The Quagmire Quandary

At least once a year, Jack and I discuss whether we should have a LGBT section in the bookstore. We also debate the pros and cons of an African Interest shelf.

See, once you open this can, the worms just explode in all directions. Why do we need an African section? Alice Walker and Toni Morrision are just fine in Classics, thanks. But what about the annual publication from a contest of short stories by African American writers? The biography of Sojourner Truth? The ethnographic classic “Why are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” That obscure text that often gets misrepresented, “White Men on Race?” If they were shelved together, people could find them easily, instead of having to know they existed and search the appropriate category.

But, if we put “black” books together, where does the color line stop? Where would we put that horrible nasty book about how Afri-centrism is wrong and should be expelled from Academia? Does Maya Angelou have to leave Classics? Would romance novels featuring people with black skins on their covers relocate from the Luv Shack?

What about same-sex partner books? We can differentiate between Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries and her social commentary, no bother, but what do we do about Lisa Alther’s Five Minutes in Heaven? Dina McGreevey’s memoir Silent Partner? And is anyone going to bring up the word “ghettoization” or get mad because we even HAVE a LG-et al. section?

We don’t know what to do. Our default is to do nothing. There are lots of wonderful books in the shop that particular people—not just people with black skin or same sex partner preferences, but people who like to cook vegetarian, people who love dogs, etc.—would like if they knew they were here. Categorization is a sticky wicket at the best of times, and we’re not even good at simpler divisions, like separating Southern from General Fiction. (We keep arguing the toss on Florida.)

Divvying up intense categories based on concepts over which people have literally been killed throughout history? Heh. We want to do the right thing. And we haven’t got a blooming clue what that is.

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12 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

12 responses to “The Quagmire Quandary

  1. timehearthavanas

    I would leave them as is. I love to browse. And dipping into the books by general category. you never know what one may find. If a book is a classic. Leave it in the classics. Or if a love story then there you go. I know there are people who are easily offended. And I have said we live in the United States of the Offended but I for one am not normally too offended. There are many things good in many books – if nothing else but how to spell and hopefully better grammar that is correct. Not to mention exposure to other ideas and places.

    Susan Hamrick

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. I concur with Susan Hamrick’s insightful comments. Broader categories are actually more helpful to customers; sub-categories within the broader categories is okay, if the sub is significant enough and you have enough titles to justify it.

    Everyone has a niche topic but Dewey and LOC don’t do well with minutia. Only customers who want to advertise their particular ‘ax to grind’ will suggest that you just ‘must’ have a tiny category for their own pet topic.

    I can see why some folks might want the myriad of categories if they shop in a big box warehouse, but the primary focus of independent is customers actually have a real person with intelligence behind the counter who can lead them directly to the titles and topics that they want. Bound subject guides and newbie short-termers at BN, not so much.

  3. anne64

    Beyond fiction/non-fiction, really broad categories work best in my experience as a (personal) book buyer and volunteer elementary school librarian. My college librarian [ret] self thrills to the specificity of subsets afforded by Dewey and LC.
    What CHILDREN want, in my 3 yr experience, is easy access to SCAREY books, JOKE books (818.xx), and books on sharks. There is no official categorization for the first, but they just don;t understand that

  4. You’ve got the same problem library cataloguers have: subject access and classification numbers (i.e. where the book gets shelved). From a professional cataloguer’s point of view, given you only have the where problem — you’re doing it right. Overall category, regardless. Now if you really, really want to get persnickety about subject/genre, start a catalogue (card or online) for your users to consult. You might even get as many as one book case done before you throw your hands up in the air and wish the whole project to perdition, but it’d be interesting. Not recommended, but interesting. [laughs sympathetically]

  5. Carol Bannon

    Greetings from Arlington, VA! I see your challenge. Could you on special months create a display of the specialized works. For example, in February make a display for African History Month. This would, in the least, temporally enlighten others of unknown treasures. On a side note, I loved your book, and am going to abandon DC for a weekend and travel to visit your shop. It is good to escape the concrete jungle from time to time. Oh, the Library of Congress bookstore has a special section of “Books on Books”, I think your work would be a great addition to this place. Blessings!

    • EXCELLENT IDEA instead of the usual luuuuuuuv display for Val. Day! I think we will do this on our display table. THANKS!

      We added a calendar to the blog so people who wanted to visit could see what was–and if we’d be away. We look forward to seeing you when you get here!

      • Carol Bannon

        Great! I worked for a non-profit bookshop in Hagerstown, MD (Booksavers, Inc.- run by the Mennonite Central Committee, we picked up used textbooks and library books from school systems along with individual donations of all kinds of books and sold them via the Internet and also maintained a storefront. All profits went to foreign and domestic missionary projects. Anyway, every Feb. we displayed youth and adult African American history books on a small table in the shop. One African American gentleman entered the store and was so moved by the books on the display that he bought ever one of them. This happened a few times with the books in our African American History section with other buyers. It was always somewhat emotional for me when I rung up their purchases. Have a great weekend- blessings!

  6. Donna Chapman

    A sticky wicket indeed; stick with Dewey!

  7. Kathy

    Please, put it in a pile and have a SALE sign posted and that’s the ones I look for. I found a fist edition Joel Chandler book at an antique shop recently and actually paid a not so high price. Leave it to the money savers to figure this one out. But how can you put a price tag on a great READ.

  8. I believe that if readers are seeking those titles based on their sub-category within the fiction/non-fiction world – then they know the other specifics already – so why categorize the books further when inevitable that would just leave people searching everywhere for books they know as classics or great fiction simply because they get be divided further from their literary chums? Let Rita Mae stay out of the Rainbow Room and Maya remain with the other poetesses of all colors and creeds instead of segregating the shelves.Ideas spread best when given room to grow – there is no need to compartmentalize them.

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