A LITERATURE top-level... do we need it?
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Although the current top-level categories may already be set in stone, a lot of the threads I've been reading in this group point out problems that are arguably traceable, in one way or another, to the absence of a LITERATURE category at the top level. Here's a summary of some of these issues:
1. The OSC has divided what LCC or DDC would classify as literature into two ostensibly all-encompassing categories: FICTION and POETRY. While these may be good categories, they leave certain works of literature out in the cold, like short, literary non-fiction and essays. Under the current top-level model, books of essays will most likely have to be shelved by subject-matter, which will be difficult since many such books cover a lot of unrelated ground.
2. Related to this is the problem of verse drama. Drama falls under the scope notes for FICTION, but obviously some theatrical works, like those of Shakespeare and the Greek tragedians, are written in verse and thus arguably ought to be shelved in POETRY.
3. Splitting POETRY from FICTION is sensical on some level, but it results in its own set of issues. In one of the threads where this issue has been discussed, it was pointed out that if a writer were to write both fiction and poetry, which is not altogether uncommon, then those two kinds of works would be shelved far apart from one another under the current scheme. Wouldn't it make more sense if the novels and poems of a single author were shelved side-by-side?
Other problems have been discussed, but I don't need to go on at great length about them. If anybody has some to add, please do.
In any case, the way I see it, OSC's mission is substantially different from the mission that LCC and DCC set out on. LCC and DDC are first and foremost attempts to objectively (as much as possible) organize information. That's why, rather than break down literature by genre, LCC and DDC break it down by language of origin, then chronologically by period, and then alphabetically by author. One result is that very few judgment calls are necessary. Another result is that it can be very difficult for a patron to find books that interest him or her.
OSC's mission, it seems to me, is to help people find what they're looking for, not to come up with a maximally objective classification scheme. That's why nobody working on this project seems to balk at the idea of subdividing FICTION by genre: presumably there will be Mystery, Horror, Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Romance subclassifications within FICTION. The delineations of these categories will not necessarily be objective, but they will be helpful to library patrons.
Such classifications are necessary, and have been employed in every public library I've ever entered, despite the fact that practically all the other books were shelved by Dewey Decimal call number. But the idea of dividing up all fiction by genre is just absurd. What's the genre of The Sun Also Rises? You could shelve it as Expatriate Literature, I guess, or make up some other name, but you probably wouldn't be able to come up with genre name that would help library patrons find it any more easily than they could if it was shelved in LITERATURE > alpha by author > Hemingway.
My suggestion, if this could possibly find its way to being up for debate, would be, by default, to have a LITERATURE top-level category (which includes Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Essays) shelved entirely alpha by author. This would spare library patrons from having to know anything except the author's name.
If, however, the book belongs to a popularly-understood fiction genre, like Romance or Mystery or Sci-fi, it should be broken out from the main LITERATURE collection, into LITERATURE > genre name > alpha by author.
Literary anthologies should probably also have a subcategory, since people won't ordinarily know the names of the editors of an anthology.
Are these good ideas? Do you have better ones?
While I'm all for changing the connotation of the word "literature," I expect 99% of people see a clear distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction, which makes shelving all fiction under "literature" counter-intuitive.
Issue 1 - This could be solved by making a new category for such works, rather than moving all fiction into a subcategory.
Issue 2 - It strikes me as very odd to think of Shakespeare plays as poetry. Am I alone here?
Issue 3 - Why should all works by the same writer be in the same section? That wouldn't even be possible unless the entire library were shelved purely by author.
I was reviewing the existing classification schedules mentioned in the Wiki, and came across the term "Literary Arts". Just wanted to throw that out as a possible alternative to "Literature". It might help in classifying, say, genre fiction if some people don't think of that as Literature in the narrower sense. I think we'd all agree that they're artistic works of a literary (written) nature.
>2 comfypants: While I'm all for changing the connotation of the word "literature," I expect 99% of people see a clear distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction, which makes shelving all fiction under "literature" counter-intuitive.
Despite what I said in my first paragraph, I'm going to disagree with you about most people making this distinction on types of fiction. But that's just my intuition, I can easily be wrong on that.
>2 comfypants: It strikes me as very odd to think of Shakespeare plays as poetry. Am I alone here?
Not at all. I think that's exactly the point that polutropon was making, that it's only a problem when we only have FICTION and POETRY at the top level. Shakespeare's plays, in terms of topic, are mostly fiction. But in terms of form, as verse, they are poetry. Where to shelve them if you don't have a larger "literature" grouping, a way to bring Drama appropriately next to other Fiction and Poetry?
Let's not forget that laena mentioned that we can consider not just what to make as top-level categories, but how to order those top-level categories within the OSC. So a "Literature" top-level is one possible solution, and another is to have (say) Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Essays, and then group and assign them successive coding within the order of top-levels. I personally am still leaning towards having "Literature", putting it on a par with "Art" and "Music". One problem with this strategy is that to make the idea work, we'd have to form up our top-levels, and then make sure that later we don't forget to order things to make the whole scheme work as planned.
I'm still thinking about the genre issue vs. other types of sub-categorization of fiction we might want. Be back later on that matter.
>2 comfypants:, Just a quick response to the third issue you raise. You're right that there's no good reason why all the books by a single author need to be shelved together. Isaac Asimov was for a while (and maybe down to the present day) the only person to have authored a book under each of DDC's ten top-level classifications. There's no good reason why his science fiction writing ought to be shelved with his science writing. In the case of non-literary non-fiction, I think it makes very good sense to break down by topic rather than by author, mainly because people (typically) decide what non-fiction to read based on their interests and not based on the identity of the author.
On the other hand, I think that in terms of literature, people often do do choose books based on authorship, and it is easier to find works by a particular author if they are all on the shelf next to one another. I can't think of any reason why I shouldn't be able to get a selection of Shakespeare's sonnets on the same shelf where I could get his plays. I can't think of any reason why I shouldn't find David Foster Wallace's essays on the same shelf as his novels.
While I recognize that this could be mitigated to some degree by putting the POETRY section adjacent to the FICTION section, so that patrons won't have to walk as far between the sonnets and the tragedies, it doesn't answer my biggest question, which is: how much does it really help to split these sections in the first place?
I sympathize with your point of view; on my own bookshelves, all of the fiction is sorted by author, and I wouldn't consider doing it any other way.
Why shouldn't you be able to get Shakespeare's sonnets on the same shelf as his plays? Well, why shouldn't you be able to get Shakespeare's sonnets on the same shelf as other Elizabethan sonnets? Sure people choose books based on authorship, but the question is what is more helpful to browsing. If you're looking for a specific author, it's very easy to look it up in the catalog and see a nice list of all his/her works and where to find them.
>5 comfypants: Why shouldn't you be able to get Shakespeare's sonnets on the same shelf as his plays? Well, why shouldn't you be able to get Shakespeare's sonnets on the same shelf as other Elizabethan sonnets?
That's a really good point. The reason that (for a public library) I still think alpha by author is preferable is because dividing literature by movement gets academic very, very rapidly, to such an extent that while it might aid browsing, it actually hinders finding a particular work in the first instance.
Come to think of it, I think the crux of our disagreement might be related to your assertion that "the question is what is more helpful to browsing." I'm just not sure that I agree, at least for the purpose of shelving literary works. I come at it from the perspective that as long as a particular work is easy to find, it doesn't matter whether it is shelved alongside other works that are not very closely related to it. (Caveat: obviously, like I said earlier, I still think it's silly to segregate literary works by the same author from one another, particularly when alpha-by-author is such a common and easily understood method for shelving literature).
So maybe the question is this: how do we strike the appropriate balance between shelf-browsability and work-findability?
This is an excellent question and discussion in terms of shelf-browsability and work-findability.
As pointed out in Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous the problem is that a singular physical book can only go in ONE physical location. Pre-LT I ran into this issue so many times in my own library that I was constantly dreaming up new shelving strategies depending on my current focus at the time (which were of course never completely finished when the next inspiration hit). At one point I had 3 copies of L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time just so one copy could be shelved with "Sci-Fi," one with "Youth", and one with "general fiction" (so it could be with her other "grown-up" works).
LT actually solved that problem for me - fiction alpha by author (all books except "Children's"...and anthologies...and poetry/plays...and comics...). Non-fiction by broad subject then by author. Now all the Asimov doesn't have to be next to each other because I can click my "Asimov" tag and see the fiction in the fiction section, the science books on the "Popular Science," the Guide to Shakespeare on the Shakespeare shelf etc.
I guess I no longer browse my shelves - I browse LT. So, for me, the "work-findability" pre-empts browsability when it comes to actual physical shelving. In my personal library, of course, which is arranged according to my biases.
In a library - IDK, I am pretty comfortable at the library going to the computer and putting in a few keywords on a subject to get a "range" of Dewey numbers and then at least getting to the right aisle. For fiction I just pace the fiction aisles looking for the "Sci-Fi" sticker (the stickers, I think, work as a kind of OSC "facet" - my library could separate them out - but they don't).
In bookstores I am usually totally lost - no computer and they shelve things in groups that are not intuitive to me - I usually end up spending hours browsing every conceivable "clump" that might interest me (which is, I suspect, one of their goals). Of course, spending hours in a bookstore is absolutely one of my most favorite ways to waste my time...
You point out the fundamental difference between bookstores and libraries. Bookstores are designed to sell books, libraries are (should be) designed to allow people to find information. It's a subtle, yet distinct difference.
>5 comfypants: & 7. I've been thinking some more about browsability. Other things being equal, a more browsable shelf order is superior to a less browsable shelf order, right? And a shelf order is browsable to the extent that each book is more similar to its neighboring books than it is to those shelved farther away.
But don't you think that such browsability is only actually helpful to the patron if the patron is aware of the similarities between the neighboring books? I mean, how does it help the typical library patron to find John Donne and Andrew Marvell shelved side-by-side? This shelf order would only be helpful to him if he were aware that English professors like to lump these two and some others together as "Metaphysical Poets."
I guess my point is that from the perspective of the typical library patron, certain subgroupings (especially in literature or philosophy) are already so dubious that the idea of browsing them goes straight out the window. If a patron isn't expected to recognize the similarities between works that are shelved together, then for him, it's exactly as if those similarities don't exist.
We might be getting a little off topic. I agree that an academic division of literature is messy, arbitrary and not useful to most people. But whether or not something like "Metaphysical Poets" makes sense, it makes equal sense as a subcategory of POETRY as it does as a subcategory of LITERATURE > Poetry. Either way, anyone interested in reading poetry knows what "poetry" is, and probably doesn't want to browse through fiction, drama and literary non-fiction to find a book of poetry that looks nice to read.
>10 comfypants:, I see your point. But I think that a section that houses all the poetry in the entire library is overbroad for the kind of browsing that you've suggested. I'm just pulling examples from my shelves now, but here's a list of books, indisputably "poetry," but that aren't likely to hit the spot for anybody browsing the poetry section for a nice book of poems:
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey
Chretien de Troyes' Perceval and Yvain
The Song of Roland
Dante's Divine Comedy
Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales
Milton's Paradise Lost
Tennyson's Idylls of the King
Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival
Speaking generally, I think that if someone is just browsing the poetry section, the book they envision picking up is a book of lyric poetry, not epic. If you're right (as I think you are) that people would like to browse such a section without being distracted by fiction, etc., I see no reason why Lyric Poetry couldn't be broken out from my envisioned LITERATURE top-level category, just like Fantasy novels probably would be.
