Ask the Comics Librarians: Cataloging Series

One of the more frequent questions library workers have about building comics collections is the best way to catalog comics.  There are many questions that arise around cataloging, including the related issues around labeling collections. While many of us on the site have worked on how best to catalog and classify comics in our own libraries (see the How Do I Label My Collection column) the majority of our writers are not catalogers in our daily work.

For today’s answer to a reader’s question, we brought in guest contributors from the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table (GNCRT) to ensure we had a thorough and helpful answer. The Graphic Novel and Comics Round Table Cataloging and Metadata Committee has done extraordinary work to help clarify best practices and advocate for clear comics cataloging in the library world. The Committee’s Best Practices for Cataloging Comics and Graphic Novels Using RDA and MARC21, released September 2022, provides an in-depth framework for any library workers cataloging graphic novels and comics.

Today’s guest columnists are the current Co-Chairs of the GNCRT Cataloging and Metadata Committee: Deborah Tomaras, the Metadata and Resource Management Librarian at James A. Cannavino Library at Marist College and Allison Bailund, Acquisitions & Cataloging Specialist at San Diego State University.

How do you decide what goes on a serial record for a ‘series’ and what gets its own stand alone record?

Before we discuss options for cataloging comics series, we should clarify that “series” means different things to libraries and publishers. Publishers use “series” to describe any continuing comics title (e.g., Blue exorcist, CatStronauts, and Green Lantern). However, in cataloging, there is a distinction between “series” and “serial.” Serials include comics issued in successive (usually numbered) parts with no predetermined conclusion; these would include Blue exorcist or Green Lantern. But series are groups of separate comics related to each other by having both their own unique titles and also a collective title applying to the group as a whole (i.e., the series title); series don’t always include numbering. So CatStronauts would be the only “series” for catalogers. For clarity’s sake, when referring to the publishing notion of “series,” we’ll say “continuing title/s” or “continuing comic/s.”

There are three basic options for continuing comics: cataloging all volumes individually; cataloging some or all on multi-volume bibliographic records; or cataloging some or all on serial bibliographic records. No choice is more correct than the others; we’ll describe the strengths and challenges of each below. The most important consideration when deciding on local practice is to be as consistent as possible and employ the method that works best for your patrons. It’s also important to remember that comics collection management is linked to how comics are cataloged, so each of the approaches below influences circulation, how holds can be placed, how withdrawn or missing copies are handled, and so on.

Serials include comics issued in successive (usually numbered) parts with no predetermined conclusion; these would include Blue exorcist or Green Lantern. But series are groups of separate comics related to each other by having both their own unique titles and also a collective title applying to the group as a whole (i.e., the series title); series don’t always include numbering. 

Cataloging all comics individually

The first option involves treating each volume as a stand-alone work, and cataloging all comics on individual bibliographic records, regardless of whether they are graphic novels, volumes of a children’s comics series, manga, superhero collected editions, etc.

Strengths of this approach include consistent cataloging for all comics, which creates a uniform search and display in catalogs, and uniform methods for placing holds (title level for all, rather than item level for some). It also makes volume numbers and names for comics more immediately visible in search results (if they’re recorded in the title field), making scanning and finding specific volumes easier. Having volume number and volume title in the title field also supports more “Google”-like searching for volumes (e.g., patrons can type “Saga 3” and get results).

If you add a consistent genre term to all comics (like “Graphic novels” or “Comics (Graphic works)”), and the library catalog allows for “reverse year” sorting of search results, this approach also enables patrons to easily browse the library’s newest comics; multi-volume bibliographic records, by contrast, usually appear at the top of “reverse year” sorts due to their open-ended dates (i.e. “9999”), even when they don’t actually have new volumes added, making finding the newest comics more complicated.

Creating individual records also allows you to easily trace changing creative teams when needed; while multi-volume bibliographic records usually either record only the creative team from the first volume or must continually update a growing list of creators. Individual records also let you assign granular subject headings for story arcs and characters from specific comics volumes, building connections across comics collections.

The biggest challenge of this approach is creating the greatest number of bibliographic records, which means more records in the catalog for patrons to scan. This may be especially daunting for libraries with large manga collections such as Naruto or One piece (both with 70+ volumes). You also need to pay attention to how volume numbers and titles appear so that you can ensure consistency across all volumes; otherwise, volumes can become jumbled in search results, making finding specific volumes more difficult. And you should include variant titles coming from covers, spines, etc., to prevent patron confusion if the cover title does not match the form of the title appearing in search results.

Saga catalog library listing screen from Marist College showing the individual title cataloging approach.

Saga in the Marist College library catalog, using the individual record approach.

Cataloging all comics individually

Pros

  • Consistent
  • Volume numbers and titles more visible in search results
  • Can enable patrons to sort by date so they can see newest titles first
  • Allows for details of character and story arc to be included in subject headings

Cons

  • Creates the most number of records, requiring significant scanning from browsers
  • Will need to ensure consistency in how volume numbers and titles appear, so they don’t become jumbled in search results
  • Will need to include variant titles to prevent confusion if the title on the cover or spine doesn’t match form of the title in the catalog

Cataloging some or all continuing titles using multi-volume bibliographic records

The second option involves using multi-volume bibliographic records for continuing comics, so that all volumes of the same title are on one record, under a single collective title. Some libraries do this for only continuing titles like superhero comics and manga; some libraries also catalog monographic series comics like The Baby-Sitters Club on multi-volume records.

