Sunday, March 5, 2017

Special Topic: Graphic Novels in the Library

In recent years the medium of graphic novels has risen in recognition not only in the public arena but also in libraries of all kinds. With this recognition, we are also seeing graphic novels granted awards and being used by educators and other professionals. One hurdle that graphic novels had to jump was the image of being the same as comics. While these two mediums share similarities, they are in fact different altogether. Comics contain a story, but graphic novels have a plot that reads much more like regular text novels (Pinkley 1-2). Donald Cunningham’s 2012 study showed that even with library’s current lack of holdings, they do not necessarily reflect the views of the librarians or their patrons through a public survey and librarian interviews. The study also looked into the public’s opinion of graphic novels as well as those of librarians. One question was if the participants thought graphic novels “constituted proper/serious literature” and  60% disagreed that they “are not proper/serious books” showing their agreement that graphic novels should be housed in a library (Cunningham 43).

Along with a call for more graphic novels, Cummingham’s study showed that librarians also wished to see their graphic novel collections shelved in their own collection. The librarians that participated in the study all showed favoritism to a separate graphic novel collection opposed to shelving the medium within other materials. However, even though the librarians all share the same idea, there was no consistency shown in the placement of these collections (Cummingham 30-34). In Trauli’s chapter over cataloging in Graphic Novels and Comics In Libraries and Archives suggest that troubles with cataloging can start with the lack of communication and need for new cataloging policies. The old ways that catalogers may have adapted in order to fit graphic novels into the mold have shown not to work for the long haul. Taruli states that these practices “are no longer satisfactory” and now librarians have “to re-think current cataloging and shelving practices” (214).  

No matter how a library catalogs graphic novels, getting the word that they are available is the best way to get them off the shelves. Advising the patrons deals with showing that the library supports graphic novels and they are just as much as an option as any other resource. Past advising may only have brought up graphic novels when a patron came to ask for them, but do librarians always do this with the other collections? Reader’s advisory should cover a good area when giving books in the interview, adding graphic novels into the mix is a great way to spread the word that not only does the library have graphic novels but they are in fact for everyone. Another step for librarians to take to push graphic novels is to have experience with the medium and find out for themselves what graphic novels are. Librarians don’t have to read all the graphic novels but have a good understanding of the styles and what is available to readers (Goldsmith 11-13). Whether it’s by inclusion in an advisory interview or in a book display, librarians need to show their understanding and that they are once again the experts to look for when asking about books. No matter the medium.

Works Cited

Cunningham, Donald Philip. “The Cataloguing and shelving of graphic novels: A comparison of public librarian and patron perceptions”. School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington. New Zealand. June 2012. Web.
Goldsmith, Francisca. “Pushing Graphic Novel Advice to Readers”. The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Graphic Novels. American Library Association. 2010. 10-18. Print.
MacDonald, Heidi. “Graphic Novels in Libraries: How Graphic Novels Became the Hottest Section in the Library”. Publishers Weekly. 2013, May 6. 20-25. Web.
Pinkley, Janet & Kaele Casey. “Graphic Novels: A Brief History and Overview for Library Managers”. Library Leadership & Management. 27:3. 2013, May. Web.
Tarulli, Laurel. “Cataloging and Problems with Dewey: Creativity, Collaboration, and Compromise”. Graphic Novels and Comics In Libraries and Archives: Essays On Readers, Research, History, and Cataloging. Weiner, Robert G. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2010. 213-221.Web.


  1. I'm glad that you found and discussed the Cunningham study on how librarians' attitudes towards graphic novels intersect with library practices: this was informative and really helped me understand the particular place where graphic novels stand--a place that is apparently still changing and evolving, neither here nor there! But with studies like this and perspectives like the one you present, I feel all the more excited about centering graphic novels in the library in the future.

  2. Cataloging graphic novels is a hot topic. Last year I attended a workshop at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2). It was headed up by a panel of 4 or 5 librarians from across the country. Among the graphic novel questions was how to catalog the books. The answer one on the panel or in the room of about 75 guests could agree.

    I catalog graphic novels at my job and I came up with the DDC number of 741.5 for graphic novels and 741.4 for manga books. The cutter name is the main character of the book. For example Batman and Batman: Detective Comics would both be 741.5 BATMAN. For the Avengers or Justice League of America it would be 741.5 AVENGE and 741.5 JLA.

    However, there are exceptions like graphic novels adapted from classic literature or books where there is no central character. For these books I tried to make the cutter name part of the title. Then with all the different volumes and cross-over stories it gets confusing about how to catalog them. The patrons seem to like my methods, so hopefully it works.