But I don't see how it aids your poetry browsers at all to lump Homer with Keats. Epic poetry, when it is read at all, is read like a novel, from front to back. This is not necessarily true of books of lyric poetry, which are often read in chunks, by skipping around. One thing that strikes me as artificial about the OSC's FICTION-POETRY dichotomy is that the person who is browsing for novels is less likely to come across epic poetry than is the person who is browsing for lyric poetry, even though the novel-seeker is more likely to be satisfied by the epic poem than the lyric poem-seeker is.
Well, you've convinced me. I wonder if enough other people are reading all of this for it to matter. :)
Looking at my own shelves I have genre fiction in separate sections, then what I think of as mainstream novels that includes stuff like Fielding, Austin, etc through contemporary fiction. In another room there are some shelves where I have literature starting with Gilgamesh, then ancient Greek poetry and plays, then Roman, medieval, Shakespeare, poetry anthologies and up through humor like Wodehouse and Doonesbury.
Personally, the closer my public library comes to a similar arrangement the happier I am as far as findability goes. For browsing, I still like a division between popular novels and everything else. I don't want my plays, poetry, essays in with novels since they are for another mood entirely.
My two cents.
>13 hailelib:, On some level, I can understand the distinction you're making between "mainstream novels" on the one hand, and "literature." The problem is that the distinction is so subjective. We can all probably agree that shelving Aeschylus in "Literature," while shelving Confessions of a Shopaholic in "Mainstream Novels" won't likely cause a big stir. But just to pull from one of your examples, I have absolutely no clue what it is about Wodehouse that would make it more appropriate to shelve him with Shakespeare than with Austen. I'm sure that the distinction makes perfect sense to you, but if I were browsing your library for Wodehouse, I'd be hopelessly lost.
>13 hailelib:, Also (just noticed this) although we disagree a little bit on how to organize at a smaller scale, we do appear to agree that making a division between FICTION and POETRY is oversimplistic. The present OSC top-level structure would split up your Wodehouse from your poetry anthologies, etc.
Well humorous poems precede humor as in Wodehouse and other cartoon collections follow Doonesbury. It makes sense to me but not necessarily anyone else. Novels, whether classics or contemporary fluff that aren't clearly Romance, SF, or mystery/suspense end up together. But there are anomalies, edge cases, etc. even in a home library and we all make different choices.
However, I do strongly feel that a Literature category for those items that the casual novel/genre reader doesn't often want has a place in the classification scheme.
>11 polutropon:: I see no reason why Lyric Poetry couldn't be broken out from my envisioned LITERATURE top-level category, just like Fantasy novels probably would be.
Wait, what? I cant even list all the ways that's problematic. Or else I don't understand it. If Austen is literature, fantasy novels should be, or else we're engaging in subjective marginalization of genre fiction. And not having lyric poetry under literature is just wierd.
I can see the argument for making divisions between Poetic Drama, Epic Poetry, Lyric Poetry, etc. within the POETRY top-level--which is exactly what I suggested in the Poetry thread (it puts the sonnets on a different shelf than Shakespeare's plays, but so be it)--but that has little bearing on the topic being discussed that I can see, as >10 comfypants: pointed out.
If it's simply a case of making sure there's a coherent chunk that a library that separate out and sort according to a different classificatory system then OSC, so that the missing books won't be diffused through the system, I do support having FICTION, POETRY, etc. next to each other in the call number system. But I don't think a top-level category is necessary for that; we can imagine a zeroth-level category LITERATURE if we really want, but I don't see the functional advantage.
I'm pretty sure he meant "within" by "broken out from."
The reason I'm convinced of the need for a Literature top level, is that it seems completely reasonable that a library might want to mix epic poetry with fiction rather than with lyric poetry.
"Poetic Drama," as the top levels currently stand, would go under fiction, not poetry.
>17 Alixtii:, If shelving Austen separately from fantasy novels is "subjective marginalization of genre fiction," then every substantial public library I've ever entered is engaging in the same. In my experience, it's extremely common for libraries to break genre fiction out from the main fiction section. I assume this is because many genre-afficionados come into the library knowing that they want their next book to be, say, fantasy, but without a preconceived idea of which particular fantasy novel they want to leave with. For these readers, it makes good sense to make genre fiction easy to browse.
I will say that in principle, I agree with you; on my own shelves, I don't segregate genre fiction from other novels (or from poetry or essays for that matter). But patrons use the public library in ways that are very different from how I use my personal library, and the classification system should be cognizant of that.
Oh, and #18 is right: by "broken out from," I only meant to imply that each genre should have its own subcategory within LITERATURE.
The reason I'm convinced of the need for a Literature top level, is that it seems completely reasonable that a library might want to mix epic poetry with fiction rather than with lyric poetry.
I can see how it could help to mix epic poetry with fiction and lyric poetry, but not to mix epic poetry with fiction but not lyric poetry. That'd require something more complicated, I think.
"Poetic Drama," as the top levels currently stand, would go under fiction, not poetry.
Says who? (Check the Poetry thread for a discussion as to whether Hamlet should be shelved with the sonnets or on another shelf under Poetry.) Antigone, Hamlet, Goethe's Faust, Murder in the Cathedral, Ezra Pound's translation of Electra, Four Saints in Three Acts: these are all poetry, and should be placed under poetry if we have a fiction/poetry distinction.
If you want to start arguing for the need for a top-level Drama category, on the other hand, which would encompass dramatic works in both poetry and prose, I'd be completely behind that.
>20 Alixtii:, Scope notes for FICTION: "Includes literature, drama (plays), anthologies, and genre works..."
Well, it also lists "anthologies" in the scope notes, but obviously poetry anthologies don't fall under FICTION (or else a lot of the work we've done on the POETRY thread is going to have to be re-done), so I don't see why we'd read those scope notes as saying that all dramatic works would, either. As the system currently stands, dramatic works in prose should definitely fall under FICTION, no question.
Nor would we want a science fictional lyric poem under FICTION. It does solve the problem whether we should have a top-level LITERATURE category, since the scope notes clearly demonstrate that literature falls under FICTION.
That'd require something more complicated, I think
How so? (I honestly don't know; I'm not a librarian.)
I can see how it could help to mix epic poetry with fiction and lyric poetry
Personally, I can't. However, if you can, then shouldn't you be in favor of the proposed "literature" category?
>23 comfypants:: Personally, I can't. However, if you can, then shouldn't you be in favor of the proposed "literature" category?
If the goal is to throw all fiction and all poetry in the same pot, and then reclassify them according to some other system (such as alphabetical by author) then having them having them in the same super-category is useful. I think libraries should have this type of functionality, but that it is adequately served by having FICTION and POETRY next to each other in the call number system.
I support the aims, I just think the poposed measures are more radical than they have to be.
How so? (I honestly don't know; I'm not a librarian.)
Because it requires something more complex than a mere "throw it all in the same pot and resort." It requires a "throw it in the pot with something else, then subtract something different." If we're going to subdivide literature by genre, then epic poetry is either a type of poetry or a type of fiction; it can't be both. (I suppose it could, potentially, be a third thing.)
Either lyric poetry and epic poetry are cut from the same cloth, and are in the same category, or epic poetry and novels are; I can't imagine a system that could allow both paradigms to co-exist at the same time. (Although it might be possible to rig the call numbers so that epic poetry and novels are placed next to each other despite belonging to different top-levels.)
>24 Alixtii:, I'm not proposing that we subdivide all literature by genre; the only genres that I would propose get their own subcategories are those that patrons are most likely to want to browse. I think the necessary subcategories would include Romance, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, and Lyric Poetry. Other subcategories could be appropriate. I think that the defining quality of such a subcategory would be that patrons frequently request such-and-such kind of book, but quite often don't know which particular book they want from within that kind.
If a work doesn't fall into such a well-defined category, then I think it should stay shelved in the main literature collection. So since the patron is rare who walks in to the library and says, "I want to read some epic poetry, but I don't know which epic poem," I think epic should be shelved in the main Literature section. But since it would be relatively common for a patron to come in and say, "I want a book of poems, where's the poetry section?" lyric poems ought to be a break-out subcategory of Literature.
*Obviously I'm assuming that this last patron has in mind lyric, and not epic, poetry, but I sort of think that's a given.
Okay, but under the scheme we already have, there will be Romance, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Mystery, and Horror sections; there'll be subdivisions of FICTION. And there'll be a Lyric Poetry section; it'll be a subdivision of POETRY. So the patrons who want to browse will definitely have a section they can be sent to so they can do that.
What I don't see is the value of not subdividing the rest of the Literature section proposed in >25 polutropon: if we're dividing up parts of it. Indeed, the assumption implicit in >25 polutropon: is that patrons using the leftover Literature section won't be using it to browse ("the patron is rare who walks in to the library and says, 'I want to read some epic poetry, but I don't know which epic poem'"), so under that logic, it really doesn't matter how it's organized.
I do, however, think that patrons would expect to see the epic poetry lumped together, or at least near each other. And I'd think they'd expect to see Murder in the Cathedral and Four Saints in Three Acts relatively close to the Lyric Poetry section on the shelves (just round the corner, maybe, or a couple shelves down)--not next to The Waste Land and Tender Buttons, but not too far from them either--not over with the novels.
Some subdivisions for literature would be unclear and contested, of course. If we ignore the Drama problem, though (which I don't believe is a problem--poetic dramas are poetry, and if we want to put prose plays under fiction, I'm fine with that), the fiction/poetry dichotomy probably has a smaller fuzzy middle than most binaries do. Prose poems, yeah, but how much prose poetry is found in the typical library? (And really problematic cases can be put under a "prose poetry" category placed arbitrarily, if not completely accurately, under Poetry.)
More than anything else, though, I think we're providing a classifcatory scheme. We should provide opportunities for libraries to not use our scheme with certain collections (for example, by shelving fiction alphabetically by author) in convenient ways, but we also need to provide a a system that also allows us to provide an actual classificatory system so that the libraries who want one can use it.
Indeed, the assumption implicit in >25 polutropon: is that patrons using the leftover Literature section won't be using it to browse, so under that logic, it really doesn't matter how it's organized.
Exactly. That's exactly what I think. Just like I wrote in >1 polutropon:, I think the leftover LITERATURE section could be shelved alpha by author all the way.
Even if the patron does expect epic poetry to be shelved on one set of shelves, I'm unconvinced that doing so is in any way helpful. When a patron goes to the library for epic poetry, he usually has a particular epic in mind already; and if so, all that matters is that he's able to find it.
Now, as far as drama goes, it could be the case that people want to browse plays, and if so, it might be a good idea to have a break-out subcategory for them. I'll tell you, I'm actually surprised you're so unbothered by the fact that prose dramas and verse dramas will be shelved separately on your understanding of the current top-level categories. That would drive me batty.
Finally, as far as literary works are concerned, if public libraries wanted to use a very precise classification scheme with subcategory upon subcategory, they'd be using the Dewey 800's or the LCC P's for that purpose, because each one is pretty robust. But what you see time and again upon entering a library is that they balk at these schemes because they aren't helpful. Why give libraries another categorization scheme that we already know they're not going to use?
Well, you say that "it really doesn't matter how it's organized" and go on to say "the leftover LITERATURE section could be shelved. . . ."
If that's as bold as you're going to be, then I guess I agree with you. It could be shelved that way. We could shelve them by the number of pages they have.
I'd even support, rather than just say we could, giving libraries the option of sorting certain collections by author, and doing our best to make that convenient. I just don't see any way to do that without certain sub-genres of Literature omitted from the Literature collection which doesn't involve forcing all libraries to do this and abandon any attempt to build a real classificatory system.
Now, if you were a little bolder and were to say "the leftover LITERATURE section should be shelved alpha by author all the way," you do see how that would be contradictory with "it really doesn't matter how it's organized," right? They're not really two beliefs a person should be holding simultaneously, so I guess it's a good thing you didn't say that.
