accordingly.

1. Search Catalog by Barcode

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2. Edit Copies

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3. Add Genre Abbreviation

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4. Edit Title Details

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5. Add Series/Notes

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6. Add Genre Note

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Step 6. Once books had been labeled and their records had been altered, we began to put them together in various places throughout the library. This proved to be a challenge, especially for very large genres like Science Fiction Dystopia and Mystery Suspense, but we felt that it was important to have everything off of the shelves before we began to put them back together with their genres. We utilized space in the library workroom, on long tables at the sides of the library, on shelving behind the circulation desk, and on as many carts as we could find.

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Step 7. While we were working on this project, the library looked markedly different, so we posted signage on our temporary genre storage locations throughout the library as well as on all of the empty shelving. We wanted people to be able to find what they were looking for!

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Step 8. Once the entire Fiction collection had been labeled, re-cataloged, and placed together with their new genre-mates, it was time to re-shelve everything in the new locations. We decided to organize the genre sections alphabetically throughout the library, with the exception of “Literary Fiction”, which we placed at the very end.

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Step 9. Once the entire Fiction was back on the shelves, organized by genre, it was time to add signage.

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Step 10. Finally, it was time to advertise! This digital advertisement was posted on the front page of the library website, and was also included on this digital invitation to a faculty wine and cheese gathering hosted by the library.



Walking through the library stacks now is a breath of fresh air. Having weeded so aggressively really allowed us to give the collection the breathing room it needed. There are now no books on bottom shelves, and the books on each shelf extend only 3/4 of the way, maximum. The colorful labels very clearly delineate between sections of books, and the signage is plentiful. I’m presuming that librarians are the only people who are interested enough in library genrefication to have read this far, so I will tell you guys, if you are thinking about re-genrefying your own library, not to be discouraged if no one is as excited as you are! i mean no disrespect to my awesome and amazing colleagues, but when a well-meaning fellow teacher politely says, “That’s nice” after you enthusiastically describe your big exciting project, it’s a little bit of a bummer. So take ♥! It’s a great change, can be a needed change, and is all about the STUDENTS and ACCESS, which should lie at the heart of any major educational decision. So with that, Go Forth and Genrefy!

Finding Inspiration From Faculty

I love being inspired by new ideas, and believe 100% in sharing creativity and also sharing the great things happening at our school. I recently had the opportunity to learn about an absolutely amazing, yet little-known, project happening in our Design Technology lab and I just had to find a way to tell others about it. Our high school has gotten several 3D printers this year, but I had no idea exactly how these work, what they look like, or how you go from having an idea to actually creating a finished product. I emailed our Design Technology teachers and asked if they could let me know the next time they would be using the 3D printers so that I could come up and learn more about them. They emailed back right away to let me know that a printing project was currently running, so I headed up to the 4th floor Design Technology area (a place that I’ve only been to three times in the whole time I’ve been at this school– and one of those was for an afterschool TGIF party!) to check it out.

First, the DT teacher showed me prototype miniatures that students create before they create full-size projects. These prototypes allow students to identify potential issues that must be addressed before they print the full-size models. The teacher then showed me the software program in which students create the 3D model digital files, which are then sent to the printer, which uses a large spool of plastic cording, which is fed into the printer, heated at high temperature so that it melts, is then drizzled (I’m not sure if this is really the best adjective for what actually happens here) onto a cooler metal plate, where the molten plastic cools and solidifies, yielding the final 3D printing project. To say that it was cool to watch is an understatement.

The teacher then explained to me the project that was currently being printed, and that’s where the inspiration kicked into full gear. Students had been designing small plastic items to take down to Estancia (a coastal town that was devastated by the 2013 typhoon) on an upcoming service trip, and this particular student had designed a simple bubble blower (the wand with a circle on the end), which was in the process of being mass produced by the 3D printers. To top off this wonderful marriage of education and service, stamped onto the wand was “ISM ♥ ECS”. Our school has been collecting money and working with other organizations to rebuild Estancia Central School, which had been destroyed by the typhoon, and when students go to visit the school in a few weeks they will take a variety of toys and other items that have been created and produced using the school’s 3D printers. If this is not an example of meaningful, real-world education, I don’t know what is.

Hearing about this incredible idea, and knowing that I’d just found out about it by chance because of my geeky interest in 3D printing, I decided to embark on a new project. The goal of this project is to share as many of the great things happening in our school with as many people as possible! I emailed a group of teachers that I feel are known for their creativity, and hopefully their willingness to share, in order to collect a handful of videos that I can then use to try and encourage even more people to share. Teachers can either create their own videos or can have me come down to take the video for them. The videos can and should be simple. I’m also planning to participate in an upcoming afterschool PD time and will try to film as many teachers, staff and administrators from across all school divisions sharing short stories about something great that happened during the year. Not sure what the final product will be (ideas?), but I’m excited about the potential. Video testimonials about all the good things that happened at our school this year? I’d watch that!

