This is, in my opinion, the most difficult prompt question we’ve had to tackle this semester. I have spent the last few days going back and forth. One day I’m in favor of separating the genres and the next I’m for keeping them together. In the end, I think I lean to the latter – but not because of a fear of segregation. Three reasons:
1. Space. Separating books into genres prevents you from maximizing your shelving. I have been the assistant manager of a small branch library for the last couple of years and we discovered that by combining genres we could take full advantage of our limited shelving. When I started we had 13 different areas for fiction titles: fiction, large print fiction, romance, paperback romance, paperback fiction, paperback science fiction, paperback historical romance, paperback mystery, science fiction/fantasy, classics, graphic novels, westerns, and mystery. The shelving was confusing and, since we are such a small branch, it was routine for a category to have very few titles in house. This left some shelves nearly empty while other shelves were jam-packed. It felt like we were constantly weeding/floating fiction and mystery titles (even though those were our highest circulation) while we always had plenty of space for westerns and SF/fantasy (which don’t circulate as much). By combining genres we were able to make our branch look better and maximize our limited shelving.
2. Discovery. While I disagree with the charge of segregation levied by the staff mentioned in the prompt, I do agree with the romantic idea of serendipitous discovery. It happens and I think, sometimes, it happens more than I realize. I’ve had numerous patrons tell me they grabbed a book not-knowing that it was SF/Fantasy or Romance. They grabbed it based on the cover and ended up loving it – fully admitting that they never would have grabbed it if they had known the genre. This tends to happen more in our “New Releases” area when all the recently published titles are face out.
3. Cross-genre Authors. There are several authors who write books that could be in multiple genres. This causes confusion not just for patrons but also for staff. Nora Roberts can be found in Romance or Fiction. James Patterson could be found in several different genres. By not separating genres you keep the authors’ works intact. Your patron wants a James Patterson book? They’re all under P.
I think there is also one big benefit to not separating: It keeps your staff sharp. You have to know your collection when it is not separated. You can’t just point someone in a certain direction, you have to guide them. You have to ask them questions. You have to interact. If a patron is looking for a Western or a Romance at a library where those genres are separate, than they can just walk over to the shelf and browse. But if a patron wants one of those genres at a library with an unseparated fiction collection they will need assistance from a trained staff member. This boosts the relationship between the staff and their community. Staff can also create various RA promotional items to help as well. Amish fiction is very popular at my branch so we routinely have displays of popular titles. You can also create reading lists or, something we just started doing, shelf talkers.
And one final caveat – I don’t think this is a hard and fast rule. What might work for one system might not work for another. Libraries and/or branches are not all the same. It is up to the staff/administration at each library/branch to make that determination.