Classifying Fiction

For some time now, I have been interested in how we can ensure that both borrowers and staff can easily find books on shelves.  In my current library, I have worked with a number of colleagues to re-arrange and re-organise stock in order to make it easier for the borrower (and indeed the staff) to find what they want.  This has included putting genres at the end of the author run, rather than breaking up the sequence, and removing a paperback spinner that merely caused confusion (as stock could be on genre shelves, return shelves, fiction shelves or the spinner it could be quite time consuming for the borrower to find what they are looking for).  I’m so prone to suggesting changes, that staff almost expect me to suggest a new change every week (much to their annoyance!).

My current preoccupation is the removal of genre sections in preference to a single run of fiction shelved by author.  I am not a big fan of genre sections as they can (in my view) be confusing and rely heavily on borrowers who read by genre.  Many authors write in a variety of genres which means that, using a genre system, books by a particular author can be spread across the library.  This would be particularly annoying for readers who read by author (like myself).  Instead of simply finding the author on the A-Z shelving, you would have to know what genre someone has decided the text represents.  This is not exactly user-friendly in my opinion, particularly considering genres such as Crime and Adventure.  How do you decide what constitutes one and not the other?  How would you categorise an adventure story that has a crime at its heart?

Consequently, I have been mulling this over and trying to decide whether the removal of genre sections in public libraries is a good idea or not.  My view is quite probably influenced by the way I search for books, and whilst I may find it easier, there will be many who would loath the idea (the genre searchers).  Anyway, this may not be a bone of contention for too much longer.  If and when ebooks become a standard format, the issue of physical shelving will no longer be a concern as there will no longer need to be a decision about whether an item can be Adventure OR Crime, they can be both.  Suddenly, years of debate over the classification of fiction would be resolved in an instant (yeah right!).

So what should it be?  Genre distinctions?  Or simply shelved by author?  Would be interested to hear thoughts on this subject.

Incidentally, I have also set up (yet another) twtpoll relating to this matter.  You can vote here.

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3 thoughts on “Classifying Fiction

  1. I note that some distributors provide two copies of a book, one for each say crime and adventure.

    I tend to take a somewhat progressive view on this, and say in this day and age why not have the books classified on computers using BISAC[1], after all this is the classification booksellers use by default, or for that matter any useful classification that might happen along[2]. In this day and age of computer any classification can be used, all that is needed is a reference to shelf location.
    [1] http://www.bisg.org/bisac/
    [2] BIC in new library scheme http://www.thebookseller.com/news/68366-bic-in-new-library-scheme.html

  2. Well I was stock revising at your library last week and I was getting irritated by the fact that some “genre” books were in the main A-Z sequence(presumably because of lack of space in the genre section), making it hard to see how many titles we had on the shelf by given authors and thereby making it hard to pinpoint gaps. I’m not a fan of genre sections either (unless maybe for very limited genres such as Westerns) – and I would happily change it all to one A-Z sequence, as I’ve indicated in the stock priorities document I have just been writing for your library. But probably, it would be a step too far and couldn’t be done without customer consultation-something else we have to consider.

  3. Pingback: The Customer and Public Libraries « Thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian

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