Sunday, January 11, 2015

Question: To Shelve by Genre or Not?


I have two local libraries that I frequent, one of which organized their fiction section by author with no genre distinctions and one of which had sections for mystery, romance, historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy etc....  Recently the second library was renovated and they took the opportunity to switch over to a straight fiction section with no genre categories.  I am completely dismayed by this and am wondering what other folks preferences are?

At heart my dismay is this.  I am primarily a genre reader - I gravitate to and read mostly from Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF), Mystery, and Historical Fiction with the odd Romance and General Fiction thrown in.  There are frequently times when I have no specific book or author in mind but know I am in the mood for an epic fantasy for example.  At these times, I loved wandering into the SFF section of the library and just browsing, waiting for a cover or title to catch my eye or an author's name to jump out and remind that I had been wanting to catch up with their series etc.... Sure, I could still do this in the Fiction shelves but we are talking many, many more books and its overwhelming and dang it I just want a good epic fantasy.  I feel like setup without genre sections is only beneficial to someone who knows an author or title they are looking for and perhaps to the straight general fiction reader?

The thing is I know some the arguments as to why going to a straight fiction section and abolishing genre labels is a good thing and they do make sense.  Many books are hard to categorize - I myself love a good genre bending or mashing book - but where does one shelve a steampunk mystery novel - fantasy, mystery or even historical fiction?  At worst, pigeonholing a book into a particular genre could make it inaccessible to a reader who thinks they don't like fantasy, imagining quests and dragons and heroes, but who might actually really enjoy a steampunk mystery.  Mixing things all together makes it less likely that the person may not pick it up because of those biases or misconceptions.  It exposes people to more books. I have also heard the idea that the "genres" in the first place are really more marketing labels then anything.

The fact remains though that I feel like there is no where to browse anymore and that makes me sad.  How do others feel about this?  Do you think  more places should move to genre-less shelving or do you also like to browse by section? 

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