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Genres: The Starting Point for Good Recommendations

Post by Victoria Caplinger
Posted March 04, 2014 in NoveList Plus, Readers' Advisory News

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We wrote last month about some of the projects we are working on this year to make our reading recommendations even better, and I wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about genres in NoveList.

Genres are one of the most powerful tools available for librarians to assist readers in navigating the world of fiction. They bring like materials together, serving as both a search and a descriptive tool – telling users about the book they are looking at, while giving them a search handle to find more like it. In NoveList, genres are the starting point for our recommendations algorithm, so having a better grasp of our application and usage of genre headings becomes an important first step toward improving our recommendations as a whole.

This year at NoveList, we are working on a project to analyze and streamline our usage of both fiction and nonfiction genre headings. This will be at least a two-pronged process: on one hand, getting rid of some obscure or outdated headings (we had “soap opera fiction” on some of our older records – the term feels outdated, and the concept clearly isn’t one that's going to resonate with today's readers). The other part of this process is adding new and more specific genre headings in response to trends in publishing and reading.

How do readers think about genres? I suspect that this can vary pretty widely – some users are probably very conversant about the niche that they read in (werewolf-themed erotic fiction, for example); other readers are probably happy with looking at “mysteries” and leaving it at that (although they might embrace some of the finer-grained distinctions – cozy mysteries vs. police procedurals, etc. – if they knew about them. Some readers react strongly against the concept of genre, but I think that even in these cases genre headings can be a useful tool. Literary fiction is sometimes an incendiary term but a useful one, in that it can identify titles that appeal to a certain type of reader. Psychological fiction is another genre that pops up in library catalogs, although nobody really seems to know what it means. I think that with more tightly controlled definition and application, these kinds of headings can become more useful tools in directing even “non-genre” readers toward books they will enjoy.

How can improving the genre headings help make better recommendations? Many of the genres used in cataloging are very broad. Take fantasy fiction as an example – a book with this heading can cover everything from an epic sword & sorcery quest novel to a lighter-weight contemporary fantasy about a cheerleader  who has magical powers because her father is an elf (or vampire, or fairy)… you get the idea! In this case, a reader who loves the first book may well not enjoy the second. If we can use a genre heading to distinguish between them, users will be happier with their reading recommendations, whether these are coming from a self-directed search or from the NoveList algorithm. If we give our users a more solid starting point, then their process of book discovery will be more satisfying.

Stay tuned for more information about some of the new genres soon to be available in NoveList, as well as more details about our ongoing recommendations project. If you haven't seen this short video on NoveList's reading recommendations, I invite you to take a few minutes to watch it. If you're interested in getting a free copy of this video with your library's logo at the end, fill out this form. It's a great thing to share with your readers and promote your collection! 

NoveList Book Recommendations from EBSCO on Vimeo.