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What shall I read today?

September 5, 2017

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

Like so many others, Reagan Bryson has been captivated by the success of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” and its triple-platinum selling soundtrack.

The album, which Billboard gave five out of five stars in describing it as “eye-popping,” features a popular collection of 46 rap, hip hop and R&B songs.

“I really like the music to it,” said Reagan, an eighth-grader at the newly opened Rocky Fork Middle School, “and I really want to learn more about it.”

That was the response Reagan gave when asked what interested her in checking out an Alexander Hamilton biography at the school library.

“I normally like to read realistic fiction,” she explained, “but this time I got a biography about him because I’ve been really into that lately.”

Bryson had little trouble finding a book she wanted.

Librarian Kaitlyn Benavides “genrefied” Rocky Fork’s initial collection of 13,000 titles. She elected to organize the library by genre as opposed to the traditional means of alphabetizing all the fiction together by author and then grouping all the nonfiction together.

“Studies show that when you genrefy a library, circulation goes up,” Benavides said, “and especially with middle-schoolers, in other libraries, I found they would aimlessly roam the stacks looking for a front cover that looks interesting.

“Now, if they like scary books about ghosts and hauntings, they can go to the horror section and that entire shelving unit is scary books that they already know they’re interested in.”

Bryson likes having her new library set up this way.

She especially likes how each genre is color coded. For instance, horror books are tagged with a red sticker while stickers for realistic books are green and historical fiction is yellow.

“I like how … it’s not based on names,” said Aaron Bailey, another eighth-grader who transferred to Rocky Fork Middle School, “because that takes too long to find a book that you like.”

He added, “Some people have different moods for what kind of book they would like. Sometimes you want horror and sometimes you’re in the mood and you just want a fantasy.”

Unlike most of his classmates, Bailey likes to experience a variety of genres.

“I come in the library all the time to find books that interest me and to find books that talk about subjects that you never even heard of,” Bailey added.

In the first few weeks of school, Benavides, who is a first year librarian after having taught English for the past seven years, said some of the requests have completely thrown her off.

One particular boy came in and said, “I want a book about heartbreak. I don’t want a book about love. I want to read about heartbreak.”

Benavides replied, “OK,” and then pulled a couple titles with sad endings from the romance section.

A sixth-grader recently stopped in the library and said she was interested in reading about an evil unicorn.

“I said, ‘That’s very specific,’” laughed Benavides, who was able to find a book, “Bad Unicorn,” in the humor section. It wasn’t exactly what the student was looking for but interesting enough that she decided to check it out.

“The things they’re asking for are cracking me up,” Benavides said.

Benavides placed the entire initial order with Follett Learning back in March when she also ordered the furniture.

It was Follett who offered Benavides the option of cataloging her order by genre, but they had never genrefied a delivery until now. As a result, the sorting process hasn’t been without a few issues.

Benavides admits its subjective when choosing a genre for some titles, including the popular “Twilight” series. The series can be found in romance, yet one of the books in the collection was mistakenly cataloged as fantasy. Or was it a mistake? Some might catalog the series as fantasy as opposed to romance.

“I think that’s a really interesting conversation we’ll have with the kids,” said Benavides, who was nervous until she visited Mill Creek Middle School in nearby Nolensville.

Benavides was nervous, but other librarians with Rutherford County Schools told her if she had any interest in it, that it would be easier starting fresh than trying to reorganize an existing library.

Follett delivered the entire collection by packaging each shelf in its on box.

Each box was then labeled with a shelf number.

“All I had to do was take these shelf markers and stick them on each shelf,” explained Benavides, who then oversaw the shelving process that was executed by a temp agency.

“It’s a completely different experience.”