As an avid crime/mystery/thriller reader I love going into bookshops and finding all the books I ‘want’ to read shelved together. In fact I have been known to judge a bookshop by whether or not it shelves fiction by genre.

Yet when it comes to libraries i am not really a fan of fiction being shelved by genres. (am I contrary or what!). In fact I much prefer one alphabetical sequence (with paperbacks interfiled).

Why is it so?

In bookshops you can have, say, Lee Child in the crime/mystery/thriller section and in the fiction section. Yet in libraries he needs to be one or t’other (or does he… – don’t get me started)

This article from the  Public Library Association (PLA) talks about why you might change from one system to another & the advantages & disadvantages of both…

Separate or Keep Together?

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on May 5, 2015

Do you have commonalities between large numbers of books in your collection?There are some major groupings libraries tend to use to divide books into genres. Common ones include mystery, science fiction, fantasy, westerns, inspiration, and romance. Do these groupings represent what you would consider a sizable portion of your collection?

Are there special niche books that are particularly important in your community that should be kept together? Some libraries like to keep local authors together on shelves. Other libraries choose potentially more narrow genres to group together like suspense, horror, historical fiction, or urban fiction. There can also be chick lit, humorous, book and TV, Amish, teen books for adults, sagas, supernatural, and war stories. Some libraries have a large collection of books that are recommended by the staff, and these books are all grouped together. What is really special in your library?

Do you have a defensible reason for changing either to separated genres OR putting together books that were separated before? Some communities, for whatever reason, tend to have more adults who read within a particular genre as opposed to reading a particular author. Would breaking the collection into smaller groupings, like genres, encourage more browsing or help patrons find what they are looking for more quickly? If you have books separated into genres, combining all fiction books together saves shelf space if you need more room. People are going to resist change whatever it is. When they want to talk about the change, you need to have answers for them.

How are you letting the staff and the public know changes are coming? Whether you have a newsletter, Facebook, newspaper articles, or some other way to tell the public, you’ll have to do it more than once. You may even want to get the staff and public’s opinions before you make a final decision about what to do with your fiction collection. Whatever decision you choose, make sure your staff is able to answer questions about why books were moved from “where they’d always been.” Preparing staff makes the change easier for both staff members and patrons.

Whatever you decide to do, someone isn’t going to like it. That’s just the way it goes. However, providing clear signage to help people find what they’re looking for will help quite a bit. However, making sure your decision is the right thing for your community is ultimately the most important thing.

Melanie A. Lyttle is the Head of Public Services Madison Public Library. You can watch her YouTube channel, Crabby Librarian, at D. Walsh is the Emerging Services and Technologies Librarian at Madison Public Library.