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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thoughts on Christian Fiction and Cataloging Books

Posted by Alana T. and Gwen B.

Gwen B., our Head of Technical Services, has been a big fan and heavy reader of Amish Fiction - until recently.  We sat down a while ago and had a conversation about the genre, how it has changed and what she thinks about it now.  Our first post covered Gwen's thoughts on the genre.  Our second post moved to the differences between Amish and Christian Fiction.  In this final post, we talk about issues related to cataloging books from different genres, including Christian Fiction.

Alana:  We have patrons come to the desk and ask where to find particular genres. These days, we get a lot of questions from people looking for our Christian Fiction section.

Gwen: They do!  A lot of them do. People are often looking for something clean and pretty and inspirational.  (See Part 1 of this interview for more in this topic)  But the genre is so diverse that you're not necessarily going to get that if you are pointed to a Christian Fiction section. For example, those guys who wrote the Left Behind series (Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins)- they write separately now.  One of them wrote a book about a man on death row and his relationship with the chaplain.  The book was a back and forth dealing with good and evil and it was a dirty thing, but it was real.  It wasn't nice and pretty, but it was Christian Fiction. I can see a lot of people not wanting to read a hard story like that.

Alana: It’s the same with other genres.  Within Mystery, you have the cozy stories with a grandmother and her cat and at the other extreme there are those that are really bloody and gory and dark.  The genre is quite diverse and many patrons don’t like certain aspects of some of the stories.

Gwen: We have a patron who doesn't like mysteries combined with romance.  She says “I don't need all that." And we have patrons who complain about sex scenes- what does that have to do with Mystery? 

Alana: Mystery is a fairly well defined genre – at least, most people feel they have a handle on what a mystery is. How do you deal with that in when cataloging a book?

Gwen:  Mystery is one of the genres where we put stickers on the books and they are shelved in their own section.  I have definitions for all the genres for which we use stickers.  I try to stay true to that.  With mysteries there has to be a dead body and an actual detective or someone seeking to solve the death.

Alana: Where did you get your definitions?

Gwen: Some from Deanne (our former director), some from Wikipedia.

Alana: What about catalogers?  Do you ask them for help?

Gwen: Oh no.  All that can be decided by each individual library and so catalogers have very different opinions.  It's like the Dewey Decimal numbers.  They are a suggestion, but when cataloging a book, you can do what you want.

Alana: People don't think about the Dewey Decimal System that way.  They think if you have a cookbook about cookies, the book is always going to have a particular call number (e.g. 641.8654).

Gwen: No, the Dewey number is a suggestion.  Catalogers can move a book around.

Alana: I didn’t think about that much, but now that we are part of such a large library consortium, it’s obvious when searching for a book.  If you look up a book in the online catalog, you can see the call numbers at all the owning libraries. There's quite a spread in Dewey numbers out there.

Gwen: There are a lot of options that libraries can use. For example, medical books.  A library might want them in a self help area versus a technical one.  It depends on how people are using the books in that library.  Usually, I think about where a book is going to circulate best in the library.  Where are people actually going to be looking for it.  Sometimes, a staff member will come to me with a book and say it doesn't belong in a particular section – it fits better with another subject.  I'm happy to give it a new Dewey number and move it somewhere else. 

Alana: I think that’s important because patrons still find a lot of books browsing on the shelves.

Gwen: They do.  And that makes it difficult if they are looking for something like Christian Fiction and those books are mixed in with general fiction. Even though Mystery has it’s own section, there are books we struggle with – where to put them. Sometimes it’s just not clear.

Alana: There are some authors who write different types of books – mysteries and thrillers – and those books are shelved in different places.  Often patrons don’t like that, it can be confusing.  And I know we struggle with defining fantasy.  I've come to you with many books and said, “You know, this isn't fantasy”.

Gwen: I know, then I send you to Amanda!

Alana: Yeah, and she and I will go around and around about it. She and I have different opinions on what constitutes a fantasy story.

Gwen: But see that!  That happens with all the genres.  We can only have so many sections on the shelves, we only have so much room.  We try to do the best we can to help patrons find the books they want.  It all goes back to where people will find a book and check it out.  

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