In dream library world, planning would probably be Step 1 in building a graphic novel collection.’  But in real library world, I didn’t make a plan for how to define, collect, catalog, process, and shelve graphic novels.’  I just started buying them.

As I’ve blithely added materials to my graphic-novel-and-nonfiction collection, I’ve run into all kinds of interesting questions: If I shelve my graphic novels by author, am I devaluing the role of artists?’  If I have a graphic adaptation of a novel, like Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, do I shelve it under the name of the adaptor, or the original author?’  Can I make a meaningful distinction between superhero comic books and other graphic novels?’  If I do make that distinction, where do I put series about heroes without superpowers?’  And don’t even get me started on nonfiction.

I find these questions inspiring, and I enjoy doing what I call “remerchandising” my collection.’  However, the tech services department doesn’t appreciate me doing what they call changing call numbers randomly and putting graphic novels stickers on whatever I feel like.’  Not only that, but since I started serving on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee, people have started asking me these questions like I’m an expert, and I’ve realized that for some libraries, these unanswered questions are actually obstacles to building a great graphic novel collection.

So now that I’ve completed real library world Step 1 (buy a bunch of cool new stuff!), I’m ready for Step 2 (plan).’  In other words, I’m ready to try answering the inspiring questions.’  I don’t think there are necessarily right or wrong answers to these questions–it depends on your population, physical space, the conventions in your library system, etc.–but I do think that sharing answers is about a million times more efficient than operating in a vacuum.’  So I’m posting my planning questions here for you to consider, and hopefully share your answers to.

My three main questions are:

  1. What do you include in your graphic collection?’  Are books about graphic materials (like Understanding Comics), magazines like Wizard, how-to-draw books, and anime DVDs part of the mix?
  2. Do you subdivide your graphic novel collection?’  What are the sections?’  Manga/Other GN?’  Fiction/Nonfiction?’  Masks/No masks?’  Series/Standalone volumes?
  3. Do you organize the books by series title, title, or author?’  If you use more than one of those options, how do you decide when to use each one?

OK, I’ll go first.

  1. At my library, I like to treat the graphic collection like a special collection and I include anything that I think is related.’  I find that the circulation of relevant nonfiction and magazines increases when I shelve it with the graphic materials.’  However, not everyone agrees with me on this, so it may soon change.
  2. I have been subdividing my collection into manga, comic books, graphic novels, and graphic nonfiction, but we’re moving to interfiling everything because there are too many books that blur the lines.
  3. We’re going to give books in series call numbers based on their series title.’  Standalone volumes with one author will get call numbers based on the author’s name.’  Standalone volumes with a bunch of writers, artists, inkers, series editors, and character creators will be shelved by title.

About Emily Brown

Emily is a Children's and YA librarian at Providence Community Library in Rhode Island. She currently serves on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee.

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