Fantasy is Fantasy

This post is the opinion of Netanel Ganin and is in no way to be construed as an official communication from any section of any institution.


[bolded terms are a mention of a LC vocabulary term]

A brief overview of the Library of Congress Genre/Form Terms for Library and Archival Materials [LCGFT] follows:

From the introduction to the LCGFT manual:

In 2007 the Library of Congress began a project to develop genre/form terms, which describe what a resource is, rather than what it is about, as most subject headings do.

[emph mine]

The vocabulary is [along with the Demographic Group Terms and Medium of Performance Terms] part of LC’s foray into faceted vocabularies. Traditionally form has been handled through a $v in a 6XX field, but with this vocabulary [and some of its precursors such as the Moving Image Genre Form Guide or Guidelines on Subject Access to Individual Works of Fiction, Drama] catalogers can express ‘is-ness’ in a separate field from ‘about-ness’ [of-ness is a whole other kettle of fish].

I, Robot” may be about RobotsArtificial intelligence, etc. but it’s genre/form is Science fiction, Short stories, etc.

I think this is a great idea! We’ve long since known that people want to know the form of a material before selecting it, heck we stuck it right in the middle of the title field in $h with a general material designation. If a patron is looking for a resource by title, and there’s a play, motion picture, and novel all with the same title — that can be an important initial piece of information by which to limit their search.


So what’s the problem? I’m worried that we’re actually not as faceted as we could be. The problem is actually right in the name of the vocabulary. Genre/Form.

It’s two things: genres and forms!

Let me show you what I mean:

  • Science fiction
  • Science fiction comics
  • Science fiction films
  • Science fiction plays
  • Science fiction poetry
  • Science fiction radio programs
  • Science fiction television programs

That’s seven terms, each of which expresses a genre, followed by the form. [the unadorned “science fiction” is part of the literature hierarchy and is textual]

This is by no means an outlier either, there are eight permutations for “Political”, seven permutations for “Fantasy” and “Horror”, six for “Detective and mystery”, “Thrillers”, and “Westerns” [this is not exhaustive! Explore the vocab yourself and find more]

Remember that every single term in this or any LC vocabulary requires research on the part of the proposer and approval by the Policy and Standards Division at LC.

What if we encoded genre and form separately?

Rather than 47 terms, we could express all of those unique genre/forms with eight form terms and seven genre terms. That’d make for a leaner vocabulary and more precise machine processing.

  1. Leaner vocabularies without crossing of the streams are easier to maintain and introduce new terms [without having to worry that introducing a new genre means adding additional ones for every possible genre/form combo]
  2. Machine processing of a unique genre or unique form [rather than a combo] is easier to match to other vocabularies from form specific disciplines which wouldn’t include the form in their term.

Ultimately what I’m trying to get at is what the title says: fantasy is fantasy. Whether it’s a comic book, a tv show, or poetry — it’s all of the fantasy genre.

Let’s keep our forms and our genres separate.

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