But if you don't think we should do that, I'm not sure what the conversation is about.
Now, as far as drama goes, it could be the case that people want to browse plays, and if so, it might be a good idea to have a break-out subcategory for them.
I'm on record as supporting this. I think Drama should be a top-level category, shelved not too far away from FICTION and POETRY, but not with it.
>28 Alixtii:, I'm not taking it personally, but sometimes it seems like you're more interested in interpreting my words in ways that I plainly don't intend than you are in convincing me that my proposals are wrongheaded. So let me rephrase: I think that the leftover LITERATURE section should be shelved alpha by author, because it minimizes the information that the patron must know in order to find the books he's searching for.
Now allow me to ask: exactly how do you think it is helpful to the patron if epic poems are all shelved contiguously on the shelves?
>29 polutropon:: exactly how do you think it is helpful to the patron if epic poems are all shelved contiguously on the shelves?
A. If she knows what epic poem she is looking for, she'll be able to easily find it.
B. If she doesn't know which epic poem she is looking for, she'll be able to easily find an epic poem.
Now, you claim that B isn't likely to happen. Okay, fine, maybe, maybe not. A still holds.
What benefit is there to not having them together on the shelves, but rather having the Illiad next to the Hemmingway and the Aeneid with the Jules Verne?
>31 Alixtii:, Well, if as I've suggested, the leftover LITERATURE section is shelved alpha by author, A will be true of my proposal as well. My proposal has a second benefit of not requiring the patron to know that the work he's looking for is a work of epic poetry. It's not that hard to imagine a public library patron who knows that the Iliad is a classic, and accordingly wishes to read it, but doesn't know that it's an epic, and doesn't know what an epic is. Such a person probably would reasonably look for Homer near Hemingway, or Vergil near Verne. I see nothing gained by frustrating his expectations.
A will be true of my proposal as well.
I never denied that, although now that I think of it I'm not actually so sure. I can fairly easily imagine a patron who knows the Illiad and Aeneid are ancient epics from Greece or Rome or somewhere but doesn't know they were written by Homer and Virgil respectively (especially Virgil).
The fact that the names of the authors of so many epics are lost to us undermines my argument that they wouldn't be shelved together (although they still might be--and I can see an argument for anonymous works being shelved under title), but it also undermines your argument that patrons would intuitively know where to look for them.
And under your system, there's a LITERATURE section, and a pulled out LYRIC POETRY. (For that matter, there's also a pulled-out FANTASY.) This hypothetical patron who doesn't know The Illiad is an epic may well not know what lyric poetry is. How does she know where to look?
If A is true of both our systems (and I think A is almost always going to be true of any system, because if one knows what one is looking for exactly, then one can always just ask or look it up in the catalogue), then it makes sense to take B into consideration.
>33 Alixtii:, Those are all fair criticisms. If the patron is as ignorant as we've both been supposing, then it really doesn't matter how the shelves are organized; he has no choice but to use the catalog to find the Iliad's call number.
So with that said, there's no sense trying to categorize information in a way that will be helpful to a person who knows absolutely nothing. But I think there is some sense in trying to categorize information in a way that will be helpful to a person who knows very, very little. If we overengage in subcategorizing, then, in order to find Candide a patron might have to go to FICTION > Novels > French Language > Eighteenth Century > Enlightenment > alpha by author > Voltaire. That is a lot to know, and not a great number of people would be able to find it without going to the catalog for a call number.
Not only would it be hard to find because the patron might not be aware of all the attributes that went into determining the classification, but also because there may not be any obvious reason why French novels ought to come either before or after Spanish novels. You could try alphabetizing: French before Spanish, but why not Espanol before Francaise?
If you reduce the amount of information that a patron needs in order to determine where the books he wants are located, you reduce the number of trips he makes to the catalog, and he is happier. My proposal to shelve literature entirely alpha by author (except for the breakout subgroups) is based on my assumption that, in general, the single bit of information that a patron is most likely to know (in the case of literature) is the name of the work's author.
Anonymous works would be interspersed alpha by title. That's just a problem without an easy fix.
If we overengage in subcategorizing, then, in order to find Candide a patron might have to go to FICTION > Novels > French Language > Eighteenth Century > Enlightenment > alpha by author > Voltaire.
Unless the library in question has a very large collection of French literature, the patron doesn't actually need to know Voltaire was an Enlightenment writer to end up more or less in the right space under the system you give above. That's one of my basic assumption as I approach this project in all of the threads I feel able to work on: that the final system will create gradiations finer than actual browsing patrons will be able to recognize, and that's okay, as long as it seems fairly intuitive to them.
This is not to say we should group literature by language at the top levels; indeed, by separating fiction and poetry we've already made a commitment not to do that at the top levels, and the proposed second-level categories in the Poetry thread, which I've been following, focus on genre (in part because I proposed them that way). But it is to say that the subdivisions are not a priori to be avoided.
My proposal to shelve literature entirely alpha by author (except for the breakout subgroups) is based on my assumption that, in general, the single bit of information that a patron is most likely to know (in the case of literature) is the name of the work's author.
Even more than title? This is not, of course, to argue in favor of alphabetizing by title, though I think that would be the natural endpoint of the logic you're espousing. But I'm unconvinced that the findability is drastically improved by alphabetizing by author; on the other hand, the ability to browse is destroyed to a degree that could rightly be called catastrophic.
>35 Alixtii:, I know I've already said most of this before, but here we go again:
1. A subcategory of books (like eighteenth century French novels) only needs to be browsable if a patron is able to recognize the characteristics that are shared between the books in question. If a patron walks into the stacks and finds himself in the eighteenth century French Novels section, he could be completely at a loss for how they are similar. More likely (maybe), he'll recognize that they are French novels, but there's nothing that would necessarily keep him from scanning this set of shelves for Balzac or Camus, only to be frustrated because, for no reason that he can understand, those are shelved a little bit farther down.
2. Suppose I'm looking for Candide. I am well-versed in literary history, so an academic subclassification scheme for the FICTION section doesn't baffle me ab initio. I boldly step into the stacks, look around to get my bearings, and nearby, I spot the Decameron. I glance around, and within a few moments I am able to confirm that I am in the Medieval Italian section. But how does this help me? I still don't know which direction I should go to reach eighteenth century French novels. The point is that even if the patron is able to make sense of the subclassifications, it will still appear arbitrary why one particular subclassification should appear before (or after) another one in the OSC's shelf order.
3. If libraries wanted to break fiction and poetry down in anything like the way that you propose, they would not be waiting on the OSC to come up with something. They'd be employing LCC or Dewey for that purpose. But public libraries recognize rightly that although easier to browse for literature professors, those classification systems are unintuitive and unhelpful to typical patrons. Is there any good reason to repeat these mistakes?
4. I can see how alpha by title might seem like the endpoint of my reasoning. The reason that I'm not going that far is related to my claim that browsability is good insofar as people can recognize the similarities between adjacent works. In alpha by title, there would be effectively no similarity between adjacent works at all. In alpha by author, all the novels by a single author are shelved side-by-side, and patrons will be able to recognize the characteristic they have in common, because it's printed on the binding. This makes it easier to browse by author, which is something I'd expect any patron might want to do occasionally.
Please check out this thread (http://www.librarything.com/topic/60594) for a link to the new OSC blog and a call for specific volunteer involvement. Thanks!
I have to agree with polutropon about this whole conversation. As the people over on the discussion about Pets and Science have been noting, one of the principles of the top level categories seems to be that if a library might want to lump two categories together, then they shouldn't be top level. I could easily imagine a library wanting to group all literature together.
The other issue, of course, is that of drama - again, polutropon hits it right on the mark by pointing out that verse drama and prose drama are going to be separating in the current scheme. Not only that, but prose translations of poems (say, the Iliad) would be in a different place from verse translations of the same work. I have personally seen that happen at libraries, and it is completely unacceptable. There has to be a way for libraries to group certain classes of poetry and prose together (in this case drama, and epic poetry). And while maybe drama could be top level, I really can't see poetry there, so I think the only real solution is to have a literature top level.
If individual libraries really only want poetry and fiction (plus genres), they are free to do that, but at least this would give other libraries the option of a different break-down.
And while maybe drama could be top level, I really can't see poetry there
Currently, it is there, so this seems like a strange failure of imagination.
Not only that, but prose translations of poems (say, the Iliad) would be in a different place from verse translations of the same work.
I don't see any reason why this would necessarily need to be the case. I think prose translations of epic poetry should definitely be placed under the "Epic Poetry" category of the POETRY top-level. As should, for that matter, a prose translation of a sonnet by Petrarch, if for some strange reason one were to make a prose translation of a sonnet by Petrarch.
>39 Alixtii:, I agree with you on both counts.
I do think though that 38 brings up an interesting point that I've been eschewing. Namely that one of the oft-repeated mantras of this project has been that there should be a top-level category covering a classification of books if a reasonable library might wish to aggregate at that level. See message 4 here (http://www.librarything.com/topic/58484#1101446), and message 292 here (http://www.librarything.com/topic/40857#1101455).
Like 38, I think it's easy to imagine a librarian wishing to aggregate fiction and poetry (and drama, and essays) in a LITERATURE category.
I haven't made this point yet because it appears to me that the leaders have been tossing it off as if it were a guiding principle of the project, when in reality they've never applied it in any meaningful way--because if they had, they'd see that the existing top-level categories don't meet their supposed criterion. (Say what you want about the merits of a PETS top-level, but I find it hard to believe that no reasonable library could wish to aggregate books on pets with books on animals generally).
"And while maybe drama could be top level, I really can't see poetry there
Currently, it is there, so this seems like a strange failure of imagination."
Alixtii - despite being the object of your derision, I found this comment hilarious. However, what I meant to have written was that I couldn't see *epic* poetry as a top level category.
On reflection, I agree with the two of you that prose translations can still be classed under poetry (although, again, I have seen many libraries make the mistake of classing them under fiction, so I'm a little dubious of how it would happen in practice), but my main point remains that Poetry and Fiction do not work for me (and, it seems Poluptropon) as the only ways of classifying literary works. We either need more top level categories (drama, *epic* poetry, etc), or one larger category of literature, from which any number of subcategories can be carved. Obviously, I prefer the latter, but I'm open to discussion.
>40 polutropon:: Like 38, I think it's easy to imagine a librarian wishing to aggregate fiction and poetry (and drama, and essays) in a LITERATURE category.
I still feel this need would be adequately served by having the fiction, poetry, drama, and biography sections all next to each other.
Say what you want about the merits of a PETS top-level, but I find it hard to believe that no reasonable library could wish to aggregate books on pets with books on animals generally
I'm not really sure what "aggregate" means, beyond being the thing Google Reader means. I interpreted the guiding principle as being that if a number of libraries might reasonably want a separate "Pets" section, then there should be a separate "Pets" section (which, yes, means all the libraries would be stuck with the decision).
The unstated assumption I read into this logic was that if there were not a "PETS" section, then the books would fall all over the library in other sections--the books on pet anatomy would be under science, the books on the sociology of pets would be under sociology, and books on pets as members of families would be under family and relationships. So if I were to write the call numbers of all the books on pets down, I'd end up with very disparate locations, which would make browsing difficult. Thus the desire to create a new top-level category to enable keeping all those books together.
But LITERATURE would be completely coterminous with the conjunct of POETRY, FICTION, etc.--the actual physical layout of the library would be exactly the same if there were a top-level LITERATURE category with POETRY and FICTION as subcategories then if POETRY and FICTION were themselves top-level categories. Depending on how we make the call number system work, even they could be exactly the same. It's only the placement of signs which would be different--so ultimately I see this as a distinction without a difference.
