Q & A

For something a little different, a user question from Daniel:

Why do libraries group graphic novels/comics in trade paperback all in one category, rather than have them delineated into categories similar to – if not within – those of the rest of the library. What I mean is, why not put something non-fiction, say a memoir like Blankets, or Fun Home, in the non-fiction/memoir section, instead of simply alongside other comics. Is it simply something to do with ISBNs, or along those lines? I ask because I have always wondered this, and think that such a categorization of comics would be beneficial in the long run to their growth in libraries and academia. Not all, but much of what is in a library seems to be organized by content, not form; besides that, it just seems silly to have to wade through a bunch of superhero junk to find the great, literary-quality graphic novels (and I say that as a huge reader and weekly purchaser of said-superhero-junk). Anyway, thanks for your time!

First of all Daniel, thank you for asking, this is actually a huge pet peeve of mine.  I actually wrote a paper back in my cataloging class arguing that no one has figured out how to handle comic correctly.  That was 4 years ago and not much has changed in that time.  Basically the problem is that cataloging practices change at a pace that could perhaps best be described as glacial, especially in regards to call numbers and subject headings.  And comics are a form that are relatively new and annoyingly unfamiliar to many in the profession so problems happen.

On to the long answer.  I work with Dewey at my library and I’m most familiar with it, so I’ll use that as the example.  The Dewey Decimal system was not designed with much room for future expansion and all newer subjects had to be shoehorned into it somewhere, and not all of these have been done well.  The books on computers are particularly awful, getting forced into the early 000’s, pretty much just because there was unused space there.  

Comics are another of these, but in this case they’re also done a disservice by the library of congress subject headings.  All comics get labeled as “comic books, strips, etc…”, and if that’s assigned to a book then it’s bound to be assigned the respective call number while undergoing its CIP (cataloging in publication) entry by the library of congress.  Libraries are not bound to use this information at all, but pretty much everyone takes it under advisement, and many have their books automatically labeled by the distributors they use, who all use CIP data.

So that’s the call number side of things, but still leaves the arguement about the best way to group these items.  My own take is actually to continue keeping all comics/graphic novels in a single location, because a lot of patrons do single them out and because they lend themselves to slightly different cataloging practices (i.e. shelve spider-man by titles instead of author), but to treat that collection as one which can be subdivided into fiction and the various non-fiction numbers (i.e. comics/920/Thompson for Blankets).  But I have thus far failed to convince anyone at my own library that that’s the way to go so make of it what you will.

So there, a long answer and not a terribly good one, but I hope it helps to show how libraries can occasionally fail to work.  But at least it’s a problem we’re aware of and which many are fighting to resolve.

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