Middle School Monday – Color Coding and the Tweenage Brain
One of my favorite things about my current job is an after school club I run called “Readers Club.” The name confuses some of the parents, but the students seem to understand. It’s a club for students who love reading, but we don’t read books together. Basically, it’s a student advisory board/booster club for the library. The students give me input on decisions made for the library, they help decorate and make displays, write thank you notes to volunteers, etc. This is also the group I take with me to the elementary school for Read Across America day, so we spend a few minutes practicing our Dr. Seuss read-aloud skills every meeting.
A number of the elementary schools and some of the middle schools in the area have switched from one general fiction shelving area to ‘genrefied’ shelving. I’m not sure how I feel about it, both in terms of shelving time and student discovery, but I do know I want to take one small step in that direction. Some indication of genre on the spine of our novels would most likely increase student discovery of new books. Looking into it, there seemed to be two main options, the graphic genre labels that most library supply companies sell, and color coded spine label covers. I knew which I preferred, but I thought I would get some input from my Readers Club students. The students overwhelmingly preferred the colored label covers, so that’s what we decided to go with. From there, we brainstormed fiction genres, which led to a really fascinating (to me) discussion of subject headings and the necessity to group some genres into sub genres of larger ones. They helped me come up with what they thought were the most popular genres, and then I ordered the labels.
Up until that point I wasn’t sure what colors would be available. Because we didn’t want brown, we ended up with what you see in the picture above (plus light blue, but it’s backordered.) Once they came it was time to meet with Readers Club again and decide which color would go with which genre. There were three that everyone immediately suggested and agreed with – none of which were a surprise to me. They all wanted horror to be red, sports to be orange, and humor to be yellow. Is there some sort of universal color association at play here? It would make an interesting study – maybe someone has already done it. The rest of the colors were a little more difficult to assign, which led to much discussion, most of which had to do with avoiding assigning colors that are traditionally viewed as ‘gendered’ to any genre that might be at risk of being also thought of as gendered in some way. Maybe they do listen to me?
So, for this year, one of our projects as a club will be to help decide which books fall into which genres. We’ll mostly use the subject headings, but there are always a number that have multiple genre subject headings. Also, I’ll be relying upon their opinions as to which books may or may not fall within a genre – for instance, many ghost stories are horror, but some are historical fiction and some are fantasy. And where will we put magical realism, or will we just leave it with the unmarked books? I’m glad I have the students’ input, though. Much as I try, it can be difficult to know exactly what they will think.
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About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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