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Genre-fying Your Library’s Fiction Collection

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on April 21, 2015

We are in the final stretch of our “genre-fying fiction” marathon, and want to share our observations. In hindsight, we would have done some things a bit differently, but we also remind ourselves that we are doing this to make the library experience better for our patrons. That’s what’s important.

Choosing your genres…This may seem obvious, but choose all your genres before you get started and stick with it until the end. Look at what books seem to circulate well. Look at review magazines or other publications to see how they group fiction materials. Take a survey of your patrons to get ideas. However, we also strongly suggest you pull some books from a section of your shelves. Look at what genres they represent. Does your collection gravitate towards a specific direction? However, keep in mind that if you choose to create niche genres, these will be more fluid. When the books go out of style, you may want to dissolve the genre and return the books to other areas. Or someday there may be a new niche where a large number of books are published, and you may want to keep all these books together. For example, with the craze for vampires and other supernatural entities, our library decided to create a supernatural genre to keep these books together. And, in the future when vikings or something else become extremely popular, we may need to create a new collection.

Where do you go to determine genres…Many book vendors have genres listed within their online catalogs.  OCLC’s WorldCat has genres specifically listed in their catalog entries as well. But keep in mind that both OCLC and also the commercial vendors are judging each book individually. Also, if you are part of a consortium, see where other libraries have placed books or series of books. This may give you ideas about what genres you would like to include in your library.

When to take a broader look at your collection…When you are putting books into different genres, you will find that some authors write in multiple genres. Some libraries classify strictly based on genres, while others try to keep author’s works together. This is particularly important if the library is in a community where reading an author’s entire body of work is important. However, our advice to you is do one author at a time, and pay attention to books in the authors’ series. You may find that throughout a series, each book has a different genre assigned to it. At the very least, you need to keep all the books in an author’s series together.

How are you keeping track of what you have done…Is there a master list somewhere that says this author goes in this genre, or this chunk of an author’s work goes here and this chunk goes there? It’s more than likely that you will have multiple people work on this project. How does everyone make sure they know what is going on and don’t either duplicate already completed work or do something that doesn’t match previous patterns?

When a patron disagrees with you…There will be patrons that don’t agree with what genre you have assigned to a book or a series of books. They may want to suggest additional or different genres to use. Not all their suggestions will be great, but listen to them because some will be very helpful. Take notes, and tell them you will consider what they say. It may not change what you ultimately do, but your patrons will feel they have been heard.

Good luck with your genre-fying project. It will be great.

Melanie A. Lyttle is the Head of Public Services Madison Public Library. You can watch her YouTube channel, Crabby Librarian, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Rv5GLWsUowShawn D. Walsh is the Emerging Services and Technologies Librarian at Madison Public Library.

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