A lot has been said about the new direction of libraries. Whispers and shouts from all walks of the media have been decrying the death of our beloved repositories and many of us are scrambling to compete with the attention of young readers. The library has to compete with television, radio, the internet and social media, so the temptation is to make things easy. What could be easier than the bookstore format? Surely, millions of dollars have gone into corporate marketing studies to suss out the best way to get customers to find what they like and then buy it. Why not apply this golden knowledge to the library?

I’ll tell you, good friend. Because it isn’t a science. Book publishers pay a lot of money for premium placement in book displays and certain sections. They are the ones who identify the genre for the bookstore and place it on the back of the book. Suddenly, Jodi Piccoult’s latest title goes from Contemporary Fiction to Chick-Lit. This wouldn’t matter if certain sections/genres didn’t have stereotypes and connotations associated with them.

Is Beloved by Toni Morrison classic literature or African-American fiction? One would have her shelved with Flannery O’Connor and Faulkner, the other would have her next to Eric Jerome Dickey and Zane.

When genre placement is left up to the librarian or bookstore owner the opportunity for book ghettos emerge. These make it easier for some people to narrow their search to only those books for gay people or black people or whomever people, but it also creates a barrier for those outside of these narrow markers. If I were to browse the fiction section I may pick up a book and stumble upon a great title that just happens to have a gay main character. With genrefied shelves I’d never stumble upon anything, I’d have to seek it out.

The Dewey Decimal System we all learned in elementary school may be boring, but it is the great equalizer– democracy for information. Giving it up leaves far too many opportunities to marginalize, overshadow and subvert great books.

2 Comments

  1. Charles

    As a collector of African American Literature, all of the books I own are by African American/Black writers. I collect all genres to combat the myth and outright lie that Black people do not have a literary history. I thank god for writers such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, BeBe Campbell Moore, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison. I could go on. Their writing spoke truth to power and slayed the lie that we could not write or write anything the equal of Whites. See what Thomas "lying" Jefferson had to say about to Phyllis Wheatley. I have read too many hackneyed books reviews by White reviewers to believe anything they have to say about Black literature. I buy Black not because Whites don't have anything interesting to say. I buy black to support Black writers. I know the White story/history, Whites need to know mine.

  2. shannamiles

    I place them all on my shelves and proudly display them. Representation matters so my kids need to see the faces on the cover at the very least. Some of them won't pick them up until they are forced to, but the knowledge that we write and have written is there.

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