(if) I DID IT!!! – Thoughts on the OJ Simpson Book

When I worked for the Writers Guild of Alberta, one of my main jobs each year was to organize their annual book awards program.  One of my most memorable experiences during this time was when of our members submitted her book in both the fiction and non-fiction categories. 

I looked at the book and saw that it was indeed part fiction and part non-fiction so I called her up to see if she was willing to just put the book in one category or the other since this could obviously lead to some confusion at the minimum should she be shortlisted in both categories and embarrassment if she won both!

“No.  This book is half fiction and half non-fiction.  Each chapter alternates from one to the other so those are the categories I want to be entered in.”

“Okay, I'll let it go.” I told her.  “But if you win in both categories, you're explaining it to the media, not me!”

That was the thought that crossed my mind the other day as I was working through our patron request “show pile”.  A couple patrons had requested the OJ Simpson book.  So I did the assessment we have to do for every requested book.  But this one provided some interesting twists and turns. 

If you don't know the story, OJ Simpson was offered a huge contract to write a fictionalized version of how he *might* have killed his ex-wife and her acquaintance.  There was a huge public outcry so the book was canceled, editors were fired and a small dash of civility prevailed for once in our celebrity-obsessed, anything-goes society. 

The reprieve lasted a month or so.  Then the rights to the book were assigned to the family of one of the murder victims who decided to go ahead and publish it to try and recoup some of the $38 million they were awarded in civil suit against OJ after he was found innocent in the criminal trial. 

Although the book was originally going to be marketed as a “fictionalized” account of how the murders may have occurred, I found that it was now classed as a “True Crime” book and the cover still had the original “If I Did It” title but the word “if” was in really small letters so it would appear to read “I Did It”.  A new sub-title was added “Confessions of the Killer” and the author was listed as The Goldman Family rather than OJ Simpson.

All I can say is “ouch!”  The family aren't likely to recoup much of what they're owed by publishing this book.  But they definitely got back at OJ with how they pulled a bit of a switcheroo.  Also makes for some interesting questions for the cataloguers out there – how do you treat a book where the line between fiction and non-fiction is so blurry?  (If I could remember the title, I could look up that WGA half and half book to see how various libraries dealt with it.)

Comments 7

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Wow. I heard about the book when there was the initial outcry, of course, but didn't know about the Goldman family eventually publishing it.
    I think I'd be inclined to catalogue it as nonfiction, personally. Even if one stipulates that O.J. didn't do it (for the purposes of argument!), it's not the sort of book that's very fictiony…there's going to be an awful lot of opinion/biographical stuff in there. And I think patrons would be more likely to expect it to be in the nonfiction stacks.
    IMHO, but that's where the Victoria library has put it (in the murder section, logically enough), so I'm not the only one who thinks it belongs there. Auckland's put it in with the biographies, which is a location that makes sense too.
    (Yeah, I only looked at OPACs in B.C. and New Zealand…I never claimed it was a scientific sampling!)
    Anyway, I bet other oddball books that cross the line between fiction and nonfic are catalogued in all sorts of different places. With perhaps a little agonizing by the cataloguer, but when it comes down to it, you've got to put it somewhere…and perhaps console yourself by adding lots of subject headings – at least in the catalogue the book can exist in multiple places, even if dull physicality limits it to only one. 🙂

    Posted 03 Dec 2007 at 7:21 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Who knew that cataloguing could be so nuanced? People in the general public just don't realise what we go through!
    I was going to tell an anecdote about a similar judgment call I recently had to make but after doing further research, I realise I probably called wrong.
    Without getting into specifics, we had a book with an editor but no author listed so I told our cataloguer to not list anything in the author field but to put the editor's name in there somewhere. Based on what Amazon (listed the editor as author AND editor) and Regina Public did (listed the editor as “selected and introduced by” in the title field) I think I made the wrong call.
    Oh the joys of working in a rural system with rookies like me making the hard calls, often with little time to do the proper research I would like to do. At least this is something I can go back to and have the cataloguing record updated.

    Posted 09 Dec 2007 at 7:16 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    And that's not even close to the worst thing I've come across – I had a branch librarian ask me why some Garfield comic books are classified as adult fiction, some as Juvenile Fiction and some as Adult non-fiction?!?
    Consistency is so important in cataloging and it doesn't take long to see what a difference having two people doing the job at different times can make (or even the same person if they're not careful!)

    Posted 09 Dec 2007 at 7:18 pm
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Re your cataloguing problem – I'm a little rusty with MARC (the library I'm at doesn't use it anymore! as is apparently true of many NZ libraries – Inmagic's software is really popular down here, and while it's clearly based on a MARC structure, they've gotten away from that a bit in the interface.)
    But anyway…in the case of a book with an editor and no listed author…You'd put the editor in a 700 field, leave the 100 field empty, and – in the 245 field's $c subfield – put the statement of responsibility (that's the attribution exactly as it appears on the book; usually something like “by Firstname Lastname”, but it can also be “selected and introduced by Some Editor”, if that's what's on the book's title page – it sounds like Regina Public had it right.) Note that you take this info from the title page and not the cover, if the two disagree. If the cover is significantly different from the title page (and it happens!), you can deal with that by using a 246 field (for an alternate title, so users can search for either version of it), or putting in a general 500 field to note whatever you feel ought to be noted. I love 500 fields. 🙂
    Mind you, everything is subject to change according to the library's own local cataloguing rules (some places probably do put editors in the 100 field, for simplicity's sake, even though that's really an author field). But the above is the conventional way of doing it.
    …Wow, I really do know this stuff. *slightly surprised at self* Maybe not so rusty after all! All that practice I got in cataloguing on coop must have stuck in my head. 🙂

    Posted 11 Dec 2007 at 6:36 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    Yeah, consistency, the bane of librarians…:) I think there are problems like that in every library in the world, alas.
    Well, except for my personal collection. Which would be catalogued totally and completely perfectly. 😉 If, that is, I ever get around to doing that…I might, if I find an open source ILS I really like. I did try Koha, but…too much like work! and not nearly enough bling. Evergreen looks a bit more fun, though it's got plenty of room for improvement in the bling department too. 🙂 (I want something a little more like AquaBrowser! or even better.) I do think it would be cool to run my own OPAC for my personal collection…maybe one of these years.
    Or I could just break down and join the LibraryThing fans, I suppose (but am still holding out for my shiny blingy OPAC, darn it!)

    Posted 11 Dec 2007 at 7:00 am
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    Well, LibraryThing is going that way – I'm sure you've seen LibraryThing for Libraries. But yeah, something like AquaBrowswer for the home user? Pretty cool. The problem is that no software (unless maybe you design and program it yourself) is going to have every feature you want. For example, I don't think LibraryThing has a way (other than tags which is a bit clunky) to distinguish between books you own and books you are reading/have read (ie. library books, borrowed from friends, etc.)

    Posted 23 Dec 2007 at 9:11 pm
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    For how anal retentive I can be at times (“the defining characteristic of librarians worldwide since 1876“), you'd think I'd have paid more attention in cataloguing class!
    Thanks for the lesson!

    Posted 23 Dec 2007 at 9:15 pm
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