Odd Cataloging Decisions at Palo Alto Library

I really wonder about the cataloging at my local library. I was looking for books by Jo Walton and I noticed that a series by her was spread across two areas, both arguably wrong. First, Ha’penny is a sequel to Farthing, so they really should be shelved in the same section. Second, they are both alternate history novels from a fantasy author, and I wouldn’t look in either Mystery or Fiction for them.

Check out this screenshot from their search on July 2nd.

PA Library webcat screenshot

Big hint, Tor has been a major SF&F imprint for over 25 years.

I’m looking forward to Palo Alto’s choice for Half a Crown, the next book in the series. Maybe DDC 737 (Numismatics)?

I reported this to the reference desk at Main. Let’s hope they fix it.

The fun doesn’t stop there. I’m currently reading The Fall of the Kings. That was shelved in YA Fiction, where it doesn’t even belong. I read a fair mix of books, from Westerfeld to Dostoevsky, with plenty of YA, and this just doesn’t fit in the Teen collection. It is long (476 pages of small print), there are no teenage characters, nearly every chapter has sex and/or violence, it is quite slow moving, and it helps if you care about university politics. I read Valiant immediately before, and that book has half the word count with double the action and four times the dialogue, plus teens, fairies, drugs, NYC, and a massive betrayal by mom. Valiant belongs in the Teen section. Dreamhunter belongs there. The Fall of the Kings does not.

I thought that maybe, just maybe, they put it in YA because the most recent book in the series, The Privilege of the Sword, has a 15 year old girl as the main character and can easily be considered YA, so they decided to keep them together. Sorry, they shelved that one in Science Fiction.

I know that strictly defining Science Fiction (or Fantasy) is nearly impossible, but they must be able to avoid howlers like this. Yes, Michael Chabon has written fantasy (Summerland) and SF (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union) but it might as well be shelved in the mainstream section because that is where people will look for him. On the other hand, Jo Walton has written a sword and sorcery trilogy and a book set in Victorian England where the nobility are dragons. Where would you look? Heck, ask Jo Walton. Her answer to the FAQ “What genre is Farthing?” reads “It’s an alternate history mystery. I think that makes it SF.”

Hmm, Palo Alto also shelves The Lord of the Rings and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series in mainstream Fiction. Bizarre. The Kushiel books are also published by Tor. Can we just shelve all the Tor in SF, as a stopgap?

5 thoughts on “Odd Cataloging Decisions at Palo Alto Library

  1. When we do it right, virtual clouds of taxonomy will appear by each book to show the related books, a 3D holographic mind palace. Then drones can fly the paper books from their alternate equally rational shelf…


  2. The BISAC subject coding from publishers is just as bad. Two human physiology books by the same author from the same publisher, one is “SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Anatomy & Physiology”, the other is “EDUCATIONAL / Teaching Methods & Materials / Science & Technology”. The latter just means it is a science textbook. True, but not useful.


  3. ONIX might have multiple subject categories, but we only seem to extract one. And yes, publishers are amazingly bad at this. Which is why we have librarians.

    I’m suggesting using OCLC’s xISBN service to get better metadata. It is really cheap, because libraries don’t have lots of cash. $16K for a million queries? Seriously?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.