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Library Lifeline part 6: How do I arrange my school library collection?

26 May 2022


We're thrilled to share with you the sixth blog in our series, Library Lifeline, written in association with the School Library Association. This series is designed to support anyone working in a school library by answering their questions directly. If you have a question that you’d like to ask our ‘agony aunt’ – the SLA’s Member Development Librarian, Dawn Woods – then please email us at and your question may be the focus of a future blog!

This week's question focuses on an issue familiar to many school librarians

What is the best way to arrange my school library? I’m unsure about whether to completely rearrange the entire collection into genres or stick to keeping non-fiction according to Dewey Decimal number and fiction in alphabetical order

Rearranging your school library is a task that can be broken down into manageable steps. However, before committing to an overhaul, you should consider what sort of library arrangement would best serve your school community.

The benefits of arranging your collection by genre

Firstly, consider the advantages and disadvantages of different systems of classification and shelving.

For example, will you put all your fiction and non-fiction about the Second World War together? Will you separate your Shakespeare graphic novels from autobiographical books about the bard himself?

Will you place all of your fiction into genres, and store this in a different place to your non-fiction which will also be sorted according to its genre?

If you arrange all books into genres, the advantages are that similar books are grouped together and this is less daunting for pupils choosing their book. It also allows pupils to more easily discover books similar to ones they enjoy, and improves their ability to identify genres according to front covers.

To help you decide on some broader genres to use, check out this post.

This method also allows you to place books within the genres most useful for your school circumstances. Additionally, library staff can see the strengths and weaknesses of a whole collection at a glance.

Not sure about genres beyond the usual ones? Have a look at our booklists to get an idea of more niche ways of categorising your books.

The disadvantages of arranging your collection by genre

The disadvantages of arranging your entire collection by genre is that it may not expand your pupils’ repertoire for reading for enjoyment, and larger collections may intimidate some. If you are not shelving alphabetically it can also become difficult to locate a specific title, especially if the latter potentially fits into multiple categories.

Genre shelving also requires extra time and research to identify the books with which you are unfamiliar.

Shelving non-fiction shelved according to genre can simplify the arrangement of stock, and again, you can tie this in to the subjects that are being taught in each year group. But be aware, this system doesn’t allow for much detail within each category, and it can be challenging knowing where to display titles which don’t fit into these genres. Additionally, you’ll need to decide if you’re keeping Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 books together or treating them separately.

Further considerations

Cost needs to be factored-in too. Will you purchase labels from suppliers such as Carel Press or Gresswells, and if your budget doesn’t allow this, and you make your own labels, do you have the time taken to apply them?

Remember that pupil librarians are a fantastic resource for this task if they receive suitable training first. For example, they can help research a title’s genre. You may have to separate the books appropriately for them and give them the corresponding labels, but they will enjoy being able to help prepare stock, will develop further skills, and experience a sense of pride and ownership in their library.

If a complete overhaul is too daunting, carry out a trial run: dedicate a bay to displaying a different genre every term or have a paperback spinner with the most popular genre on. Keep all non-fiction and fiction together on whatever topic some year groups are studying that term and ask staff and pupils for feedback afterwards.

Remember that it’s perfectly acceptable to tailor the way you arrange your school library to your pupil needs and demands. It can be highly effective to categorise your fiction according to genre (whether you alphabetise this or not is your decision), and maintain your non-fiction according to its Dewey classification.

I’ve decided to rearrange my library! What next?

Here’s a handy checklist of actions to take

  • Decide on the genres you will have and use pupil-friendly terminology
  • Determine if you are keeping fiction and non-fiction together or separately
  • Decide on the category of each book
  • If you have an electronic library management system enter a genre keyword for each title (this will also help you assess how large each section is when gathering stats)
  • Calculate and plan the shelving according to the size of each category
  • Print off shelf labels
  • Have spine labels ready to use on the books
  • When the library is not busy, place the labels on the floor or tables and physically sort books into piles. Put labels on corresponding books
  • Take a small armful at a time and work your way steadily through the collection. Get your pupil librarians involved in this part of the process!
  • Place books back on their appropriate shelf
  • Let everyone know how to find books using the new arrangement!

Helpful Resources use the search facility to find a list of suggested fiction genres browse a range of contemporary classification labels for your library browse a range of contemporary classification labels for your book spines a more in-depth look at sorting an entire collection into genres

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