I’ve been kicking around thoughts on how best to organise the LibriVox catalogue in the future, especially when the new design is implemented. LibriVox is a collection of people who speak many languages, and who record public domain audiobooks in most of them.
Currently, we organise by Category (out of Fiction, Poetry, Non-fiction, Dramatic Works — one per book) and by Genre (list here — multiple selections possible).
However, as our catalogue grows, I think it’s going to get harder and harder to manage this very fixed structure. As we add more books, we’ll need to add more Genres, and it will be a lot of work to retrospectively look over our books when a new Genre is added. For example, Art was recently added to the list, and older books about Art were added to the Genre by people who remembered them. But even with a relatively small number of relevant books involved, some can get missed, like Ruskin’s Lectures on Landscapes. Adding a Genre which would cover a lot of existing books becomes a bit of a nightmare, and there’s little incentive to add new Genres of this type. My point here is definitely not to second-guess the labellers, but to note that it’s going to be very hard to keep using this system when we have 5,000 books. By the time we get to 10,000, we’ll have literally thousands of books in some Genres and it’ll be very hard for listeners to find books that interest them, using the Genre system.
Although we have a lot of extremely altruistic people involved at LibriVox, very few can be recording in the belief that their book will never be downloaded. So I think it encourages readers to have a good catalogue system which makes it easier for listeners to find books they may like. Genres are an important part of this. (I also think some kind of ‘if you liked that, you may enjoy…’ recommendation system will be helpful, but that’s a different discussion. ;)
Also, our current Genres don’t really work for some classic library areas that people often expect to find here, such as Detective Fiction or True Crime. And are autobiographies in Biography or Memoir? How well would a non-native English speaker differentiate Humor and Comedy? (since I struggle myself.) Or Instruction and Advice, for that matter? And would you put a book on learning English into Instruction or Advice, or just Languages? Is the Genre ‘Children’, books about children, or for children? (Books on child-rearing are very different to Mother Goose.) Is Literature of any use at all, since it’s rather “in the eye of the beholder”? Ditto the Genre “Fiction” which ought to be already covered by the Category. We have Epistolary Fiction, but where do we put books of non-fictional letters? What definition of Romance is being used (we do, after all, have a Romance of Rubber in the catalogue!) Are all catalogers using all these terms in consistent ways?
I don’t have a definite answer to any of this — it needs some major discussion! But I think a piece of the puzzle is given an essay by Clay Shirky, who talks about how to sensibly arrange virtual objects, avoiding the perils of real-world organisation. (Hence, some “there is no shelf” musings on Twitter. We might get some support from thinking about the problem in terms of physical library cataloging, but it’s not the whole answer, as we can see from Shirky’s list of popular library system pitfalls.)
I’m wondering about tagging books — having the reader and prooflistener do the initial tagging, which might look a lot like our current genres (or the LoC categories at Gutenberg) and then opening the system up to the general public to tag also (but with the major limitor that no tag appears until it’s been entered a certain number of times by different IP addresses. This would avoid things getting tagged “rubbish narration” or “horrid background noise” or the random like “vote for X” or spam (you don’t need examples of this one.)
Finally, I’d like to chuck into the mix, the representation of other languages. It’s very important to me that a book in a particular language has its catalogue summary in that language (with an English translation if wanted.) It would be lovely to be able to use Genre in one’s own language too. I realise our current hard-skeleton of Genres lends itself to this better than a big flexible system, but anyway. We have an increasing number of books in languages other than English, and encouraging listeners for those languages will result in more readers for those languages.