Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Biography & Autobiography Second Level Discussion

I volunteered to monitor and facilitate this second level post thread. I come with a warning label: I am not a librarian, I'm a research scientist so don't shout at me too loudly library people. This discussion has reached a bit of a standstill because I think it has addressed most of the pertinent points already so it seemed like a good time to summarise all that's been discussed so far.

Top-Level Heading and Scope Notes
Laena's scope notes: includes memoirs, diaries and other correspondence. AUTOBIOGRAPHY is a biography by the same person it is about.

1. Should title be more explicit if it is to include diaries and correspondence?
2. Not all correspondence is biographical in nature.
3. Should scope notes be refined to show what kind of correspondence would be included? (Laena: Letters of famous psychologists, anthropologists etc. usually go under topic they cover)

Second Level Grouping

Suggested options:

1. No second level field/genre grouping - everything arranged by name of subject

- Popular section in public libraries, people tend to look based on person not career
- Possibly most intuitive way

- Alpha sorting can lead to odd, disparate arrangements
- No scope for library to group according to genre should they wish to

2. Focus firstly on type of writing, secondly on genre/subject
Bio/Autobio > Bio > Virginia Woolf
Bio/Autobio > Letters > Virginia Woolf

- Not thought to be particularly intuitive or useful

3. Focus firstly on genre/field then on subject of bio

- Need to ask the question 'Does the extra categorisation of genre give added value to the library?'

Compare, for example:
Bio & Autobio > W > Virginia Woolf
Bio & Autobio > Literary Figures > Virginia Woolf

- Could a sub-classification be available that doesn't have to be used for shelving?

Bio & Autobio > W > Virginia Woolf > Biography
Bio & Autobio > W > Virginia Woolf > Letters
Bio & Autobio > W > Virginia Woolf > Journals

Other Ideas Thrown Around
- Bio & Autobio as facet. This was not thought to be intuitive and it was pointed out that Biography is a popular category in public libraries so should probably remain.
- Should there be a top-level Literature category which Biography could fall under. This was argued against because of the popularity of the category of Biography in libraries. Literature debate was moved to its own thread.

So, although there's no firm consensus, I think we are ready to move towards one. As I see it, and do go over to the category thread and disagree if you feel I'm wrong, the main question that needs to be adressed is whether or not a move away from pure 'alphabetical by subject' shelving towards a genre/field based second level would provide any benefit. While there are categories that could do with a lot of fixing, it's highly possible that this one is not one of them or, if you prefer, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I don't think we should be afraid to reach a decision that the alpha route that seems to be very widely used is actually fine.

Please come over to the thread and weigh in on that point so that we can move onto a firm consensus decisions (librarians most welcome!).