Mormon Classification and Classifying Mormonism

Shopping in LDS bookstores drives me crazy!

When I actually manage to get to an LDS bookstore, I can’t seem to find the kind of books I like. Why? The categories don’t make any sense.

Growing up in the Washington DC area, we had an LDS bookstore near the temple. I went by the store many times looking for books. Possibly the most confusing part of the store was that one wall, including probably more than one hundred titles, contained the single category, “LDS Authors.”

Huh? What does that mean? Aren’t basically all the books sold in LDS bookstores by authors who are LDS? What should I expect to find in the “LDS Authors” category?

To be fair to the Washington DC bookstore, this is actually common! It turns out that this category was on a list of probably two dozen categories distributed by the LDS Booksellers Association at some point, and the “LDS Authors” category can therefore be found in many independent LDS Bookstores.

But not in market leaders, Deseret Book (95 categories of books) and Seagull Books (28 categories of books). The “LDS Authors” category doesn’t appear there. But they have their own categories that don’t make sense.

Seagull, for example has categories for “Young Women” and for “Youth,” but does NOT have a a category for “Young Men.” Huh?

Deseret Book does have a category for “Young Men” — a subcategory in the “Teaching Helps” category. “Teaching Helps” also includes sub categories for Primary, Young Women, Seminary, and Relief Society. But don’t look for Priesthood Teaching Helps. It isn’t there.

OK. I’ll admit that there probably aren’t many books (maybe not any?) of teaching helps for the Priesthood and for Young Men. This is probably related to the whole ‘men asking for directions’ thing — would a man ever admit he needed help to prepare a Priesthood lesson? On the other hand, anyone who has sat through a priesthood lesson knows”¦

So, next time you’re in an LDS bookstore, take a look at the categories. Do they make sense to you? Compare that to when you go into your local Barnes & Noble. I don’t want to say that mainstream US bookstores are perfect, but I do want to point out that they have help.

Mainstream US bookstores have available to them a national system that involves thousands of sub-categories. The Christian Booksellers Association also has a categorization system with hundreds of categories that is available to its members. In both these cases someone has gone to a lot of trouble to prepare lists of categories that are not only used industry wide, but also involve the publishers, who categorize the books when they are published.

To me all this says two things. First, that few, if any, LDS bookstores have really thought about how to categorize their books — which makes me wonder how much they are thinking about how their customers find what they want. In my opinion this is doubly true for on-line vendors — websites need to make it easy for customers to find things, because there isn’t a physical bookshelf for the customer to look at.

Second, if whole categories are missing, then perhaps whole categories of books are needed. You may not think that a book of “Teaching Helps” for the men will sell, but what other areas might be missing? No LDS bookstore that I’ve seen has a sports section, or a section on politics. Do we need LDS books in these areas? I don’t know. But so much is missing that I suspect we are missing whole categories.

[For what its worth, part of the reason is simply that the LDS market is small, and hasn’t had a chance to develop in these categories. And I suspect some of the reason that these categories don’t exist has to do with who purchases LDS books. Since purchasers are overwhelmingly women, it does make sense that whole categories of books that otherwise might exist don’t appear. But that’s a subject I plan on addressing later.]

What’s unfortunate about this is that Mormons as a whole are also victims of poor categorization. Several years ago I noticed this while reviewing where LDS websites are listed in directories on the Internet.

There are a multitude of directories of various types on the Internet. From the “Open Directory Project” which supplies the directories you see on Google and on many, many other sites, to Yahoo to directories of blogs, webrings, etc. And this doesn’t include a host of sites that categorize material for their own purposes — if religion is somehow involved, you can bet Mormonism has been categorized.

The problem is that Mormonism gets categorized according to the knowledge of whoever sets up the categories. So sometimes Mormonism gets listed under “cults,” and other times in “other” (i.e., not included in Christian). Sometimes we’re listed under “Protestant” and (in my opinion the best case) we’re listed in basically our own category under Christian, or as a ‘restoration’ church. [Wikipedia is a good example of this, and when I last looked several years ago, the Open Directory had Mormonism in its own category under Christian.]

Its not hard to see that where Mormonism appears has an effect on how we are percieved. I think it would be interesting to have a project that searched for how Mormonism is categorized around the Internet and tried to get the listing out of ‘Cults’ and where it should be.

Likewise, I’d like to see LDS bookstores and publishers actually put some thought and spend some time on how they categorize books. We, consumers, would benefit tremendously — we might actually be able to find books in stores!

4 thoughts on “Mormon Classification and Classifying Mormonism”

  1. Part of the reason why there is so little in “men’s” categories is because I think that, on the whole, the LDS market is geared toward women. Books, music, etc… It seems to me that by and large the products are more of interest to women.



    Posted by Mark Hansen

  2. Ah yes.

    Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg?

    You may be right, Mark, that the problem is that publishers aren’t providing what men want.

    Of course, there is also the opposite of a ‘virtuous circle’ here. Men don’t think that there are any products they want in LDS bookstores, so they don’t purchase there. LDS publishers then see that products geared to Men don’t sell, so they don’t produce them. Which leads to men failing to purchase …

    Of course, to a much smaller degree, this is also true in the mainstream market (most book buyers in the US are women, but there certainly are categories where men dominate). But in the LDS case, the categories that men are likely to be interested in either don’t exist or aren’t really ‘LDS’ categories.

    Don’t know whether the problem started with the audience or with the publishers. But I think it does need to be fixed.



    Posted by Kent Larsen

  3. (hopped over here from your post on what authors should do to help the market)

    My husband has noted the lack of spiritual books. He’s due to be baptized in two weeks. He has always enjoyed reading books by a Buddhist master, and he thinks it is a real loss that we do not have anything similar, in that same just stright, human/philosophical/spiritual/practical vein, in LDS books.

    So, yes, there are entire categories, entire genres missing in the world of LDS literature. It would be interesting to comb major bookstores, and the lists of categories from other sources, and correlate titles from the LDS publishers and attempt to identify the deficiencies.  

    Posted by Naiah Earhart

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