Themifying our Collection – why and how?

Libraries have traditionally organised their collection based on the author’s surname and in the case of non-fiction upon the Dewey Decimal system. However, a fictional collection based solely on an author’s surname does not appear to be a responsive or particularly helpful method for students to find books.

And here’s why…

Jean Piaget was an educational psychologist who believed that people are born with a basic set of understandings that are shaped through their experiences. Learning is a complex process involving creating links or schema to these existing neural pathways.

These existing pathways or Schema are collections of ideas that are linked together by a common thread or theme. For instance if I said to you, tell me what you know about Dogs, a collection of thoughts or associations with dogs would pop into your mind such as cuddles, fur, wet licks, smelly. If I wanted to find out more about dogs, a good starting point would be to know what I already knew and ask a question based on this.

In a classroom or lesson, this looks like accessing students’ prior knowledge through brainstorming, discussion, or making ties/links to previous understandings and asking questions about what they need to know. In a library setting we often ask, what other types of books do you like and try to establish this prior knowledge, but without reading our entire collection we may not be able to pin-point a book that would suit this student.

I can remember being frustrated when I went to look for a new book to read at the local library and having to take a gamble based on the blurb. We have decided to themify our collection to aid our students to find books based on themes that they already like by colour coding our collection. We believe that this will make it faster and easier for our students to find what they want to read.

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The fiction collection includes Graphic Novels, Sophisticated Picture books and general fiction colour coded based upon the their strongest universal theme or genre. These themes include dystopian/utopian, Supernatural or Magical Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mysteries/Thrillers, Family and Relationships, Romance, Historical, Futuristic, Classical and War and Conflict. So far our students have enjoyed exploring the different themes/genres, and it’s a great way for Leigh and I to keep track on what is going out and what books/genres we are running low on e.g. classical texts.

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Our student librarians are also learning about themifying our collection, they are now in charge (under our watchful eyes) of labelling our collection.

I believe that as our students read more of the same genre or theme, they will be able to create a schematic understanding of what this theme entails, how each book links to the others and what overall messages are emerging.

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There are some flaws to this method of classification and they include, reading only one type of book, taking the surprise out of choice, and removing some of the need to read the blurb. BUT, surely this is the challenge for the librarians and teachers to build their students’ abilities to explore and  be more adventurous.

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As we always say, it’ll work until it doesn’t.

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