>41 droogmark:: However, what I meant to have written was that I couldn't see *epic* poetry as a top level category.
Oh, I agree with you then, but only because I can't see epic poetry as being anything but a subcategory of POETRY, like lyric poetry and (if we don't have a DRAMA top-level as we should) verse drama.
one larger category of literature, from which any number of subcategories can be carved.
As I discuss above, I just don't see the practical difference between LITERATURE > Poetry > Epic Poetry, and POETRY > Epic Poetry. If fiction and poetry are next to each other in the call number system (as they should be) then a sort of meta-category of LITERATURE exists no matter if its officially there or not.
By aggregating under a top level I think they mean that a library could choose to ignore the lower levels and shelve all the books in that section alphabetically by author. This is the stated reason that they want Science as a top level, so that a small library without a lot of science books could just put all those books in one Science section not separated by type of science.
OK, Alixtii, I think we're getting closer to understanding each other here. Essentially, I guess, we're talking about pragmatics v. theory. Pragmatically, I agree with you: if you set up your shelves 1) Fiction 2) Fiction > Drama 3) Poetry 4) Poetry > Epic Poetry, etc., that would put everything basically where we both want it to go. Theoretically, though, as I said in my earlier post, I'm just unhappy with the concept that literature is comprised of two categories called "fiction" and "poetry," especially since these two categories aren't even mutually exclusive (see: verse novels).
Also pragmatically, the larger the literature collection, the more problems you will run into of similar items being physically distant from each other. I just think it's better to have a more theoretically sound system from the beginning so libraries don't each have to solve those issues separately.
>44 droogmark:: Theoretically, though, as I said in my earlier post, I'm just unhappy with the concept that literature is comprised of two categories called "fiction" and "poetry," especially since these two categories aren't even mutually exclusive (see: verse novels).
If Drama is separated out as another top-level, then I think the boundary between fiction and poetry is about as clear as that between, say, metaphysics and epistemology. or even physics and chemistry. Indeed, for the most part I think the boundary is uncharacteristically clear.
Furthermore, I don't feel I've seen a coherent alternative system proposed which categorizes based on content/genre but doesn't separate into the binary (or trinary) of fiction and poetry (and drama). What should the categories directly under LITERATURE be?
Also pragmatically, the larger the literature collection, the more problems you will run into of similar items being physically distant from each other. I just think it's better to have a more theoretically sound system from the beginning so libraries don't each have to solve those issues separately.
I'm just not following this at all. How would a different system overcome the problem in a large literature collection?
>44 droogmark:, 45, I also want to reiterate the problem of where to shelve essay collections, like David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster, or Roland Barthes' Mythologies, or Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country, or Patrick Suskind's On Love and Death. They aren't poetry, they aren't fiction, and they aren't drama (assuming that a top-level for drama materializes), but they clearly are literature. The current top-level model just doesn't have ANY good place to shelve works like these.
A collection of essays which spans several subjects (I don't think Mythologies qualifies, but I don't know the others well enough to speak to them) is certainly hard to classify, but I'd like to hear a positive argument made for why all such works would fit under literature (in a way that other nonfiction works wouldn't) beyond "they don't fit anywhere else."
>47 Alixtii:, Well, for one thing, Dewey and LCC classify the above-mentioned books and other books of essays with literature, and this is one case where I think "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies. Of course, that won't satisfy your demand for a "positive argument."
I won't argue that every book of short non-fiction belongs in LITERATURE, although I have a hard time coming up with any that wouldn't. But if, say, there were a book called "Best Non-fiction Writing," and it included representative chapters from A Brief History of Time, Freakonomics, and Godel, Escher, Bach, etc., I wouldn't call for it to be shelved as literature. I wouldn't know what to call it, but it wouldn't be literature.
If you ask me though, there is a class of non-fiction writing that has more in common with poetry than it does with the books ordinarily connoted by the word "non-fiction." If I had to come up with some characteristics (not exhaustive, mind you), I'd say that such works (a) evince an attention to style and word choice and the sound of language that is atypical of ordinary non-fiction works, (b) are frequently anecdotal, as opposed to universal, and (c) contain a level of discourse deeper than that on which the facts themselves are presented.
I don't expect to have convinced you.
How would you shelve Mythologies? As literary criticism?
"Im just not following this at all. How would a different system overcome the problem in a large literature collection?"
My point was that your argument seems to be that proximity would solve many of the problems that polutropon and I have brought up, such that if someone is looking for drama in fiction (or poetry), it's no big deal because it is on the next aisle over. For example, you said that:
"I do support having FICTION, POETRY, etc. next to each other in the call number system. But I don't think a top-level category is necessary for that; we can imagine a zeroth-level category LITERATURE if we really want, but I don't see the functional advantage."
My argument is that proximity is a relative thing, depending on the size of the collection. Sure, poetry is the next category down from fiction, but that could theoretically be many, many aisles away, so that someone looking for drama could become easily lost.
The main point is that the "functional advantage" to having a literature category is that there are many works that I and others see as not falling easily or logically into the fiction/poetry dichotomy, and by having literature as a top level, you open the door to having a much more comprehensive second level that includes fiction, drama, poetry, epic poetry, various genres, perhaps the essays polutropon mentions, etc.
If we're talking about people browsing the collection, it just seems to make much more sense to have all of those categories be on the same level of the hierarchy than to make people try to figure out whether drama counts as fiction or poetry.
>47 Alixtii:: If you ask me though, there is a class of non-fiction writing that has more in common with poetry than it does with the books ordinarily connoted by the word "non-fiction."
The problem is that that definition of LITERATURE includes a good many things that we wouldn't want in a LITERATURE top-level. Some of the writings of Boethius meet your requirements, but I'd want them in philosophy, not literature--even though they absolutely do count as literature in my book.
This is indicative of the overall problem of having LITERATURE as a top-level: there's pretty much nothing it couldn't theoretically include if the writing's pretty enough. The list of works I personally consider to be "literature" which have clearly-defined subjects is huge. (My personal list consists mainly of philosophers and theologians, but I think the point holds for pretty much any of the top-level headings.)
And since your suggestion still wouldn't solve the issue of where to place Best Nonfiction Writing, the benefit to me isn't clear. It's a grab-bag place to put difficult works (and if "Literary Nonfiction" were a secondary level under a LITERATURE top level, what would the tertiary divisions be?), but only if the writing is good enough, and so the real underlying problem is effectively unsolved, just diminished somewhat.
How would you shelve Mythologies? As literary criticism?
Under the present system, literary criticism would probably be the best place for a work of semiotically-based cultural criticism with a longish essay on semiotic theory at the end, although I agree with you that it's not a particularly good place. But the uncomfortable fit would apply to all books on semiotics (which is not quite philosophy, not quite linguistics, not quite sociology, and not quite literary criticism), so unless you're suggesting that "semiotics" is a subcategory of LITERATURE, I think this reveals a weakness unrelated to the point under discussion.
I think as the system currently stands, the LITERARY CRITICISM top-level is going to end up holding a lot of stuff that doesn't fit particularly comfortably--there's a huge amount of thinky works that philosophers don't want to acknowledge as philosophy (Derrida and Foucault will probably be under PHILOSOPHY anyway, but the Kristeva that doesn't end up under PSYCHOLOGY will probably end up under LITERARY CRITICISM, for example--not that a public library is likely to have a huge selection of Lacanians, of course), and the semiotics works will only be a drop in the bucket.
"Critical theory" extends far beyond the subject of literature, but for better or worse "theoryish" stuff will end up under LITERARY CRITICISM anyway, I think.
>48 polutropon:: My argument is that proximity is a relative thing, depending on the size of the collection. Sure, poetry is the next category down from fiction, but that could theoretically be many, many aisles away, so that someone looking for drama could become easily lost.
But wouldn't the drama still be many, many aisles away from the poetry in a library with a huge LITERATURE section? That's my point: the physical placement of the books would be exactly the same regardless of whether there was a LITERATURE toplevel or not.
you open the door to having a much more comprehensive second level that includes fiction, drama, poetry, epic poetry, various genres, perhaps the essays polutropon mentions, etc.
Okay, you've split poetry into "epic poetry" and (presumably) "all other poetry" (a division which is already planned within the POETRY top-level. so again, no meaningful difference in terms of browsing) as well as "various other genres." I guess I'd have to know what sorts of things those other genres might be. Would they be things which could intuitively fall under fiction, poetry, or drama (or at least close enough for government work)? Would they end up stealing nonfiction works from more appropriate subject categories (as I expect >48 polutropon: would end up doing)? I just don't adequately understand what the supposed benefits of such a system might be; that doesn't mean I'd dogmatically state they don't exist.
it just seems to make much more sense to have all of those categories be on the same level of the hierarchy than to make people try to figure out whether drama counts as fiction or poetry.
Since I've already agreed we need a DRAMA top-level, that's not the most effective example. If you can come up with another one, though, that's probably the sort of thing which would be the most effective thing to persuade me: concrete examples of places where the present system breaks down.
>50 Alixtii:, You're right that The Consolation of Philosophy is a good candidate for a work of literature that wouldn't belong in a LITERATURE category. Frankly though, I don't see how this tension is instigated by the proposal of a LITERATURE top-level; after all, the Consolation was written in alternating poetry and prose sections, so I see no reason to think anybody is more likely to shelve it as LITERATURE under my proposal than they are to shelve it as POETRY under the existing one.
Other good examples of literature that wouldn't belong in LITERATURE are Bhagavad-Gita and Tao Te Ching, which probably belong in RELIGION. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is exactly the kind of writing that I described in >48 polutropon:, but it still probably belongs in true crime.
But to clarify, I'm not interested in stealing topical non-fiction works from other top-levels. I am interested in having a place where works of non-topical non-fiction can be shelved together. Let's face it: without at least a top-level ESSAYS category, we could wind up with Consider the Lobster shelved across the library from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, even though both are collections of essays by the same person. Am I wrong to say that this is ridiculous?
No matter how pretty the writing is, if the book has a well-defined, thoroughgoing subject matter (like In Cold Blood), or is already canonically classified somewhere else, so that nobody searching for it would think to look in LITERATURE (like the Consolation, etc.) then it doesn't go in LITERATURE, despite being, factually, literature.
Also, I'm actually beginning to vascillate on my claim that the hypothetical "Best Non-Fiction Writing" shouldn't be classified as literature. Neither here nor there really, but I may have been hasty on that one.
Also, and I'm not sure that this is a big problem, but where would you shelve something like the Norton Anthology of English Literature, which contains both poetry and fiction? The way I read the scope notes, it would belong in FICTION, which includes "anthologies." That's fine, I guess; it's precisely as good as shelving it in POETRY, but it would be a little bit sad if, say, the library's only copy of the works of some minor English poet were contained in Norton, which was shelved in FICTION, not POETRY. Not a big problem certainly, but one that could be easily avoided.
>50 Alixtii:, Sorry, I just noticed that you posed a question that I neglected to answer in my previous response. You asked, supposing that literary non-fiction became a secondary category beneath the hypothetical LITERATURE top-level, what the tertiary categories underneath it would be.
I don't think Literary Non-Fiction needs tertiary categories. In fact, I don't think LITERATURE would need a secondary category called "Literary Non-Fiction" or "Essays." As I've said many times before, my predilection would be to shelve the entire LITERATURE section alpha-by-author, except for break-out subgroups that need to be easily browsable because of patron demand (Mystery, Romance, etc.).
But assuming the facts you've given, I would shelve the secondary category of Literary Non-fiction entirely alpha-by-author, without tertiary categories. If the consensus on that front is that it is too clumsy, then I wouldn't strongly oppose the kinds of objective subcategories that LCC uses to subdivide literature, i.e., literature subdivided by language, each language subdivided chronologically by period, and each period being subdivided alpha-by-author.