If this all comes together, I will share an update in a future post.

Coming From a Place of… “No”?

monkey-557586_1280I love feeling creative and thinking out of the box to solve problems, design new programs, and connect with teachers and students in different ways. This has normally been met with general success throughout my life and career, which has allowed me to continue the cycle of coming up with an idea, telling the right person (or people) about it, and then planning, executing, and reflecting on the successes and failures of the project. This cycle ultimately depends upon the answer to my initial request being something along the lines of “Yes. Go ahead and try _______. Sounds like a good idea. Here are a few things to consider, but I believe in you. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!” Or something along these lines, but always “Yes.” A question I’ve been considering lately, however, is: “What if the Answer is ‘No’?” Not every organization or workplace is receptive to new ideas, or is flexible enough to allow for a degree of risk and uncertainty. There are a lot of reasons for this, but at the end of the day, in order to maintain some degree of personal and professional forward momentum as well as to maintain the desire to be creative and forward-thinking in the workplace, it’s become imperative to make the “No” meaningful to me in some way.

It is far too easy to get frustrated after several rejections and just stop trying new ideas altogether. That doesn’t work for me, however, because NOT thinking about improvement, current trends, etc. is almost more frustrating and unsatisfying than making proposals that are ultimately rejected! So I say embrace the rejection, accept the “No”, but use it to investigate the underlying causes of the rejection. Maybe I didn’t talk to the right person to obtain the proper clearance along my path toward approval; maybe the reasons for the proposal weren’t articulated well enough; maybe the potential risk factors were not addressed enough; maybe it was TOO “out there”, and I could have taken a smaller step first; maybe there are political factors involved. All of these are considerations about which to be curious, and I am trying to consciously analyze my more recent proposals to preemptively identify any of these potential pitfalls. Even with my most recent failure, I am trying to take a philosophical approach and consider the factors I’ve laid out here when I reflect on the reasons for its rejection. Rejections also help me understand the organization’s values and beliefs on a deeper level.

Rejection is never easy. Having a growth mindset about it, however, can turn the very real disappointment– and sometimes hurt– into a valuable learning opportunity. It’s a work in progress, but that’s my new plan!

Loving Twitter Part 2: Official School Twitter Accounts + Administrators


As much of a crusader as I am for Twitter as professional development and crucial to the formation of a personal learning network (remember, it’s like for PD!), I’m even more passionate and strident about how important it is for school communities. Yes, Twitter is just one of many social media applications used by students and adults, but I argue that it and Facebook are at the moment the only two that are used widely enough to have significant value to school communities in the ways that I will address in this post. Google+ is amazing, has tons of potential, and is a topic for another post, but it isn’t where the school community (students, teachers, parents, board members, community members, etc.) currently hangs out in their spare time.

There are two major things to recognize when it comes to leveraging the power of social media in schools: one, that schools are vastly underutilizing social media to tell their stories, and two, that if schools thoughtfully, intentionally use social media WITH students, they are powerfully modelling responsible social networking. This post will focus on the power of leveraging social media to tell the school’s story and to connect with the school community, while in a future post I will look more specifically at using Twitter with students. First, if schools consider their communities of students, teachers, parents, board members, community members and media, the one place that almost all of these stakeholders spend some amount of time is on Facebook. I’ll talk about Facebook in a future post. But for now, I want to focus on Twitter. The first objection to Twitter might be that not many of these stakeholders are on it. I think that if you take a “If you build it, they will come” approach, and make it clear what is on your school Twitter feed that doesn’t exist elsewhere, provide ample opportunities and trainings to learn how to use Twitter, and make it satisfying to people by engaging with them, asking and answering questions, and posting lots and lots of media, it can become a place that people start WANTING to visit because of what they find when they do. This won’t work without a dedicated, consistent effort on the school’s part, however, and that’s where administrators come in.

I believe that most school administrators should have a personal professional Twitter account. A very common response by administrators is that they don’t have time to tweet. This is likely true as it stands now– that’s where the technology director/integrator/person in charge of managing the Twitter account can help by providing scaffolding. Just like with students! If that person schedules ten minutes, even every other day, to help the administrator tweet, it has the potential to flip the switch for that admin to understand the power of engaging with the community on Twitter. Even if the administrator tweets just a few times a week it can be extremely meaningful for the school community.

