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Putting Your ENTIRE Fiction Collection into Genres

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on July 16, 2015

As our library has moved through the process of putting all of our books from picture books to adult novels into genres, we had questions arise. Did it make sense to use the same genres across multiple audiences? Did it make sense to use the same genre names? What we offer you is the opportunity to think about the choices we made, and then decide if any of them make sense for your library.

Some Words Stay the Same
There are certain genres of books that cross multiple reading levels and ages. Action books are in picture books, tween, and teen books. Humorous books are in learn-to-read, first chapter, chapter, tween, teen, and adult. SciFi and Fantasy start in chapter books then continue through tween, teen, and adult. Even more important than the words being the same is that the notations on the books remains the same. We have certain colors and images that denote particular genres. A young girl reading a SciFi book will know that the image that denotes a tween SciFi book will also be used to denote an adult SciFi book. A young boy can read a humorous Elephant and Piggie book from learn-to-read and a Captain Underpants book from the chapter book section. Then in a few years, he can read a book by Christopher Moore in the adult humorous section.

Some Words Change with Age
For younger children, we use the term “chiller” for scary books, but in teen and adult we use the word “horror.” For young children, “Seen on TV” is the genre where all the books that match television shows and movies reside. For adult books, the genre is “Movies & TV.”

Genres are Different Sizes at Different Reading Levels
We have discovered that not all genres appear to have the same level of popularity across all age groups. In fact, we’re not sure any genre maintains the same level of popularity! Some of that discrepancy has to do with what is popular in the community. For example, the tween section has a very sizable fantasy genre. It takes up a much larger proportion of the overall collection than the adult fantasy genre does when compared to the entire adult collection. In the adult section, mysteries represent a huge portion of the overall collection but in teen materials, it is a much smaller percentage. It doesn’t mean that the same genres shouldn’t be there, but it does mean that we can’t assume that the popularity is the same across the board.

For us, the idea for maintaining as many similar genres as possible was to help patrons of all ages easily browse for books they wanted. It also meant that as their reading abilities improved they could know that the same types of books they had enjoyed would always be there. While it doesn’t work perfectly every time, we have been surprised at how many people, particularly children, have appreciated the thought and effort we put into this.

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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