Organising resources and collections

I​f you arrange school library collections in a logical and organised way, students and staff will be able to quickly find what they need and will enjoy using the library.


Clear and helpful signs and shelf labels are an essential part of helping students and staff to browse the collection and/or locate the items they need. Signage needs to be clear and easily understood by your students. For example, primary school library signs will be different from those used in a high school.

Be aware that signs can clutter the library and be ignored, especially if their purpose is to tell students what they can’t do in the library.

Individual items also need clear labels to ensure they will be shelved in the correct place. For example, to make sure the correct items are shelved in the teacher reference collection many use T.REF prefix at the start of the call number field and spine labels.


Each school library will be organised differently because of many reasons including:

  • The format and range of physical resources that need to be borrowed and/or used in the library.

  • The size, scope, strengths and weaknesses of the library collection as a whole.

  • The physical layout of the library, shelving units, existing furniture and the presence of computers and printers.

  • The student group.

  • The principal's focus and goals.

  • School-wide and class programs.

  • The needs of teachers and support staff.

  • The library's role within the wider school community.

  • Library staffing levels.

These points will influence the way items are organised within specific collections. The aim is to make the library easy to use and navigate, but there isn’t one right or wrong way to achieve this.

Stop and reflect – will a new student or new teacher quickly understand the library’s layout and be able to find what they need? It is a good idea to visit other school libraries, chat to other library staff and gather ideas.

Hints and tips

Small libraries with a small book collection may simply have fiction, picture book, readers and non-fiction collections. Other libraries with large and varied collections will have several fiction collections aimed at different reading ages or skills.

Some libraries organise all or some resources according to format and access restrictions. For example, big book, teacher reference and class sets may be organised in individual collections in a separate room because they cannot be borrowed by students.

A range of formats need specialist shelving options, for example posters and kits.

Some libraries interfile their non-fiction DVDs and books to create one-stop subject areas.

It is increasingly common to organise fiction books into selected genres rather than organising them in one long alphabetical sequence according to authors’ surnames (see 'Genrefication' information below). 


Find a way to display and promote your best and most popular resources. If some of your collections are old, look dated and are unused you should weed and discard them so they don’t detract from the overall look and feel of the library.

Make it easier for students to find the newest or most attractive items by increasing face-out displays. If your fiction collection shelves are getting full and restricting your display options, you will need to weed the area.

Library displays don’t have to be artistic masterpieces – a simple display of football or animal books can have a positive impact.

Plan changes

No matter how you organise your library resources and collections, consistency is key. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make changes – an effective library must be responsive to changes within the school community and the curriculum.

For example you could chat to some teachers and find out which subjects they plan to focus on next term, and then make a plan to display a range of resources on those topics. If teachers can't quickly find fiction, non-fiction and DVDs relating to Christmas or ANZAC and Remembrance Day, you can move them into separate collections. If resources on the same topic are scattered across the non-fiction collection, move them all to the same Dewey number and label the area.

Make careful plans and outline clear and achievable goals before making large changes. Small changes can have a large impact.


‘Genrefication’ is a term used to describe the organisation of part or all of your fiction books by genre rather than by author.

For example, library staff notice the most popular books are the fairy, animal and sport books. They:

  • Take fairy themed stories out of the main fiction collection. 

  • Add a fairy label to the spine.

  • Add the word FAIRY to the start of the call number field in the Library Management System eg Symphony or Bookmark. Some systems also have a specific genre code that can be applied to item records to enhance searching and reporting.

  • Shelve fairy themed books together in alphabetical order (according to author’s surname).

The same thing is done to sport books. A soccer ball label is added to book spines and SPORT is added to the start of the call number field.

Then the same thing is done to animal stories. A puppy label is used and ANIMALS is added to the start of the call number field.


  • Students can browse themes or genres to quickly and easily find books to borrow. It is easier for students to find ‘read-a-likes’.

  • It usually leads to students borrowing more books.

  • Less confident or easily overwhelmed students pick a genre and then select a book from a smaller and less intimidating area.

  • It is easy to encourage students to read something new. They simply borrow a book from a different genre.

  • It can help students to easily understand and articulate what they like or don’t like to read.

  • There isn’t any ongoing maintenance other than normal library processes.


  • Some believe students should only be exposed to the same classification system used by public libraries.

  • Workplace Health and Safety issues can be caused by moving a large number of books.

  • Some multiple-genre books can be harder to find.

  • Some books are hard to classify.

  • Students who want to read by author can find them hard to locate if they fall within several genres eg John Marsden. 

  • Teachers who include author focuses in their programs find it harder to locate titles.

  • The planning and implementation process is time consuming.

Further reading