Again though, the reason why I caution against even such objective subcategories is that even though DDC and LCC already employ them, public libraries systematically avoid using them to shelve literary works.
Well, as much discussed above, the "aggregation" feature is supposed to allow libraries who want to to re-sort certain collections to do so however they want. Part of the disagreement is over whether it'd be necessary to have a top-level LITERATURE category to enable libraries to do this, or whether it'd be enough for everything they'd want to put in that category to have consecutive call numbers. This isn't something I'm dogmatically committed too; if someone were to demonstrate that consecutive call numbers weren't sufficient to "aggregate" then I'd support making fiction, poetry, and drama sub-levels of a top-level LITERATURE category.
I'm 100% for providing this functionality so that libraries who want to do that, can. But I'm strongly against forcing all libraries to hold to such a system; we should provide a system of subcategories and subsubcategories which libraries can then easily opt out of if they should choose to do so. (If 90% of libraries so chose, that wouldn't bother me in the least.)
By having a fully-categorized system with the option to aggregate, they can have a LITERATURE section like the one you envision. Or they can have a FICTION section, if they want, with the books within that section alphabetized by author but not interspersed with poetry. Or a MYSTERY section, with just those books alphabetized by author, with the science fiction books in a different section. (My guess is SFnal mysteries would end up under SF, but I'm not actually building the system at the moment.) They have options and flexibility to set the system up in the way that best serves their patrons.
One of the problems with alphabetization is that anything in one category is going to be radically decontextualized from anything in another category, whereas with subcategories we can rig the call numbers so that two books that similar in a certain way can still end up close to each other despite belonging to different categories.
But giving libraries more options, not less, is my higher principle here.
Isn't there a danger that by giving libraries so many "options," we'll end up telegraphing the message, "Make your own damn classification scheme"?
It's not at all that I'm opposed to libraries making up their own classification schemes to meet their own requirements. It's just that if they wanted to do so, then they would just do it, and OSC's "giving them options" would be redundant. In point of fact, libraries already are making up their own classification schemes, by, for example, pulling genre fiction from the Dewey 800's and shelving it separately.
But frankly, if OSC makes the canonical literary subdivisions by language, chronology, etc., and then 90% of libraries wind up shelving their poetry and fiction and drama and essays on some other basis, it seems perfectly ludicrous to me to say that those 90% of libraries are actually exercising an "option" within the OSC framework. It would be like walking into the Barnes and Noble Fiction section, and asking how the shelves are organized, and the employee tells you, "They're shelved by LCC call number, except that we got rid of all the language and chronology subcategories from the P's, put poetry and essays and drama and genre fiction in separate sections, and then sorted what was left alpha-by-author." If somebody tells you this, they haven't exercised an "option" within the LCC, or undertaken a "modification" of it; they've told you that the LCC was wholesale garbage when it when it came to meeting their shelving needs. And the same will be true of the OSC if we put forth a classificatory scheme that 90% of libraries will not want to employ.
Introduction: I'm a Pratt SILS student working as a group to help build the OSC secondary levels of classification. You can follow my group's progress over at our blog http://classifyme.blogspot.com/. I'm working on the secondary levels for Fiction, which have been posted to that forum.
Many of the posts here raised important questions about the browse-ability of a collection with or without a literature top level. Another important aspect to address is how shelving/cataloging of a collection would work.
While OSC provides a classification scheme alternative to existing ones like the Dewey Decimal System, it does not provide guidelines for every title and why it should be cataloged in one category over another--at this point in time that decision still lies with a librarian/cataloger who, at this point in time, is only human. Consequently, cataloging decisions are subjective.
The beauty of a fiction or poetry top level is that the classification is fairly straightforward based on what a book is about and how it is structured (of course this matter becomes fuzzier with things like Shakespeare's plays which is where a cataloger would step in). These clear-cut distinctions are important to create basic broad groupings within a library collection that can be sub-categorized further at the library's discretion to best exhibit its collection.
The same cannot be said of identifying if a book fits into a literature top level. There are many reasons that a book could or could not be considered literature (where literature refers to writing of artistic merit/from the canon--broadly speaking any writing could be considered literature). These reasons are varied and always subjective. For example, I love Charles Dickens and have no hesitation in saying his novels are literature. Yet I have a friend who would not touch his books with a ten foot pole and balks at the fact that they are classics. We are both entitled to our opinion, but should either stance have a bearing on where a book is located in a library?
Another issues comes with the "classics" found in genre fiction. Would Agatha Christie's writing fall into literature? Mystery readers would argue her works have just as much literary merit as Austen or Dickens (she did win the Anthony Award for Best Writer of the Century). Romance readers could apply the same logic to Nora Roberts' books (Blue Smoke even won a Quills award).
I have been equating "literature" with "classics" although somewhere down the line these two might be separated. Most libraries have a separate area for "classics" which though shelved in a different area are still considered fiction (here I refer to literature like Dickens' novels rather than non-fiction materials).
Once again in terms of fiction, libraries do not often have specialized fiction collections the way they would have specialized history or performing arts collections. For this reason, a literature top level would be unecessary for a lot of libraries while a fiction top level is a must.
I work in a small public library whose fiction collection comprises one wall of shelves. We do not have the room or collection to support an entire litearture category in terms of shelves or on our catalog. Were such a category present, it would be sorely lacking in terms of materials. If, however, literature/classics were a secondary level it could be used as a library saw fit (as with a classics section).
Another issue is that the OSC is going to be applied to all types of collections. There are no top levels for Young Adult books or Children's books which would instead be indicated by an audience-related facet of the OSC call number. That means that the top levels need to apply to collections meant for any audience. Classifying Fiction and Poetry translates from audience to audience because they are broad terms. But how would you classify literature for a children's collection? Would it be award winners? Best sellers? Items that circulate widely? Some might argue that literature could not be applied to children's books at all--yet another difficulty. The same questions apply to Young Adult titles.
In terms of concerns about patrons being able to negotiate a library with or without a literature top level--the OSC will not be the only finding aid in the library. In addition to a catalog there will be librarians, clerks, and pages to help point patrons in the right direction as well as signage to indicate popular areas for browsing--another solution to the literature problem that might not require the creation of a new top level.
I cannot understand why you insist on using the valuation definition of "literature" when it's a top-level classification/shelving category. Has anyone in the OSC project seriously considered not putting books on pop music under MUSIC? Has anyone considered not including advertising art under ART?
In all of these discussions, and in what study I've done so far of the existing library classification systems, LITERATURE simply means "works of the written word" or maybe even more generally "works of words". DDC and LoC happily include genre fiction, journalism, "classic" prose, poetry, literary criticism all under "literature". The fact that many libraries don't necessarily shelve things that way isn't the point here.
You also seem to be forgetting that we have seemed to come to consensus that even once we have the OSC as a full classification system, that libraries and stores will always be free to break out chunks of books for separate shelving as fits their needs, perhaps via the aid of the facets (which again, are an optional feature of the system).
I'm sorry, but I feel that your argument is a straw man and I am going to continue calling for a top level LITERATURE category. I still feel it solves more problems in this project than it might cause.
If literature is being used to mean "works of words" is a Literature level not implied by the fact that the words are compiled in book form and found in a library?
The call for a literature category brings to mind the Dewey Decimal system. There are provisions for fiction titles in that system (823 for English Fiction for instance) but DDC is so big--and so broad--that fiction would get lost if it were interfiled with the other creative works found in the 800s.
A literature category might become a place to put other hard to classify areas, but it will create problems for the more easily identified items as they get lost in this huge classification that, as I understand, would be meant to include any published work that is written in words.
The idea of an umbrella literature top level is more problematic and a band-aid fix for issues of where to house items like literary non-fiction--issues that need to be dealt with case-by-case in the levels where they would appear.
>57 miss_print:, I recognize that you are the one with power in this situation, and the strong opinions of the hoi polloi must not amount to much from where you sit. I've engaged in this debate from the beginning with the tacit understanding that this ship has sailed. Do what you want. But if you are in good faith interested in changing people's minds, do you think you could perhaps come up with reasons for your opinion that indicate familiarity with any of the many thoughtful arguments in which we've engaged in this thread?
I'm also a little concerned over the way your ClassifyMe blog is looking. I was under the impression that the OSC was to be a project carried out by LT members. Yet that blog appears to be quite independent of LibraryThing. Yes, LibraryThing is mentioned in the header, but there's no links, nothing pointing back to this site that I can see. What happens when someone unconnected to LT comments on those blog posts? Is that to be given the same weight as any discussion here? How are other LT members supposed to participate?
And yes, I was just a little (okay, a lot) ticked off at the mention of the "straw man" qualification of your argument, but that my argument in which I used the term was nowhere to be seen. Not there at that blog, and no linkage back to the discussion thread here. I don't throw around such terms lightly, I attempted to phrase my argument as best I could, and dislike it when my argument is dismissed by being made invisible. Of course it's bad netiquette to re-post without permission. But you could have asked. I'd have been willing to grant such in interest of keeping the thread of discussion intact.
Actually, I mention it AND link back to the forums here: http://classifyme.blogspot.com/2009/03/little-guidance-goes-long-way.html, in our introduction. I apologize if I wasn't making clear that the outside blog is indeed only a blog to supplement our postings in these forums. Since we're contributing and collaborating with OSC as a project for a degree, we figured it was a good way to keep track of our own progress without disturbing the stream of conversation here, and if someone did want to see our thoughts, they could read the blog.
I did find that myself, after I started looking. I had to hunt for it, as I was starting from http://classifyme.blogspot.com/2009/04/fiction-and-literature-debate-continues.h.... I didn't even know about that blog until these very recent intro posts/announcements from your cadre. You all were using that blog for your supplement since early March. If there was an announcement here about it back then, I managed to miss it. You also, in the introductory blog post, invite commentary right there at the blog. That would say to me that there is indeed a strong possibility of discussion occurring that will never come back to the attention of the LT membership.
My point on this thread was that there was a discussion occurring here, on this Forum. By copying miss_print's material off to the blog without any of the intervening posts from others (like my now-infamous "straw man" call), it sounded like she was saying "My points are being criticized over at LT but it's irrelevant" but there was no indication of what the criticism was. No way for the reader (even if the reader is only another member of your group) to decide if the criticism was appropriate or valid or not. And being the person now cast as the anonymous (and implied unfair) criticizer, well, I'm not happy about that.
As for your project, isn't it important for you to record strong objections from the people who are supposedly doing the OSC (i.e. the LT membership at large)? Aren't your professors going to want to know how you addressed those concerns?
Again, apologies. I'M the one who set up a separate blog because I assumed that people that were well into their stream of thought over here wouldn't want to sort through my incessant and sometimes nonsensical mutterings of students daunted by a mammoth project already underway...that's what the blog is for - introspection. Furthermore, there are comments to each other as to our own progression - we do need some sort of focus if we're to put it together as a project to present (our project is NOT how we conquered classification, but rather our participation). We do invite comments, but again, have intended to handle all direct comments on the categories over here (since we didn't seriously expect people to want to comment on a classification project blog that is but a small subset of a more prominent project, unwrangled comments were the least of my worries). We cannot make LT link our blog officially to LT, nor do we expect them to, nor should they have to.
And yes, we do want to present a complete picture to our professor, but we use this forum for feedback, not the blog. To repost back and forth when we can link is simply more efficient.
Suncat, how would we rectify your concerns?
