A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Separate or Keep Together?

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on May 5, 2015

This is the kind of question librarians like to fight over. Should you separate fiction into genres, or should all fiction be left together? Or do you split the difference and mark different genres in some way but leave everything together on the shelf? There are lots of questions, and very few definitive answers. However, there is one question we can answer for sure. Is there a right way to do things? Absolutely not! This is a decision best left up to individual libraries and what will work best for their communities, but there are some questions to consider as you ponder your decision.

Do you have commonalities between large numbers of books in your collection? There are some major groupings libraries tend to use to divide books into genres. Common ones include mystery, science fiction, fantasy, westerns, inspiration, and romance. Do these groupings represent what you would consider a sizable portion of your collection?

Are there special niche books that are particularly important in your community that should be kept together? Some libraries like to keep local authors together on shelves. Other libraries choose potentially more narrow genres to group together like suspense, horror, historical fiction, or urban fiction. There can also be chick lit, humorous, book and TV, Amish, teen books for adults, sagas, supernatural, and war stories. Some libraries have a large collection of books that are recommended by the staff, and these books are all grouped together. What is really special in your library?

Do you have a defensible reason for changing either to separated genres OR putting together books that were separated before? Some communities, for whatever reason, tend to have more adults who read within a particular genre as opposed to reading a particular author. Would breaking the collection into smaller groupings, like genres, encourage more browsing or help patrons find what they are looking for more quickly? If you have books separated into genres, combining all fiction books together saves shelf space if you need more room. People are going to resist change whatever it is. When they want to talk about the change, you need to have answers for them.

How are you letting the staff and the public know changes are coming? Whether you have a newsletter, Facebook, newspaper articles, or some other way to tell the public, you’ll have to do it more than once. You may even want to get the staff and public’s opinions before you make a final decision about what to do with your fiction collection. Whatever decision you choose, make sure your staff is able to answer questions about why books were moved from “where they’d always been.” Preparing staff makes the change easier for both staff members and patrons.

Whatever you decide to do, someone isn’t going to like it. That’s just the way it goes. However, providing clear signage to help people find what they’re looking for will help quite a bit. However, making sure your decision is the right thing for your community is ultimately the most important thing.

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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