Tuesday, May 3, 2005

You Say Tomato, I Say Toh-Mat-Oh

I hate genre labels. I also hate compartmentalizing books in libraries.

If I had my druthers, paperbacks would all be in one area and you would find John Steinbeck shelved next to Danielle Steel. The minute you break books off into separate categories you do a disservice to library patrons.

Why? Because you keep them in their safe little worlds. They will resist trying anything new.

Why? Because it has a "label" on it.

Gasp, I can't read that! It has a romance, mystery, science fiction, horror, whatever label on it!

Yes, I know. Give people what they want. If they want X type of books, why make it hard for them? I understand that. I really, really do. I just think it's short-sighted. I think back to my teenage years and all the fabulous authors I discovered just by browsing the library shelves. If these folks had been put into their own categories, I probably never would have found Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels....

The list goes on.

There's also the matter of mis-labeling. My library has labelled for years - which means it's so ingrained in our service population now that there is no turning back. Here are my two favorite mislabels that I've discovered so far:
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin marked with a "Horror" sticker. Now, I'm sure the men of earlier 20th century America did find Chopin's novel "horrifying" but that's besides the point.
  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk labelled as science fiction. Um, no. In fact, Palahniuk's work tends to defy genres - so no label for him.
Labelling is tough stuff. I'm currently wrestling with whether J.D. Robb should be labelled as romance or mystery. I mean, seriously. And where exactly do I shelve all those romantic-suspense novels? And science fiction? Do I shelve them with general fiction or put some of them in my Teen section?

Yes, not labeling is certainly the way to go. Less headaches.

10 comments:

shayera said...

i, myself, do my very best not to label anything. but working for a huge system, things tend to come into the branch already labelled. i love how often things are miscataloged. my staff and i *adore* running around in the staffs relabeling. yeah right. and it's worse when it gets to children's and young adult materials. ugh.

Bronwyn Parry said...

In my small town library, we just have 'fiction', and there are three small carousels of mass-market paperbacks,which are mostly romance. In our three bookshops, we get 'fiction', 'thrillers/crime/mystery', 'sci-fi/fantasy', and 'literature'. So, to find romance, I have to browse all sections. Oh, the suffering this causes me... ;-)

lost said...

Oh, I love labels! It's always fun trying to pigeonhole everything, even the impossible. :D

Lilith Saintcrow said...

I make it a point to go into a different section of the library that I wouldn't normally go into each time and pick out something. To me, the different labeled departments of the library are like ethnic grocery stores- you have to go in and look around, breathe in the different scents, and pick out something cool. So it's actually pretty cool to have divisions and sections, it challenges me to stretch myself.

Of course, I am one of those odd people whose librarians know by sight and name; my children think a hot good time is going to the local bookstore. :)

Nicole said...

Hi Lilith! I had to mention you to Wendy one day because of the name of one of your librarians. And I want the third Watcher book yesterday.

Wendy said...

Bless you Lilith! I love library patrons like you. Unfortunately for every adventurous soul there are about 10 patrons who refuse to even think about trying something new. I usually have to trick 'em into it ;)

Amber said...

When I worked at a bookstore, we always put Nora Roberts in Romance, and J.D. Robb in mystery...

Wendy said...

Amber:
That's kind of where I'm leaning right now. Roberts in romance, Robb in mystery. I've just noticed that in my area that most of my Robb readers are romance readers. I've kept them in mystery though for fear of turning of Robb's male readership :-)

Nicole said...

I saw put Robb in mystery since the romance readers will most likely know to look there (or search) and the mystery people will perhaps take a chance on romance once they read Robb, but wouldn't necessarily go to romance. I know my mother is an avid mystery reader, but loathes romance. I don't think she's ever read RObb though, she's more into Reichs, Jance, etc.

Lilith Saintcrow said...

Hi Nicole! The third Watcher book will be out in August. I am toying with the thought of writing a Watcher book for Esmerelda the Librarian. :)