Tag Archives: Narrative Nonfiction

Readers’ Advisory Services: In the Backroom

As a member of our Readers’ Advisory Team at HPL, I’ve become interested in what the catalogue can do to assist and promote RA services while at the same time, maintaining the integrity of the catalogue.  While I don’t mind creating local headings if they provide long-term benefits to access, I don’t feel comfortable adding RA “buzz” words that are “here today, gone tomorrow”.  So, how can we balance our cataloguing rules while meeting the needs of RAs?  This is something I’ve only recently been exploring.  Our first step here at HPL has involved creating genre headings that fall under the “Narrative Nonfiction”. 

This week, we’ve begun a project to create genres that fall into the narrative nonfiction category and add them to our bib records, where appropriate. The birth of this project began with the idea of a narrative nonfiction tutorial.  The first steps in our own project began through frequent discussions with frontline librarians and by looking at RA websites.  Also, I’ve been working with an adult services librarian in our system to come up with definitions of these genres for our scope notes. While cataloguers are used to compartamentalizing and organizing books into clear categories (at least, in theory this is how we work), I decided to pick the brains of those RAs who are actually doing the searching on the frontlines.  As a result, I asked an adult services librarian to create definitions of how RAs would define the different genres and what they feel would fall into those categories.  Not only has this created a working partnership with frontline staff, which makes us visible and relevant, it also provided us with scope notes for our authorities.

I’ve recently proposed holding a session on this topic at CLA Montreal.  Although I haven’t heard anything yet, I do believe this is an area of cataloguing that should be explored. My splash for the session is below:

With the growing popularity of RA services, what role does the library catalogue play?  Why is the library catalogue being passed over for databases such as Novelist? This workshop takes a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of the library catalogue in RA services.  We will discuss the option of implementing RA “buzz words” as subject and genre headings, ideas for collaboration with RAs and the catalogue for enhancing Readers Advisory Services and what cataloguing departments need to do to get out of the backroom and onto the RA playing field

I’m looking for feedback on this idea.  Should we be exploring our role in RA services?  Do any of you have suggestions or comments about this?



Filed under Access Issues, In the Cataloguing Department, The Library Catalogue

Narrative Nonfiction – A New Genre Heading?

With the growing popularity of Readers Advisory Services, it is to be expected that skills and expertise will grow to incorporate nonfiction as well. We are starting to see this trend in Canada.

Not only are patrons happy to seek the assistance of a Reader’s Advisor (RA) when attempting to find that “perfect” summer novel, but they are now asking RA’s to suggest nonfiction titles about travel, crime and adventure. Still seeking a fictional read, a new term has emerged among Readers Advisory Services to describe these nonfiction books; Narrative Nonfiction.

With the emergence of this genre, it is necessary to consider this term for library catalogues. If patrons and RAs are using this to find books, then we need to examine its usefulness in our catalogue and the possibility of implementing it. Currently, it is not a valid authority. However, it is being used as a valid genre in RA databases such as Novelist.

While catalogues are not resources like Novelist, it is important to note that most RAs prefer to use Novelist over our catalogues and prefer their terminology. I find myself continually encouraging RAs to use our catalogue to assist them in finding materials for patrons rather than using alternate resources. Building a partnership between Readers Advisory Services and cataloguing is important. This relationship ties us directly with front line staff and keeps us current on the latest trends in reading and “buzz” words.

It was inevitable, but recently it was suggested that we consider the implementation of Narrative Nonfiction as a genre in our own catalogue. When I first heard this term, I didn’t really know what it included. All cataloguers need their terms defined, so I began seeking out definitions; something succinct and straightforward; something that I could apply with uniformity to nonfiction items.

What is Narrative Nonfiction, exactly? According to Abby Alpert, who wrote the article Incorporating Nonfiction into Reader’s Advisory Services, Narrative Nonfiction is “a style of writing that tells us a true story as a compelling narrative”. It’s a start, but that definition makes for a poor authority and gives cataloguers no direction. As a friend of mine pointed out, that’s an awfully vague concept for a cataloguer to base an authority on. Edward Humes provides a deeper understanding of Narrative Nonfiction. However, after reading his description and Abby Aplert’s, I concluded that the term was just too vague and discretionary to use as a genre.

By its own definition, narrative nonfiction will mean different things to different people. How will cataloguers possibly decide what will fall within that genre with any consistency? Even if we implemented this genre, would patrons find it helpful? I can’t ignore my cataloguing instincts that this genre would be more of a “hit and miss” grouping of titles, rather than a useful heading.

However, with a firm decision not to use Narrative Nonfiction, I still didn’t want to abandon the idea entirely. I believe the idea of this type of nonfiction has significant merit and patrons want to be able to search it. So, I started to explore the genres and headings in our catalogue that will assist patrons and RAs to find Narrative Nonfiction titles.

What I came up with was the following list of subdivisions in our 650 fields:

Case studies
Personal narratives

A colleague of mine is currently preparing a tutorial on Narrative Nonfiction for our Readers Advisors. As a result, I’ve sent her these terms, with search ideas and strategies such as:

(specifically of things rather than countries) are often written in “novel” form. Try performing the subject keyword search: “Salt history” in our catalogue.

Try search a subject keyword and combining it with “anecdotes”. For examples, search “cat adoption anecdotes”.

Case studies
Search a topic like “organized crime” and combine it was “case studies”. You’re subject keyword search will be “organized crime case studies”. Most or all of the results retrieved in HPL’s catalogue will fall under the genre Narrative Nonfiction.

Helpful hint: Usually if you combine a topic with [anecdotes, case studies, personal narratives, travel, biography], as a subdivision, you’ll recall items that fall under narrative nonfiction.)

Even with the above search strategies, I believe we can do better. Our catalogue is just starting to make greater use of genre headings. In the past, we haven’t done so because the software hasn’t allowed them to be as “searchable” as subject headings.

As a result, we are considering the following terms for genre headings:

True adventure
True Crime (which we already use)
Micro History

The idea of Narrative Nonfiction is not going away. The RA movement is growing and we need to find ways to assist it. Perhaps we will not always be able to implement to exact “buzz” word, but many times, we can make these topics and genres easily searchable for patrons and RAs. Collaboration, education and a willingness to change the catalogue to meet the needs to today’s society are essential.


Filed under Access Issues, Subject Headings, The Library Catalogue