It is very unlikely, however, that top level administrators will be able to manage the school’s official Twitter account. This job should go to someone who ideally does not have a teaching load (or at least not much of one) and who has a passion for and understanding of Twitter. They should commit to tweeting from the school account at least once (ideally 3-5 times) per day in order for the feed to have momentum and fresh content. They should also commit to responding to messages and mentions whenever possible in order to encourage community members to connect with the school on Twitter.  Other ideas for what to tweet include any major announcements that might affect a large part of the school community (school closings, late starts, event cancellations, etc.); upcoming events (include images/video whenever possible); celebrations and achievements; any time the school is in the local media (include links to the media); links to student publications; and anything else that provides a window into the life of the school. This will help the community (especially those who are not actually IN the school building regularly) understand school culture and see it as a community of students and caring adults, instead of as a faceless entity. You never know when this might come in handy, such as at times of referenda, school board voting, local media stories, etc.

Schools have nothing to lose, but so much to gain by creating and effectively using (and promoting) official school Twitter accounts. Notable examples of Twitter accounts from both schools and administrators include: Leyden High Schools (@LeydenPride); Bettendorf High School (@bhspride); Peel School Board (@PeelSchools); elementary school principal Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis); Sunlake High School Principal (@slhsprincipal); and high school principal Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey).

Who am I missing? I am always looking for more schools and tweeting administrators to follow!

Loving Twitter Part 1: Personal PD + PLNS (Professional Learning Networks)

tweet-155281_1280I’m a little obsessed. I talk about the professional use of Twitter to anybody who will listen. It’s true, and yes, I have gotten used to the glazed eyes and distant stares that often come when I mention Twitter. When I’m on Twitter, however, I don’t feel slightly deranged– I feel connected, inspired, and part of something important, that has untapped potential to create educational change at the grassroots level all over the world. A grandiose statement for sure, but every time I spend even ten minutes on Twitter I come away with a new idea, or an article that challenges my thinking, or with yet another educational innovation that I can’t wait to share and try.

For me, Twitter is many things. I have three Twitter accounts: a personal account that follows CNN Breaking News, reality TV celebrities, comedians, The Onion, and other “I have 5 minutes to kill what can I quickly entertain myself with online?” feeds (my favorite being @CrapTaxidermy, which you should definitely check out); a professional account that follows teachers, administrators, techies, leadership experts and more; and an official school Twitter account of which I am the author/manager. A lot of people think that Twitter is more about the former kind of Twitter: nonsensical comments made out of any context and unrelated to one another. Clearly this kind of Twitter is not for everyone. Where I feel like the untapped potential of Twitter lies, however, is in the OTHER TWO kinds of Twitter. This post is dedicated to the power of using Twitter for professional development.

As a professional educator, the fact that I can dip my toes into a fast-moving stream of professional development, professional conversation, and professional inquiry is mind-blowing. I don’t normally feel too much FOMO (fear of missing out) when I’m not on Twitter for a few days, or over a weekend or holiday, because I have seen time and time again that all I have to do is jump in and I’m right back in, surrounded by professional education talk. When I first started using Twitter I felt like I had to try and go back to read everything that I had missed in my stream; not only is this impossible, it is unnecessary.

I do tweet occasionally, but more often than not I re-tweet good stuff I find. Even using Twitter in this way is powerful. If you think about who you can be inspired by in a given day, or with whom you share resources, ideas, problems, etc. in a given day, it’s likely that only a handful of people come to mind (I have about five)– departmental or grade levels colleagues, administrators, etc. But what if you could expand your contact network exponentially? Without even putting forth much, if any, effort? You would come into contact with people, ideas, and solutions you never even knew existed. By following people and hashtags that are interesting and relevant to me, I have at my fingertips automatic, instant, daily professional development opportunities. To me this is absolutely incredible! It’s like online dating in order to mathematically increase your chances of finding love. Twitter, then, is like online PD dating in order to mathematically increase your chances of finding inspiration, of solving problems, of being creative in new ways, and making connections with other educators. Maybe that’s what professional learning networks (PLNs) are: the Match.dom (or eHarmony, OKCupid, Tinder? OK, maybe not Tinder) of professional development. What do you think? Is this a major overstatement, or is Twitter for professional development really this important?

The Future is Now. First Post.

mountains-549099_1280This is my inaugural blog post for my inaugural professional blog. I’ve got things to say, and ideas to share and reflect upon, much of which comes from what I read on other professional blogs in the fields of education, technology, school leadership, general leadership, librarianship, and miscellanea. Twitter also gets me thinking! I also think about what happens in daily professional life and how that reflects larger trends and societal phenomena. The title comes from my fascination with these types of trends as well as curiosity about the future of education, especially when it intersects with innovative school leadership and new technologies.

I’m at a crossroads in my life. I find myself at an intersection of leadership, technology, and librarianship, which is prompting much of this thinking and wondering. Writing and reflecting on this blog should be a good outlet for me to process the realities of moving back to the U.S. from overseas, securing (hopefully!) and beginning a new job, and finding a new home and town to resume our American Life.

Thanks for reading. Comments are always welcome!