Saturday, August 22, 2009

"special areas" and genre collections rant


This is something that has been on my mind for awhile now. I know its is part of the great debate among authors, publishers, booksellers, catalogers, and librarians -where to put the books!

The more I work in a library, the less I like genre collections. I know people will say they read "mysteries" but I think everyone's definition of what a mystery is varies. I thought I had read some mysteries, but it turns out they were more suspense/thriller titles, at least in the eyes of librarians. How can we expect patrons to know what is defined as a mystery? In reality, a mystery collection, in a library or a bookstore, usually consist mostly of series authors.

I always feel the Science Fiction collections are slighted because the whole genre has a bad rap to begin with, so is it better to seperate out the science fiction & fantasy books into one area so they can be shunned by people who "don't read science fiction", or to interfile them with fiction so you can catch those people? And what the heck IS science fiction & fantasy anyway? Where does it start, where does it end? What is the magic formula to determine if a book is sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, or fiction? For example, look at the Sookie Stackhouse books - they are mysteries BUT THEY HAVE VAMPIRES! Isn't that fantasy?

And don't you DARE say I should just buy two copies and put them in both places. That is something a bookstore can do, because they have a lot more space and a lot less books to deal with. I can't stand when I see the same book in 3 different places in a library - oh its in classics, oh its in adult fiction, oh and its also in YA fiction, and also in J because it appeals to everyone! Pick a spot.

As for our non-fiction collections, don't teach your patrons how to use the Dewey Decimal system, and then pull out all of the holidays books and put them in a special area. Your catalogers PUT those books in the Dewey spot for holiday items. You don't NEED to seperate them out. When the holiday arrives, you're going to put up a display anyway, why are you so worried about the Christmas books in March? Catalogers should be flexible with their libraries collections - if you know that all of your Martha Stewart Christmas books have always been in the same call number, but the new 2010 copy comes up in OCLC with a dewey number a shelf away, fudge it - change the number.

Cataloging should be like special effects work - if you're doing it well, no one should know you've actually done anything. It should just make sense.

I can't quite get behind the "Down with Dewey!" campaign, mostly because I have worked in relatively large public libraries and I just can't figure out how I would find anything specific in that system and I don't have a better system to replace it. I think it is a step in the right direction though. I am more behind the "to heck with genre labels" movement (well, there SHOULD be one) and just have all the fiction together. Sure, you can put a genre label on the book if you must (but keep 'em small - my next pet peeve rant will be about spine labels that totally obscure the author/title), but go ahead and mix them together.

I guess what I'm saying is that we need to stop organizing for librarians and organize for our newest patron. That adult who walks in the door and wants to find something as easily and painlessly as they do when they go into any other store. It's about consistency. Picking a spot, and sticking with it.