Friday, April 14, 2017

Week 14 Prompt

Consider yourself part of the collection management of your local library, or a library at which you would like to work. You must decide whether or not to separate GBLTQ fiction and African American Fiction from the general collection to its own special place. Some patrons have requested this, yet many staff are uncomfortable with the idea - saying it promotes segregation and disrupts serendipitous discovery of an author who might be different from the reader. Do you separate them?  Do you separate one and not the other? Why or why not? You must provide at least 3 reasons for or against your decision. Feel free to use outside sources - this is a weighty question that is answered differently in a lot of different libraries.

Ranganathan established guidelines in 1931, with his Laws of Library Science:
  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the User.
Crawford and Gorman's modern reinterpretation strengthened the importance of these guidelines
  1. Libraries serve humanity.
  2. Respect all forms by which knowledge is communicated.
  3. Use technology intelligently to enhance service.
  4. Protect free access to knowledge.
My library has a detailed and clearly defined collection policy to aid selectors, which emphasizes maintaining  a broad and diverse collection. Our policies state:

The library recognizes that many books, magazines and newspapers are ; controversial and that any given item may offend someone. Selections will not be made on the basis of any assumed approval or disapproval, but solely on the merit of the work as it relates to the library's purpose and as it serves the needs and interests of the community as a whole.

Scope of Collection
The development of a public library's collection should be as broad as the range of human experience and thought without classifying any ideas as "objectionable" or "taboo." 

Library Collections
The library's Hardcover and Paperback Fiction collections are organized alphabetically by the author's last name.

Hardcover Nonfiction collections are organized by the Dewey Decimal Classification System."
From the Technical Services Handbook:

"Cataloging & Processing Policy/Changes for Adult and Young Adult Book Titles
From time to time Technical Services receives requests from managers to change how books are shelved. These requests do impact bibliographic, authority, and item records, and follow AACR2 rules. Therefore, it is important for the Technical Services Manager to discuss requests with the manager to see if a request can be accommodated. If there is not an agreement between Technical Services and the requesting manager, then it may be necessary to request a meeting with the Director. Whenever there are requests for major changes, the Director is always to be consulted...

Request for changes must always take into account the following:
  • Working with and following AACR2 rules to the best of our ability
  • Amount of time it takes to make the changes
  • Impact it places on patron accessibility to materials"
Clearly, our management agrees that materials should accessible to as many as possible and should be cataloged and placed so that they are easy to find. Pulling either African American or GLBTQ materials into their own separate place would not "save time for the user" and it would "impact...patron accessibility to materials." 

I have had many of these conversations with our Technical Services Manager and while I began adamantly wanting to pull out materials, place them in a new collection, and house them in specific defined areas, I have come to understand why she is just as adamantly opposed to this. She would be happiest if we eliminated many of our "collections" and just went with Adult Fiction, Adult Nonfiction, and Paperbacks. We have eliminated our Nonfiction paperbacks and Paperback Classics collections, changing the way we select as well. 

When I think of myself as a patron, this makes even more sense. Cataloging records, the OPAC, and the shelf location are in agreement. Things are found either by the author's last name or by the Dewey Decimal Classification System. 

Merchandising library collections like bookstores has become popular in some areas. Pulling out certain genres and placing them in specific locations utilizes this approach. A 2012 article on WebJunction, What Libraries Can Learn From Bookstores by Chris Rippel states:

"In 1907, William A. Borden pulled books from the fiction shelves to set up special shelving for historical novels and detective fiction. During two years of observation, Borden noticed patrons who previously only browsed the new books began selecting books from the genre shelves as well. Readers also began picking lesser-known authors within their chosen genre. - Source: "On classifying fiction" by William A. Borden. Library Journal, June 1909, pp. 264-265.

Librarians frequently complain that patrons read mostly new books while good, older books remain unread. For patrons unfamiliar with authors and titles, trying to select one book from shelves of thousands of books, is like trying to select the best brick in a wall. They all look alike. Borden's observations suggest that:
  • Patrons are most attracted to new books when this is the only collection presentation of books in limited numbers browsers can comprehend.
  • Patrons will select older books when they too are presented in limited numbers."
In his RA article, A House Divided?: Two Views on Genre Separation, Barry Trott raises some relevant arguments for not separating out genres. 

  • Defining genres: There is no definitive formula for determining the specific genre for a book. Many titles could be placed in several genres and many authors erase genre lines, creating entirely new genres that are not defined or recognized.
  • Genre stigma: Readers may reject a suggestion because it has been determined to be in a genre that they "don't read." Rather than connecting readers to books, we have succeeded in allowing them to make judgments about titles simply because we have chosen to place them in the African American Fiction, GLBTAQ, or any other genre. Many times, I have suggested books to patrons and they have responded, "Oh, I don't read - YA, Horror, Romances, etc."
  • Space issues: Do you purchase multiple copies of titles and place them in several genre displays? Do you have room to do this? How much more difficult will it be for patrons to find the title they are looking for?
  • Role of readers' advisor: Having titles separated by genre might seem to make it easier for patrons to find similar authors or books. In reality, they may prefer certain appeal terms that can be found in another genre. Not having genre collections may encourage patrons to seek out readers' advisors who could make suggestions based on these appeal preferences. The patron will leave with a book that they are more likely to enjoy and will leave feeling validated.
While I agree that some patrons are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices available and will gravitate to displays to narrow the field of choices, I disagree that this should be done with only a few genres. If the decision is made for your library to use the bookstore approach, I think that it should be utilized for the entire collection not just for one or two genres. Personally, I think this would work best in an elementary school library. The elementary schools in Michigan City, IN went from seven school librarians, one in each school, to one for all seven locations, over one summer. In this situation, even having nonfiction grouped in some way would make it easier for elementary students to choose a book about something they were interested in.


WebJunction article:

Readers' Advisory Column: A House Divided?: Two Views on Genre Separation by Barry Trott and Vicki Novak

Westchester Public Library: Policies, Plans, and Postings,-Policies-and-Postings.html


  1. Hi Suzanne,

    Great point opening with the Ranganathan Laws! They speak for themselves as well as what the library is all about: For every reader his/her book! Likewise and more modernized: we serve humanity and in my opinion, should not separate fiction based on the perceived “differences” between us all. I agree with your assessment of the segregation of certain fictions actually causing more hassle and confusion after they are moved/separated; from cataloging to retrieval. You also bring up an interesting point about the time it takes for these changes to be made. I think it would just be unnecessary chaos and exclusion. I almost feel as though once new fiction materials are moved back into the general fiction (when their new-ness wears off) patrons might also find older fiction, they didn’t know existed either by the same author or by a different author entirely, due directly to the fact that the fiction is in one unified space.

  2. Excellent prompt response! You cite great sources and use them to back up your opinion. Full points.