>59 Suncat:/Suncat: In all of my posts on the Classify Me blog (which you will note I have only been using in this past week since I have started posting about the categories--not hiding anything there off LT--the blog is meant to document our progress, as imbibo said, in a more accessible way for us than having to navigate the LT forums to track changes and comments) I had meant to post back links to the forum. I apologize for not doing so in my last post. I created three posts back-to-back and missed the forgotten linkage. My apologies. All of my other posts link back to the forum I mentioned, this was an oversight on my part which has been corrected. I do not reference specific users/messages because, as you noted, I did not have permission and because I feel that to really follow the discussion you need to read all of the discussion. My assumption by linking back to the forum is that interested parties can follow the full debate on the forum while the blog records my own responses.
I have read all of the forum posts here. I feel that my first post responded to some of the initial arguments for a literature top level (when I interpreted the literature terminology to mean classics which seems to be a focus of part of the earlier threads). My subsequent post covers my opinion about a literature top level where literature would refer to all written works.
Also, I did not mean my referencing your response to my post as a straw man to seem dismissive. I was not familiar with the term and was still working on figuring out the context for it. Given the initial posts on this forum mentioning shelving divided between genre titles and a literature category ("If, however, the book belongs to a popularly-understood fiction genre, like Romance or Mystery or Sci-fi, it should be broken out from the main LITERATURE collection, into LITERATURE > genre name > alpha by author.") as well as the subsequent mention of the problem with separating genre fiction from literature ("If Austen is literature, fantasy novels should be, or else we're engaging in subjective marginalization of genre fiction.") I find my argument against such a strategy to be completely valid and relevant to this thread.
Finally, in regards to feedback, you will note on the Classify Me blog that I have an entire post of comments/feedback I received for the fiction top levels as well as my own responses/questions to said feedback. Again I do not overly reference specifics, but the link to the forum is present and the LT connection is documented.
My breakdown on the blog for this forum was not as specific because the topic here is more general (not debating the finer points of secondary levels but the need for a top level). My posts in this forum are also framed in reference to the Fiction top level which is my area of interest/knowledge.
>58 polutropon:: I saw two main arguments for a literature top level (mentioned above and again in reference to the Fiction top level) which I addressed here in my posts. I did not address the nuances of the arguments I identified because, joining the discussion late in the game, it would have taken massive amounts of posts to address each and every point.
I apologize again if my arguments were deemed dismissive or high handed, that was not my intention.
There are a lot of posts here arguing for a Literature level in relation to browsing and finding books. My hope was to add a different perspective to the discussion by mentioning the concerns found in a library and from a librarian or cataloger's perspective (I have been working in various libraries for the past seven years) which did not seem to be a factor in many of the posts.
One of the definitions of literature is all written works, but I think that in the context of a library classification system that most people will understand that that broad sense is not the definition being used here.
Some people use literature to mean quality works of fiction but once people see that fiction is under literature they will understand that that narrow sense isn't the one being used either.
There's another sense of literature being fiction poetry but excluding non-fiction that is intuitive to me, but oddly I can't find it in any of the on-line dictionaries.
So it is the latter definition that the OP was using and I believe many of the subsequent posts were spent hashing that out. But I believe an understanding was arrivied at. At which point you bringing up the previous discussion as if it were still an issue truly is using a straw man in your argument.
>63 miss_print:, I should apologize too, for being too quick and harsh a judge of your intentions.
But let's get back to the meat of the argument. You imply in >55 miss_print: that the reason why FICTION and POETRY are good top-level categories is because they have relatively well-defined boundaries, and that the reason why LITERATURE would be a bad top-level category is because it has relatively poorly defined boundaries. I think you've got your facts right, but I don't see how this is necessarily relevant. At the top-level, it seems less important to have a set of categories with clearly defined boundaries than it does to have at least one category in which every book in the catalog would comfortably fit. If we wind up creating categories that overlap at the fringes, so that a single book could plausibly fit into more than one, yeah that's a problem--but it is not as big a problem as having NO category where a particular book would comfortably fit.
So where do you shelve my go-to example in this thread, David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster? It's not in verse, so it isn't POETRY. It's true, so it isn't FICTION. So we have to identify a topic and shelve it in one of the many non-fiction categories. But it contains many essays, each with its own topic. If we have to choose one, it seems reasonable to choose the topic of the title essay for classification purposes. The essay "Consider the Lobster" is about eating lobster, so we shelve Consider the Lobster in... FOOD & DRINK? Meanwhile, DFW's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again gets shelved in TRAVEL, because the title essay is about going on a cruise.
Read those books, and the others you can find shelved under Essays in your local Barnes & Noble. There are tons of them. My solution has us shelving them all together in a LITERATURE top-level. Yours has us splitting hairs, first to determine which of the several essays deserves to have its subject-matter applied to the whole collection, and then to determine what is the subject-matter of that essay.
A "band-aid" fix is one that fails to address the root of the problem. The problem is that essays don't fit neatly into ANY of the OSC top-levels. My solution addresses that problem. Yours punts. How is it exactly that mine is the "band-aid" fix, as between our two proposals?
If it is too much to ask to have a LITERATURE top-level, can we at least have an ESSAYS top-level? And while we're at it, can we also have a DRAMA top-level? See 17-22, detailing the problems that have arisen as a result of trying to fold drama into FICTION.
If you look at the tagging for Consider the Lobster, you can see there isn't much agreement among LT people as to what it is. The two largest tags, essays (160) and non-fiction (76) are amorphous. Only when you get down to the third most important tag humor (24), do you get a real category. So, the real problem for anyone who is trying to categorize, is how do you handle books that will never fit very well. Can you have rules or principles that are not just purely subjective.
>66 vpfluke:, I'm just not sure I agree with you that "essays" is an amorphous category. I certainly disagree with your implication that essays do not constitute a "real" category. Sure, essays are amorphous in terms of content, since they can be about anything, but I don't see that reasoning being bandied around to disqualify FICTION or POETRY (which can also be about anything) as categories in the OSC.
Frankly, if Consider the Lobster is tagged "Essays" more than twice as often as it is tagged anything else, that leads me to believe that people understand what is denoted by that term, and that it would be helpful to be able to classify it as such, rather than as a book about food. Am I totally alone on this?
Drat! I'd composed a response and LT went down. Let's see if I can reconstruct it.
> 62, 63
Mistakes understood and apologies accepted. Given that this particular Forum format makes it close to impossible to link to specific posts, it could be good to include message numbers when addressing just a specific part of a long thread.
Thank you for so succinctly saying what I was stumbling around trying to express. I've also now reviewed the earlier parts of this thread, and recalled that we had terms "literary arts" and "works of a literary nature". Those terms also fit what I was trying to qualify as the domain of a top-level LITERATURE category, something to stand in parallel to ART and MUSIC. My opinion is that Fiction, Poetry (of all types), Journalism, Literary Criticism and collections of Essays can comfortably coexist under such a "literary arts" banner.
I don't have a problem with classifying something as essays. I don't think it's a top level category on OSC. And that's what I writing from. Essays can be subject specific, or broadly ranged. I do have books where I might consider my "essays" tag as the most important.
Perhaps the "Literary Arts" category makes good sense. Maybe, drama might be in there, too.
I've been wondering about Drama too. I can't decide between "literary arts" and the Performing Arts. I don't think I know enough about it. I'd like to hear from people who are more familiar with the creation and use of dramatic works.
I finally figured out what was bugging me about "Essays" - bear with me a moment.
If there were a top level Literature category it could consist of what is now Fiction, Poetry and likely subsume Literary Criticism. The Literature top category has been proposed to fix the problem of where do you put collections of Essays that have no overriding theme placing them in some other category.
Before I make my point let me set up an analogous second level scenario:
The Fiction second levels being worked on will likely consists of a number of genres divied up into sub-genres and some other categories. I would anticipate that genre anthologies would be placed as far down the tree as applied to all the stories in the book.
SO, The Ultimate Cyberpunk would end up under
Fiction-->Science Fiction/Fantasy --> Cyberpunk
but a less specifically themed anthology
Legends II contains works of multiple SF/F subgenres so would go under
Fiction --> Science Fiction/Fantasy
and a collection that contained short stories from multiple genres (including SF/F) would have to back up to
So to tie this back to the "Essays" discussion -
A themed collection of essays about say "evolution" would presumably end up under
Science --> Biology --> Evolution
Where a collection of essays about multiple fields of science - like Flanagan's Version
would just end up under
So then imagine you have a collection of philosophy essays and it goes with philosophy, and a collection of anthropology essays and it goes with anthropology, etc.
But then say someone published a MASSIVE collection of essays that included all of the science essays, philosophy essays and anthropology essays included in the above smaller collections. It seems really counterintuitive to me that that would be found under "Literature" when none of the smaller collections (or the individual essays if you broke them out) would have been found there. I would expect to find them further back up the tree in
Now, I realize this doesn't exist but I believe that "General Knowledge" does - and THAT is where I would expect to find collections of essays that covered too broad or general of topics to belong to one of the other top levels. I would not expect it to be hanging out near "Fiction."
I don't think I would make a top level of "Essays" because people would assume that ALL of the essays will be found there - when in fact most collections of essays are likely themed enough to go into one of the other top levels and so a top-level "Essays" would be pretty anemic - containing the "left-overs" if you will.
>71 PortiaLong:, I wouldn't object particularly strongly if there existed a Non-fiction - General category, and unthemed essay collections were shelved there. That way we could at least keep them together, although I wouldn't be wild about the name.
I would strongly object to shelving them in GENERAL KNOWLEDGE, whose scope notes currently read: "Includes works on libraries and archives. Also includes works of general knowledge such as encyclopedia, almanacs, or dictionaries. Encyclopedia, almanacs, or dictionaries on a specific topic should be placed with that topic." To me, this implies that GENERAL KNOWLEDGE is to contain reference works, or at least works of non-fiction that don't take viewpoints of their own. I think essays would be a clumsy fit here, since they are frequently full of opinion and anecdote.
Can I just ask: Am I the only one here who has actually read an unthemed collection of essays? I don't mean to be insulting, but I think I'm having a hard time communicating my points, and the reason might be that you guys are actually unfamiliar with the sort of books I'm trying to talk about.
Also, I wanted to add that although it may seem strange at first blush to shelve ANY non-fiction as literature, virtually all of the books I've used as examples in this thread are shelved as P's in LCC (literature) and as 800's in the DDC (literature). I am not manufacturing this argument out of whole cloth.
*edited to add quotation
In college I took a class called Creative Non-Fiction where we worked on memoirs, travel writing, personal essays and humorous pieces--which sounds a lot like some of the "problem" items (like DFW's books) that have been mentioned. I haven't had a chance to work out where it might best fit, but how would people feel about a CREATIVE NON-FICTION level or category?
>73 miss_print:, I'm not wild about the name, but I like the idea. Maybe LITERARY NONFICTION? Honestly, I think that both of those names may sound a little intimidating to the average patron. I still like the name "ESSAYS," but as >71 PortiaLong: points out, that name could mislead patrons into thinking that they could find, say, a collection of essays on evolution there instead of in SCIENCE. I actually don't think that this would be very likely to occur; I think when people want a non-fiction book about a certain topic, they search by topic and not by format.
As an aside, some of the genres you mentioned are already included in other top-levels (memoirs in BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY, travel writing in TRAVEL & GEOGRAPHY).
I like Literary Non-fiction. One of my problems with the literature name is that it is not immediately clear what type of writing would be found there. I also noticed that some writing is already comfortable in other top levels, which creates another problem.
I don't know that a Literary Non-fiction top level would be neater than the level breakdown as it stands now.
What are opinions on adding Literary Non-fiction as a sub-category to one (maybe several?) existing top levels?
