How to shelve graphic novels?
One (good) problem of a growing graphic novel section is how to shelve all the wonderful titles so that students and patrons may easily find them. I recently did an overhaul of my shelving system in my graphic novel area, and the results have been positively received by my students. They all say that it has been easier to find what they want to read, and I don't even have signage out yet to explain how things are shelved!
Another reason to redesign your shelving system is to maximize shelving. Shelving graphic novel together by format instead of shelving all graphic novels intermixed means you'll have similar format sizes all together, and can adjust shelving. Manga tends to be much shorter than most books, so you can usually fit another shelf in this section. Comicbooks are a bit taller, so depending on your shelving, you mind need a little more room here.
Here was my old shelving system: All graphic novels were pulled out of regular Dewey order, but still maintained a 741.5 label on the spine. All manga were shelved together alphabetically by mangaka (manga creator); all comicbooks were shelved together alphabetically by author; all graphic novels were shelved together alphabetically by author. Now, I have four different sections: Manga, Comicbooks, Graphic Fiction, and Graphic Nonfiction. Read on to find out what I’ve done and some tips on how to implement this in your library.
Special thanks to Emily R., Megan T., and Chris D. for chatting repeatedly with me about the best scheme to use to reorganize this whole section.
My manga section is my largest area and the most widely circulated. The changes I made here have definitely helped students find the books they’re looking for. Most manga are 5" x 7.5", meaning your shelving doesn't have to be as spaced out as it has to be for most other sections in the library.
Separating Manga is a controversial move because it is so heavily circulated. Will the other graphic novels get as much exposure? In my experience as a reader and a librarian, manga readers are not the ones you are going to hook into graphic novels. Prose novel readers more often make the jump to graphic novels than manga readers do. Manga readers have a different motivation for their reading and selecting of materials. I obviously don’t speak for the entire group, but a lot of us manga readers are fueled by a fascination for Japanese culture, or a love of the anime-counterpart. We are comfortable in our manga reading. Having Western Comics next to our manga doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to pick it up.
Shelving by series title instead of mangaka is also slightly controversial, but I came to the conclusion after having innumerable students come in and ask where titles were located. Very rarely do I have students come in and ask for works by a certain mangaka. The hardcore manga readers may remember who the mangakas are, but most readers will walk into your library knowing a series title their friend recommended, or from watching anime. Shelving manga by the name of the series means most readers can find “My Hero” without having to look up that it’s written by Kohei Horikoshi.
The distinction between Comicbooks and graphic fiction can sometimes be confusing to others, but my hard line between the two is this: comicbooks were originally published in single-issues/floppies, and what I have in my Comicbook section is their hardcover/trade paperback collections. Lots of works published by Marvel and DC fit this bill, but there are also some from Image, BOOM!, and IDW that were originally single issues. Comicbooks are also usually 6 5/8” x 10 3/16”, so these shelves might need to be a little taller than what is normal.
One thing that is always frustrating for my students (and anyone helping them find books) is how often a series switches creators in the middle of it. When I went about reorganizing and rethinking how to shelve comicbooks, it became obvious that we needed to shelve by character or team when they were recognizable to students. So, series about Batman get the call number "CB BAT." Teams like The Avengers get "CB AVE." Certain other comics that aren't about recognizable teams or heroes will go in order by author - The Avant-Guards are shelved under "CB USD," Monstress is "CB LIU."
Another thing I use to make shelving and reading easier is the publication year for Issue #1. I often find this in Goodreads or on the Verso of the comicbook. In the catalog for the examples above, I will put “Avengers (‘18) ; #01" as the series title for the first example, and "Black Widow ('14) ; #01" for the second example. For shelving, I have my students look up the books in our library catalog and shelve them not only in series order, but in publication date order. This is incredibly helpful for characters with tons of different series. Right now, I have 2 shelves of Batman comics. Trying to read those in order would be difficult if I didn't include publication years in the series title.
These stories are often referred to as Graphic Novels, but graphic novels is also the umbrella term many folks use to describe anything written in graphic format. After many debates about what to name this section, I've settled on Graphic Fiction. Another idea was Graphic Literature, but then that brings in the connotation of the Literary Cannon, which is not an accurate descriptor. Graphic Fiction conveys that these are fictional stories in graphic format, which is what I'm going for.
This section is also where I shelve some of the taller collections of Manga, like Nausicaa in the photo above. Since I added more shelving to the manga area, these tall books don't fit on the shelves anymore. They are still fairly visible and well circulated in the Graphic Fiction section because the two areas are right next to each other.
Graphic Nonfiction is the hairiest term of all of these. What to put in the graphic novels section or the nonfiction section is still of intense debate, and I don't firmly like my current answers. Presently, mainly due to shelf space, graphic versions of historical events or topics are shelved in their respective nonfiction section. So the Graphic Universe versions of stories, like Hercules or Battle of Gettysburg, etc. go in 398.2 or 973.7, respectively. The Graphic Nonfiction section presently is memoirs, biographies, and full-length examinations of topics, like Dan Rather's What Unites Us. The key to the delineation, as with many of our cataloging and shelving concepts, is where are the readers going to find the book? My graphic novel readers/browsers are probably going to appreciate full-length books more so than the smaller, Hi-Lo type books like Graphic Universe. My nonfiction readers/browsers are probably going to appreciate the Hi-Lo type graphic novels more in the nonfiction section, and are less likely to find it in a separate section.
At the moment, I don't have every graphic nonfiction book in this section because of shelving limitations. After careful study of readership and some conversation with students, the books that I put in this section are more narrative nonfiction in nature - things like Kent State by Derf Backderf, They Called us Enemy by George Takei, or Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America by Box Brown . Books like the Graphic Universe series, which are comic tellings of things like "The Battle of Gettysburg" or the graphic version of "Hercules," are in their nonfiction Dewey section. The major distinction to me is intent of the story: Hi-Lo or explanatory books, those types of things go into Dewey, while books telling stories about real life people and events go in Graphic Nonfiction.
I hope this information can help in evaluating and organizing your graphic novel section in the best way for your students. Ultimately, it's all about getting books in their' hands, so here's to making our shelving the easiest for them!
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This section is where I will post general information about graphic novels, news, or other things I feel are relevant to the development of graphic novel sections in libraries.
I've been reading Manga and comicbooks for years. Now, it's time to share my knowledge with you.
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