Category Archives: Library administration

Well, shoot

Mom,

Here’s another little look into YA collection development: my library doesn’t own a copy of Charm & Strange, which is especially embarrassing since I was the collector responsible for YA fiction when the book came out (I’m not right now). Taking a look at the reviews, I’m going to have to assume I was swayed by Kirkus’s ambiguous last line: “A high-powered voice rich in charismatic style and emotional intensity illuminates this ambitious debut that doesn’t quite live up to its potential.” But the reality of the situation is that I just had very little money at the end of last fiscal year, and I was looking for any reason not to buy a book.  So, now you’ve caught me without a ready way of responding to your thoughtful post.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions!

First of all–I love your little statistics project, looking at the number of boarding schools in the US vs. YA lit.  In addition to the reason you cited (authors are always looking for ways to get rid of the parents), I think you’ll agree that probably a huge reason behind the high number of boarding school books is the influence of a few key texts, especially The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace, both of which were written when (at least from my sketchy knowledge) boarding school was a lot more common, and both of which, though published for adults, remain keystones for a large amount of YA lit.

Finally, I did take physics, and even learned about quarks, but I only remembered them being up, down, top, and bottom–I definitely would have remembered charm and strange.  So apparently my teacher didn’t get very far into quarks.  I guess that’s what I get for not going to one of those fancy East Coast boarding schools.

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Genre ghettos

Mark,

Yes, I’ve often wondered about the Edgar Awards. Although, technically, they honor books in the “mystery, crime, suspense, and intrigue fields,” (as Edgar winner Nancy Werlin mentioned in yesterday’s comments) even though they are given by the Mystery Writers of America. So clearly, they have a pretty broad interpretation of the field. And, when you think about it, Edgar himself wrote mystery, crime, and suspense stories; I can’t think of anything I would call “intrigue” in his oeuvre, right off the top of my head, but all the others are there. So I suppose Code Name Verity could be labeled suspense or intrigue (well, it is about spies, and in my mind, that’s the definition of intrigue), and Amelia Anne definitely includes crime and also suspense.

This blurring of the lines (is this a “thriller” or is it a “mystery”?) causes problems in libraries all the time. Many (most?) public libraries have a “Mystery” section, separate from regular fiction. The problem is deciding what goes there and what goes in fiction. So do you put this year’s big thriller and Edgar “Best Novel” nominee, Gone Girl, in the fiction section or the mystery section? It’s definitely not a traditional mystery in which a detective (amateur or professional) solves a crime. But there’s a crime (multiple crimes), and there’s lots of suspense. Results of a quick catalog check:

Santa Clara County Library: Mystery

San Jose Public Library: Mystery

San Francisco Public Library: Mystery

Berkeley Public Library: Fiction

Solano County Library: Fiction

Napa City/County Library: Mystery

Benicia Library: Mystery

And those last three are funny, because Solano, Napa, and Benicia share a catalog.

Of course, the real problem comes when Gillian Flynn writes another novel and it fits even less into the “mystery” genre. Then we shelve it in fiction, and our library users who want to read the next Gillian Flynn novel get upset with us because they can’t find it because it’s not next to Gone Girl on the shelf.

Can you guess that you got me on one of my pet peeves about library classification? I don’t like this dividing fiction up into genres, because there’s too much guesswork involved. I get that it is easier for our users to find similar things to something they liked if we have all the mystery books (or science fiction or fantasy or westerns or romance books) shelved together, but there’s too much of a grey area for too many books. And why privilege those particular genres? Why not have all the coming-of-age stories in one place, or the comedies of manners? Why not further subdivide “Mystery” into hardboiled, cozy, suspense, spy, etc.? And what about horror? Where does it go?

Nowadays, especially, we have a lot of ways for our library users to find the books in the genres and sub-genres they like. We have much better subject classifications for fiction in our online catalogs. We have great databases like Novelist and BookBrowse and NextReads. We create displays and bookmarks. And all you have to do is type “Gillian Flynn readalikes” into a Google search box to get dozens of suggestions.

So why not just lump all the fiction together? (At least I’m not suggesting we put it back into the Dewey 800s!) Admittedly, this was something I was never able to achieve, and the practice may now be too firmly entrenched, but it still makes sense to me.

To relate this to teens (and, I have to admit, I see much less genre separation in teen library collections than in adult), it seems to me that ghettoizing mysteries or science fiction or whatever takes away a big part of the serendipitous discovery that can happen on the library shelves. In general, I think teens are much more open to crossing boundaries. We see them reading from the adult, children’s, and teen collections. We see them reading massive adult nonfiction books and also going back to childhood favorites. I actually remember reading books when I was a teenager because they were on the library shelf near one containing books by a favorite author. So why not throw everything up there and let people discover?

Final note: I am not recommending that we do away with shelving fiction books by author. I firmly believe that it is good  library service to have a system that enables users to find the books that we own! Nevertheless, isn’t there something compelling about this?

Color [Creative Commons: chotda]

– Mom

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Selecting and Sharing Materials with Teens

Mark,

I’m in the midst of teaching an online course, called Teen Services Fundamentals, for California’s InfoPeople project. The learners are a mix of librarians (mostly new to teen services) and library support staff (library assistants, mainly).

This week we’re going to be talking about teen materials selection and readers’ advisory. So I thought maybe you could share (so I can share with them) some of your own selection and readers’ advisory tips.

I know you work in an economically and ethnically diverse city. You mentioned using the standard review sources to decide “is this for my library?”, but tell me a little more about what you’re thinking when you do that. What makes a book (or video or audiobook or whatever) “for” or “not for” your library?

And how about readers’ advisory? What are some of the ways you find most effective (or least effective) for reaching the teens in your library?

Do you think being a male librarian makes a difference in either how you select or how you relate to teen boy and girl readers in your library?

This question is a little off the wall, but I’ve been wondering lately about book size and format. Do you see a preference in your library for paperbacks vs hardbacks, trade paper vs mass-market paper, large-format nonfiction vs more traditional-sized nonfiction, etc.? Just as an aside, this last one came up in the comments on Someday, and I know that the size of the trim was really my only quibble with Bomb; I kept thinking, why couldn’t this have looked like a regular adult nonfiction book, they way Benedict Arnold did? Or Hopkinson’s Titantic, for that matter.

Anyway, there are some questions for you to ponder this Thanksgiving week. Anything you can share with my class will be appreciated!

– Mom

 

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