Questioning Change




As the world turns and technology develops, so new ideas about efficiency and effectiveness impinge on the design and delivery of the library’s services and significant changes are suggested, sometimes by the TL but often by those who do not share our specialist knowledge.  Recent, common suggestions have focused on the arrangement of the library such as having books shelved by genre or an arbitrary reading/ability level. Another is the introduction of catalog records in RDA format.

Those considering the arrangement of the collection based on genre might like to consider this quote from Louise Penny, the award winning author of the Inspector Gamache crime stories:

I don’t buy into the notion of genres, perhaps for obvious reasons. I think that’s an effective marketing tool, but nothing more. Good storytelling is good storytelling. There are no borders or boundaries in literature and to try to define is to limit. Finis.

It expresses my opinion perfectly and demonstrates why i would never arrange a collection by genre, especially a primary one where there is no evidence or experience that genre is the child’s preferred selection tool.

If you are being pressured into labelling books in a way that discriminates, you might refer to your Collection Policy which should have a statement such as this…

No resource in the general collection will be shelved, labelled or displayed in a way that discriminates or marginalises a user on the grounds of 

  • ability
  • culture
  • ethnicity
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • any other consideration

Regardless of the origins of the push for changes, as the TL it is our role to examine the proposals to decide if they should be implemented, and to do this well we should consider the following questions and ask those proposing the changes to consider them too. Only then should a decision be made which demonstrates that the proposal has been tested against specific criteria and the decision is defensible on those grounds.


  1. Why is the change being considered?
  2. Is this a sound reason for change?
  3. Why is what is currently in place not working? What is the evidence that it is not? How can it be changed/ modified to work rather than introducing a non-standard ‘fix’?
  4. Is the solution based on sound pedagogical reasons whose efficacy can be measured?
  5. How do the proposals fit within the research which
    • demonstrates a need for traditional print materials to develop and maintain the literacy skills that underpin the ability to read comprehensively from a screen?
    • identifies that not everything, especially material for higher level of study, is available on the Internet – there is much that is valuable that has not been digitised and will not be because of copyright and digital rights management laws
  6. How do the proposals fit mandated currciulum requirements such as that requiring about 70% of US students’ reading must be non-fiction under their Common Core legislation because of the need to develop information literacy skills?
  7. What reliable evidence (apart from circulation figures) exists to support the changes and demonstrates improvement to student learning outcomes?
  8. How will the change support the Students’ Bill of Rights?
  9. Have students had input into the proposal?
  10. Will the proposed changes lead to students being more independent, effective and efficient users of the library’s resources?
  11. Will the change marginalise or discriminate against any users such as identifying their below-average reading level or sexual preferences?
  12. Will the change broaden or narrow the students access to choices and resources?
  13. Is it based on school-library best practice? Are there successful models (measured through action research and benchmarks and published in reliable authoritative literature) that demonstrate that this is a sustainable, effective and efficient model to emulate?
  14. Will the change make it easier to achieve your mission statement and your vision statement?
  15. How do the changes fit within your library policy, which, presumably, has been ratified by the school’s executive and council? Will the change in procedure require a change in policy?
  16. Who is responsible for developing the parameters of the change and documenting the new procedures to ensure consistency across time and personnel?
  17. If a change is made, what S.M.A.R.T. goals will be set to measure its impact?
  18. How will the changes be measured?
  19. How will it be determined that any changes are sustained differences rather than a result of the novelty factor?
  20. Who will do the measuring and ensure that the conclusion is independent and unbiased?
  21. If those goals show no change or a decline, will the library be willing to reverse the process? Will this be a practical proposition?
  22. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of the teacher librarian?
  23. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of other library staff? 
  24. If the change changes the traditional library arrangement, how is consistency across time guaranteed if personnel change because decisions are  subjective?
  25. Who is responsible for developing and maintaining the criteria for placement and the Procedures Manual to ensure consistency?
  26. Is the change worth the time that is invested in re-classifying every title and the money invested in new labels, staff wages etc?
  27. Could that time and money be better spent?
  28. Would better signage, including more shelf dividers, address the problem?
  29. What role can displays play in highlighting different and unfamiliar resources to broaden access and choices?
  30. If the proposals are based on providing e-resources only, how will needs be addressed if the resources are
    • not available in e-format
    • publishers either forbid distribution to libraries or limit the number of times an item is circulated
    • in-house digitisation is forbidden because of copyright or digital rights management laws


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5 thoughts on “Questioning Change

  1. I think these are excellent questions for the beginning of a serious discussion about changing the organization of a collection. I would add:

    What are the pedagogical needs of students at various grade levels – do high school students need more specific methods for searching beyond general topic? Do they need the specificity of exact location?

    Should all materials be considered for the change, or just fiction since Dewey already genrefies using number rather than text?

    Most timely and serious discussion!

  2. Hi Barbara
    Thanks so much for this blog post. I think that your questions could not only be applicable to genrefication but to any major change in a school or other library. I know that this post is a few years old, but I feel your list of questions is still relevant. Being objective about any proposed change will lead to improved decision-making based in fact and not opinion.

    I wonder if you would have any changes to this list of questions now.
    I also wonder if you have reconsidered genrefication at all?

    Thanks again and I love your blog!

    • Hi Donna
      The conversation about organising books by genre came up a couple of weeks ago in a Tl forum and nothing that was said or offered changed my mind about this without action research to determine the students’ search terms. If teaching about genre is a strong focus of the school and that is the primary search term for the majority of students, then fair enough but it is not my preferred method. Authors write to entertain, not to have boundaries put on their books,.
      I wrote the post so hat the questions would be relevant to any major change being considered, not just genrefication, and while there are probably some that could be added or altered, it is up to individual TLs to do that to suit their circumstances.
      I am a great believer in evidence-based practice supported by research at the local level so that any decision can be defended.

  3. Wow! What a great list of questions, and another commenter said, these could be used for any major change in a library. I object to genrefying libraries on the basis of the ongoing cost and on the problem of choosing a genre when the book in question belongs to two or more genres. I am also waiting for a standard list of genres to appear and be recognized.

  4. “There are no borders or boundaries in literature and to try to define is to limit. Finis.” Thank you for sharing and expressing the words for what I know to be true.

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