>75 miss_print:, "Literary Non-Fiction" as a subcategory of another top-level could potentially work--but which top-level? I maintain my earlier claim that none of the existing top-levels comfortably embrace this type of writing, at least when collected in non-topical anthologies. IF there were a LITERATURE top-level, then literary non-fiction could be included as a subcategory underneath it, as it is in Dewey and LCC. But there isn't, so what do we do?
I'm not sure what a proposal involving multiple top-levels with a literary non-fiction subcategory would look like. Which top-levels would include such a category and why? And how would we decide which works were shelved where? I'd have to hear more details about such a proposal before I could give an opinion. Or do you mean that every non-fiction top-level could include a subcategory for literary non-fiction? I wouldn't oppose such a scheme, but it still wouldn't solve the problem of where to shelve non-topical anthologies of literary non-fiction.
I still haven't heard a workable proposal on this matter that doesn't involve either (a) creating a LITERATURE top-level that would subsume literary non-fiction, or (b) creating a LITERARY NON-FICTION (or ESSAYS) top-level.
I think there are a number of different discussions going on here. One is entirely (or almost entirely) about the word "literature" - I think that many on this thread see it as having a valued connotation, while what I (and I think polutropon) see it as is simply "non-non-fiction" - that is, works that either not written to inform at all, or are written to inform, but more broadly to create pleasure. Emphatically, it does NOT mean "classics" "award winners" or anything valued at all. I can see that this is a little fuzzy, and I am perfectly happy to change the name to anything else someone wants to offer. For myself, I like literature, because it jibes with my academic background. We called Shakespeare, Chaucer, JK Rowling and all the rest "British Literature" and Hawthorne, Whitman, Faulker, Stephen King and the rest "American Literature." Again, if someone's got a better word to use, I'm fine with that.
The more important issue is whether there needs to be a category that encompasses fiction and poety, and here, I think that miss_print has not fully understood the discussion we've been having. The issue of essays is one particular example, but it is not the whole argument. It has already decisively, I think, been shown by Polutropon, Alixtii, and others that Drama also needs a category. The point that I and others are making is that we shouldn't need to keep bringing up more examples of stuff that isn't fiction or poetry. The very concept of fiction and poetry encompassing all of "non-non-fiction" is absurd. We have discussed works that include both poetry and prose, verse novels, essays, drama in verse, epic poetry, prose translations of verse, etc. etc. I think we can all agree that Shakespeare and Flannery O'Connor are on the same continuum even though Shakespeare wrote plays in verse and prose, narrative poems, and sonnets, and O'Connor wrote novels and short stories.
There was much discussion on this thread about whether a top level category was needed because the sections would still be next to each other. But the very fact that they would be adjacent proves the point. Poetry, fiction, essays, epic poetry, drama and the rest deserve to be seen as part of a continuum of creative literary works.
Personally, I would be fine with the word "Fiction" to describe all of this - It certainly makes more sense than most public libraries having poetry, including Chaucer, et al in their "non-fiction" sections, which is the current state of things. But again, I'd love to hear other suggestions; I just don't think we should let the word get in the way of the concept.
>77 droogmark: What you said.
Poetry, fiction, essays, epic poetry, drama and the rest deserve to be seen as part of a continuum of creative literary works.
I find this to be an excellent summation.
>77 droogmark:, I wish it were as simple as saying, "By 'literature,' I mean 'non-non-fiction'." But that doesn't quite reach far enough, since essays are literature (in my opinion), but they are also non-fiction.
I do think it might be worthwhile bringing up another reason why a LITERATURE top-level would be nice. I just thought of this one today. I've been participating recently on subcategorizing the FICTION top-level, and Alixtii, I know, was participating in subcategorizing POETRY. As you can see from reading above in this thread, Alixtii and I have very different approaches to subcategorization; e.g., I prefer to do less subcategorization, whereas Alixtii prefers to do more.
That's fine. But it wouldn't be very surprising in such a case if the resultant subclassificatory schemes for FICTION and POETRY turned out to be vastly assymetrical. For example, POETRY might be divided first into epic, lyric, and drama, and then by language of origin, and historical epoch. FICTION might have a few genre subclassifications, and the rest shelved in FICTION / General / alpha-by-author. There's nothing a priori wrong with this, I guess. But it feels a little unseemly, like the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing, or didn't care. One nice thing about a LITERATURE top-level is that it would centralize our discussion regarding these issues, so that we won't wind up with incompatible POETRY and FICTION top-levels.
>79 polutropon:, I'll admit that I'm not terribly knowledgable about essay collections, but my instincts tell me that collections that are clearly non-fiction (ie, Steven Jay Gould's works on evolution) are going to go in the appropriate non-fiction category (in this case, Evolutionary Biology), whereas what we're talking about is something more amorphous, or eclectic, and thus closer to my (admittedly horribly phrased) "non-non-fiction." In any case, I think the point remains that the pornography test works pretty well - we know it when we see it.
On the issue of Poetry v. Fiction subcategories, I think you are on to something big - not just for literature but for the whole OSC project. Looking through the various discussion boards, I don't see any real overarching philosophy that is guiding the second-level classifications. Each groups seems to be making choices independently of the others, and I think this could lead to problems. Specific to poetry and fiction: I've made it clear on the Fiction board that I agree with your classification philosophy, and I definitely think it would be advantageous to have the people in poetry talking to the people in fiction about how things are going to happen. Whether we'll ever reach consensus, however . . .
Well, the same two points we've had throughout this discussion still apply.
1) Even if there were a need for a LITERARY NONFICTION section, there's no reason why that couldn't be its own toplevel. If we agree there is such a genre as "Literary Nonfiction" (and I don't--it's just regular nonfiction on a bunch of different subjects), there's no need to force a library to mix in with poetry and fiction and drama--having it be its own section continguous with poetry and fiction and drama. So as with drama and epic poetry and all the other proposed "problematic" areas, whether or not this is needed is actually irrelevant to the question in the subject of this thread. (This doesn't mean I don't think it's appropriate to discuss it here. I look forward to the next proposed "problematic" area as well.)
(I do actually think AUTOBIOGRAPHY & BIOGRAPHY should be contiguous with the other "literary" top-levels, though.)
2) As a response to categorizing a difficult-to-categorize book which tackles more than one subject, I don't think creating a category for difficult-to-categorize books which tackle more than one subject is either a workable or an intuitive solution. This doesn't mean that I don't recognize that relatively "unthemed" collections of essays are hard to categorize, or that the classifications we make for such are books are neverly going to be completely satisfactory; I absolutely do. But I don't think that's an excuse to not do it.
>81 Alixtii:, So your proposal for shelving an unthemed collection of essays would essentially be: (a) identify one essay whose topic will be applied to the collection as a whole (the title essay if there is one, I guess), and (b) classify the collection as the selected essay would be classified if it were a book unto itself. Is this more or less correct?
I'm not saying that this is an unacceptable solution per se. What I am saying is that existing classificatory schemes (LCC and DDC) have an elegant way of getting around making such impossible judgment calls: they consider unthemed collections of essays to be literature, and shelve them accordingly. Like I keep saying, even Barnes & Noble has a couple of shelves in each of its stores labeled "Essays," which house precisely these kinds of works. If Dewey, the Library of Congress, and Barnes & Noble have all decided that this category meets their needs, I am at a loss for how it can seem so unintuitive in this thread. If I were considering migrating from LCC or DDC to OSC, I would consider it a huge drawback that the conversion would invite a diaspora of essay collections to the far corners of the library.
Look at it this way: FICTION and POETRY are unlike any of the other top-levels in the OSC, in that the works so-classified are similar, not in terms of content, but in terms of form. Two works could not be more un-alike in terms of content than (say) A Light in the Attic and the Odyssey; but we classify both as POETRY because they share certain broad formal qualities. Trying to assign a topic to such works would be ridiculous. We recognize this, so we don't try.
Likewise, unthemed essay collections are extremely difficult to classify in terms of content, because each collection deals with such disparate topics. But essay collections, like poetry and fiction, are extremely easy to classify in terms of form. So why don't we just classify them that way? I don't see why we should make the cataloguer's job so much more difficult, when it is so easy to say of these difficult works, classify them by their form, as essay collections, just like you classify prose narratives as FICTION and rhymed couplets as POETRY, no matter what the books themselves are about.
Don't think essays are literature? Fine, don't call them literature. It's still better to have them next to one another than scattered across the library, no matter what you call them.
So your proposal for shelving an unthemed collection of essays would essentially be: (a) identify one essay whose topic will be applied to the collection as a whole (the title essay if there is one, I guess), and (b) classify the collection as the selected essay would be classified if it were a book unto itself. Is this more or less correct?
I think the exact guidelines should be worked out by us collaboratively, but as a simplified version of what would need to be done that's not horrible. If a collection includes three essays on cooking and the title essay is humorous essay about a wedding, the book's subject should probably be about cooking. In addition to the title, the preface would be an important tool in seeing how the essays contained in a book relate to each other.
One thing I want to stress is that even in a chaptered book where the chapters all build on one another ("a book unto itself"), this type of discernment process is often necessary. Collections of essays are not a special case special unto themselves. Some books are just harder to classify than others.
Two works could not be more un-alike in terms of content than (say) A Light in the Attic and the Odyssey; but we classify both as POETRY because they share certain broad formal qualities.
But they would (and should) be in different subcategories within POETRY. If you want to look at two collections of essays as both being part of a "non-fiction" meta-category spanning all of the top-levels other than FICTION, POETRY, and DRAMA, feel free.
I'm not saying that this is an unacceptable solution per se. What I am saying is that existing classificatory schemes (LCC and DDC) have an elegant way of getting around making such impossible judgment calls: they consider unthemed collections of essays to be literature, and shelve them accordingly.
Aren't you the one who's been excoriating me for being too much like LCC and DDC all through this thread? Why the sudden about-face?
>83 Alixtii:, One thing I want to stress is that even in a chaptered book where the chapters all build on one another ("a book unto itself"), this type of discernment process is often necessary. Collections of essays are not a special case special unto themselves. Some books are just harder to classify than others.
Some books are more difficult to classify than others. That doesn't mean that essays aren't a special case. There are a lot of easy ways to deal with mongraphs that cover a lot of ground.
As an example of "a chaptered book where the chapters all build on one another," take Hobbes' Leviathan. The introductory chapters set forth theories about man as an individual, first physically, and then psychologically. But nobody argues that this is a reason to shelve Leviathan as anatomy or psychology, because everybody understands that this is all just preparatory work for the main thesis of the work, which is about political science. When the chapters build on each other, they presumably are building to something. The something that they are building to can be treated as the subject of the work as a whole, and nobody is likely to bat an eyelash.
Essays in a collection (typically) don't build on one another, so this trick is unavailable.
Even when the chapters of a book don't build on each other, other classification tricks are available. For example, I've got on my shelf a book called The Canon, by Natalie Angier, in which each chapter focuses on a different field of science (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.). Nobody tries to figure out which one of these chapters contains the "main idea" of this book; it would be patently ridiculous to shelve it as Chemistry, for example. We can get away without doing this because DDC, LCC, and OSC all have a top-level category broad enough to contain each one of these chapters. So presumably The Canon will wind up in SCIENCE / General.
But most essay collections contain subject matter that is too broad to be pigeonholed into any single existing non-fiction top-level in the OSC.
Aren't you the one who's been excoriating me for being too much like LCC and DDC all through this thread? Why the sudden about-face?
I was criticizing DDC and LCC earlier for the ways in which they organized their literature top levels (the 800's and the P's respectively). I don't think there's anything wrong with what they contain.
Let me reiterate my question from above: why not use form as the salient characteristic of an "Essays" category, or level, or whatever? If a book can't be adequately classified in terms of its content, but has an easy to recognize form, why not just use form as the operative characteristic of a certain category? It's precisely what we're doing with top-level FICTION and POETRY. Why is it inappropriate to do the same thing for essays?
I think the two of you (Alixtii and Polutropon) have hit on the real issue here: form v. content. All the things we are discussing as literature are essentially grouped into separate categories by form, not content. Thus, if there were a (serious, non-parodic)
work on science written in verse, it would obviously go under science, not poetry, because of its content. But we all understand that literature (whatever it is) can't be divided by form.
If we were to take Alixtii's proposed solution to unthemed essays seriously, why would it make any less sense to categorize novels by the topic (or one topic) they address. Thus, Henry VI could be classed as History, or possibly Politics, Ken Follett's books could go under Architecture, etc.
I'm being a bit snarky, but I'm trying to make a point - we all know that Drama, Fiction, and Poetry should not be classified that way - why is it so hard to see an unthemed essay collection in the same way. The collection isn't *about* any particular topic, it is *about* the writer's voice and opinions, etc, in the same way that Henry VI is *about* Shakespeare's prose and verse techniques.
>85 droogmark:, The collection isn't *about* any particular topic, it is *about* the writer's voice and opinions...
YES! Thank you.
That's it! That's what I've been trying to get at.
Now we just need a proper category name.
I took a look through some 80 "essays" tags I've used. Less than 10% are far-ranging, so as not to fit under one of the top-level categories. About a third are on religion. About 20% are essays on literature, writing or language. I probably could squeeze my books of essays under some other category, although I am sympathetic to the possibility of essays at the top level.
I've not read through most of this thread, there's just too much of it. So this is in reply only to the original post.
Yes, I do agree there should be a LITERATURE classification. Where else would you place Swift and Pope? And how would you categorise Bunyan (fiction? not really - Pilgrim's Progress is too allegorical). What about Plato? Aristotle? Descartes? "Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance"? "Sophies World"? Carlos Castaneda? Biography? Autobiography? Pepys? "Revolution In The Head"? Bill Bryson? The Bhaghavad Gita?
Unless I've missed the point somewhere, there is far too much that is of "literary merit" to be filed under two headings like Fiction and Poetry. Especially when these days, you would have to consider TV and movie scripts also, the output of Rolling Stone Magazine (and other great rock writing - where would you file Hunter S Thompson??), Gore Vidal, et al. It's almost a non-argument, but if I'd had time, I would have read through this entire thread which is verging on book length already!
>85 droogmark:: If we were to take Alixtii's proposed solution to unthemed essays seriously, why would it make any less sense to categorize novels by the topic (or one topic) they address.
Well, we are, right? A novel about solving a murder case will go under "mystery" and a novel about Henry VIII will go under "historical fiction." And beyond separating epic poems from lyric poems from verse dramas (if we don't have a DRAMA top-level as we should), we haven't quite decided how to subdivide poetry, but one (fairly good) suggestion was to put themed collections as a secondary level and then divide that up on the tertiary level.
>90 Alixtii:, You misunderstand. The point is that if you willy-nilly say that formal attributes are an improper basis for categorization (which is essentially what you seem to be arguing), then you can't get a FICTION or a POETRY top-level in the first place. Those top-levels are completely incoherent unless you admit that it makes sense to classify books according to their formal characteristics. In other words, a novel about Henry VIII couldn't go in "Historical Fiction," because it couldn't go in FICTION in the first place.
Uh, Tid, please read the rest of the thread. There has been a debate on the definition of literature that you need to catch up on.
Sigh. Wish I had time. Too many threads. Too many interesting topics for a butterfly like me to spend too long in one place. And now it's bedtime, so I'm off to the land of bye bye and tooth fairies and nightmares about classifications.
I will do it tomorrow. Mañana and mañana and mañana creeps in this petty pace from day to day...
Fiction is about stuff that didn't happen. That's content, not form.
Poetry, admittedly, is a form--but note that all poetry (except maybe verse drama) will be placed under POETRY--not all poetry that isn't fictional, or about sociology, or. . . .
Not so with the proposed ESSAYS top-level. There it's just the hard-to-classify essay collections that get thrown into librarian limbo.
"Fiction is about stuff that didn't happen."
The problem with ALL classifications is the blurring of the boundaries, which then either makes a mockery of the classification itself, or - if cataloguers are willing to accept that 98% of works can be so classified - leaves an embarrassing residue that cannot be easily classified. This residue MAY contain important works of literature. Swift's Gullivers Travels is a classic case in point : ostensibly fiction, it's a sharp satire on his times. Where, in fact, do you place satire, if it is in the guise of fiction? Another classic example is Orwell's Animal Farm.
And then there are works published that are ostensibly non-fiction (e.g. Chariots of the Gods) but which strain that classification to the absolute limit, or an even better example would be The Bermuda Triangle, which turns out to be a more or less TOTAL fiction. How to classify such books?
And on the subject of poetry - it can well be argued that it is a FORM only, as the content could be anything from religious and historical epics to nursery rhymes and all points between; however even the form is open to debate, as some prose has been described as such : The King James Bible to name just one; and let us not forget the free form, unrhyming, unmetrical, stuff prevalent in the 60s and 70s.
I suppose what I am saying, is that classifications are only of use if we accept that they are, and always will be, imperfect. Beloved of librarians, they should always be regarded with a healthy scepticism bordering on suspicion, and accompanied with the question "Outside of the Dewey system, what value are these?"
>94 Alixtii: Fiction is about stuff that didn't happen. That's content, not form.
What about certain works of historical fiction? I think for example of Barbara Hambly's The Emancipator's Wife. I was indecisive when tagging it for my own catalog--was it Biography or historical Fiction? It is told in the format of a novel. I came to the conclusion that while it is very well researched, the novel format did allow Hambly to introduce some fictional elements and so it couldn't truly qualify as a Biography; it had to remain in Fiction. Yet a lot of the book really "did happen".
Of course I can tag however I want. But I personally like to keep my tags somewhat in line with "official" classifications one would find in a library or book store.
"about stuff that didn't happen" is a pretty loose description, especially when compared with the actual topics that the other top levels address. The level of truth or nontruth in many works of fiction is constantly up for debate - it doesn't mean we can't tell what a novel (or, for that matter, a collection of short stories) looks like from certain formal characteristics. Obviously, there is an element of content to fiction, but form (narrative prose) is a huge part of it as well.
I've skimmed through this thread, but I haven't read everything in detail so it's certainly possible that my points have already been discussed. Sorry for any duplication.
The main problem that I see with a "Literature" top level heading is that there is no good name for it. Literature means too many different things to too many different people. When I see that section in bookstores I always cringe because there's no telling what I will find in it. Most of the time literature indicates classic literature, but it also often includes any modern literature that doesn't happen to fit into the mystery, sci-fi, or other such categories. I would have preferred Fiction as a top level category without the addition of a Poetry category at the top level, but that doesn't do anything to address the issue of where to put collections of essays.
Actually, most of the collections of essays that I have read that cover wide varieties of topics were simply reprints of articles in various magazines. I could easily see shelving them in a Journalism category. I think that would be one more reason to widen the Film & Television category to be called Journalism, instead.
So that might be a possibility, but I don't see that this is a big enough problem to justify restructuring the top level categories. I don't think there are enough multi-subject essay collections to make the current structure a real stumbling block. Most essay collections are going to have enough of a topic that you can find a subject area for them.
Referring back to the top of this thread:
I'd like to go on record as saying that *I* would love to browse an epic poetry section. I've read quite a few, but there are bound to be little gems that are not well known that I would like to read.
If you are going to have a poetry section, all of the poetry ought to be in it. Subdivision is a good way of splitting out the books that aren't usually read by the same person.
I'm personally in favor of adding a DRAMA section to sit side by side with FICTION and POETRY, and having those section split up into sub-sections as needed.
I'm personally in favor of adding a DRAMA section
Me too! It could then further be sub-divided in many ways, to include Comedy, Tragedy, Satire, Crime, Romance, Period, Psychological, Horror (to name but the most obvious), and then those genres could be further sub-divided to include Published, Screenplays, Scripts (TV, Theatre, "performed but not published", etc)
In many ways, DRAMA as a classification is wider than either FICTION or POETRY, though purely in terms of published words, it would pale in comparison.
I think it suffers as a medium that is in equal measure literature and performance, so making its Classifications harder to resolve. In fact though, shouldn't Shakespeare's plays be there rather than in POETRY?
>94 Alixtii:, Fiction is about stuff that didn't happen. That's content, not form.
If that's correct, then ancient historians like Herodotus belong in FICTION. We'll also be getting into a bunch of debates over which books of the Christian Bible belong in FICTION and which belong in RELIGION.
Poetry, admittedly, is a form--but note that all poetry (except maybe verse drama) will be placed under POETRY--not all poetry that isn't fictional, or about sociology...
Wrong again. As we discussed earlier, there are plenty of works of poetry that even you don't think belong in the POETRY top-level: Bhagavad Gita and Tao Te Ching in RELIGION, The Consolation of Philosophy in PHILOSOPHY. In a certain sense, it is only the works of poetry that are difficult to classify (by content) as anything else that actually wind up in the POETRY top-level.
The Consolation of Philosophy isn't a work of poetry that belongs in philosophy; it's a work of philosophy which happens to include poetry. Like the multi-subject essay collections, it's a case where one has to choose the best subject. Here, the title gives a good clue as to how it might best be classified.
The Tao Te Ching is not difficult to classify due to its content or its form; if someone were to write it or a similar work today it'd go under POETRY without a doubt. It's its social significance which changes this--and to be sure, I'm a little uneasy with placing works of Scripture in general under RELIGION when that's not what their original authors understood them to be about. The NT isn't a book about Christianity; it's a book that Christians look to for spiritual truth. But I don't see a workable alternative there. (And the fact that most works of Scripture are printed with at least some notes might be taken into consideration as well, that that particular edition of the work is designed for use by religionists and students of religion.)
>95 Tid: your questions are excellent, but the real challenge with the OSC is that the purpose of this system is not to organize all knowledge, but rather the very specific, humble task of organizing books on shelves in an American public library.
With this in mind, it is easy to ask "what is fiction?" and get absorbed in a never ending cycle of debate. For our purposes, we want to know "where would patrons in a public library look for this book?" and then put it there. Not always easy!
>84 polutropon: Polutropon gives excellent examples of essay collections that can be both placed and not placed within other top levels.
Are there "literary" works that would go in a Literature top level that do not have a place in Fiction, Poetry and Essays? Do we need to create another level and why? I am still unconvinced.
If I were looking for drama, I would not think to look for it in fiction.
Currently there is no top-level for essays.
>103 laena:, While I'd still like to see a top-level LITERATURE category, my biggest objections would be answered adequately if we had a top level for ESSAYS, and (fingers crossed) one for DRAMA. Like >104 mattsya:, I think that shelving drama in FICTION was a marriage of convenience, and that no patron would actually think to find it there. Giving DRAMA its own top-level (or shelving it in PERFORMING ARTS) would reduce a lot of the tension between the "literary" top-levels.
>105 polutropon: I think that shelving drama in FICTION was a marriage of convenience, and that no patron would actually think to find it there.
I would. Not that I object strongly to a DRAMA top level, but just saying.
95> ...organizing books on shelves in an American public library.
Is it really only American public libraries? I thought Tim was aiming for more generality than that.
Something related to this discussion just occurred to me. How will the OSC handle documentary films (the sort that are the film equivalent of "non-fiction literature")? Would King of Kong end up shelved alongside an instructional video on arcade games, for instance? I think that's how most libraries deal with documentaries now, but it doesn't strike me as useful.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.