For this approach, you need to make sure your catalog allows item-level holds; and also check other display and search configurations, like the ability to search for volume titles from contents fields, for example. When cataloging all volumes onto a single record, it is important to ensure that the record has a complete table of contents, including any volume titles if present (e.g., No normal and Generation why from Ms. Marvel).

The presence of unique volume titles for some continuing comics has led a few libraries to take a hybrid approach, using the individual record approach described above for sets with volume titles (such as Ms. Marvel), and multi-volume records for sets lacking volume titles (like I hear the sunspot). This method allows patrons to search for individual volumes cataloged separately by volume titles when they’re present; and provides access by item-level volume number in a single collective record when they’re not. This can be especially helpful for long-running titles such as Naruto (72 volumes), or One piece (101 volumes and still going).

However, using a multi-volume approach has some drawbacks, including limiting the ability to search by title variations for individual volumes (spine title, cover title, etc.). Additionally, if the creative team changes (common with American comics, unlike manga), ensuring all the contributors are included can be challenging and make for exceptionally long records with 30+ names. Using a multi-volume record can also be limiting when applying subject headings and/or genre terms since the headings will need to describe all the volumes and not individual story arcs. You also need to pay attention to how volume numbers are recorded, so that they appear in order for item-level holds; having some with “v.” and some with “vol.,” for example, causes volumes to become jumbled, making seeing a library’s holdings and placing holds on specific volumes more difficult.

Multi-volume records can also be tricky to manage if a library has volumes of continuing titles from multiple releases/republishings with slightly different content (remastering, recoloring, new “extras,” etc.). You need to choose whether to have multiple multi-volume records in the catalog (thus diminishing some of the benefits of the approach), or to preserve a single multi-volume bibliographic record for searching and circulation, but include local notes explaining the variations (which loses some of the bibliographic information about the features of both of the releases).

Saga in the San Diego State University Catalog showing the multi-volume cataloging approach.

Saga in the San Diego State University library catalog, using the multi-volume record approach.

Using multi-volume bibliographic records

Pros

  • Keeps all volumes from continuing title on one record
  • Especially useful for long-running superhero titles and manga
  • May also be helpful for “limited series” comics with short runs
  • Can use a hybrid approach with individual records for sets with volume titles and multi-volume records for sets lacking volume titles, so patrons can search for individual volumes separately by volume titles when they’re present and get access by item-level volume number in a single collective record when they’re not

Cons

  • Limits the ability to search for specific volume titles and variations. Record must have complete table of contents and volume titles for patron searching
  • Including all creators for long-running titles, especially when the creators change frequently, makes for unwieldy records and necessitates frequent updates
  • Subject headings will need to apply to the comic as a whole, not individual volumes
  • Must have consistent volume numbers as any inconsistency will make the volume order messy or out of sorts
  • Can be complicated to adjust when new editions are released as to when to create a new record or attach the new editions’ volumes to the original record and lose some bibliographic integrity

Cataloging some or all continuing titles using serial bibliographic records

The final approach to cataloging continuing comics is to use serial records. These are used by many libraries that collect single issues of comics (i.e., floppies). 

Continuing comics titles, especially American superhero titles, may not have a single creator; when cataloged as serials, they often get a main entry based on uniform title instead of personal name. Serial descriptions are also based on the first or earliest available issue in hand; and any major title changes (e.g., a significant change to the first five words of the title) require a new record. Most serial records also do not list contributors; however, if the continuing title has a short run or has consistent contributors, they can be listed in a general note field with access points added. Serials, unlike monographs, can’t include titles of issues in contents notes, thus losing the ability for patrons to search by issue or volume title.

The complexities of serials cataloging mean many libraries treat collected editions and trade paperbacks of continuing titles as multi-volume monographs (even if they have no predetermined end). This is especially true for comics with frequent title changes (i.e., Black Cat comics, Black Cat western comics, Black Cat mystery comics, etc.). 

Other libraries employ a hybrid approach sometimes referred to as a “partially analyzed series;” this method involves cataloging each issue on an individual bibliographic record and then linking these to the serial record for the title as a whole. The serial record itself does not have any items attached to it; instead, it has a summary holdings statement. This allows the library to trace all the creators and provide subject analysis for each individual issue, as described in the section on cataloging all comics individually.

Saga in the Library of Congress catalog showing the serial record approach.

Saga in the Library of Congress catalog, using the serial record approach.

Using serial bibliographic records

Pros

  • Allows for continuing comics with different creators to all be cataloged by title on one record
  • Useful for libraries who collect single issue comics
  • Most serial records do not include creators, so adding as they change is not necessary 
  • Can be combined with individually cataloging every volume to create a holdings record under the title (similar to magazine holdings)

Cons

  • Do not include individual volume titles, so patrons cannot search by volume titles
  • Most serial records do not include creators, so patrons cannot search by writers, artists, etc.
  • Subject headings will need to apply to the comic as a whole, not individual volumes
  • Major titles changes (in the first five words) necessitate a new serial record

Remember–whichever of the above methods you choose, it is important to be as consistent as possible within your catalog, and employ the method that works best for your patrons. We hope this helps you feel more informed and confident in your local comics cataloging choices! 

This answer was distilled from Best Practices for Cataloging Comics and Graphic Novels Using RDA and MARC21, released September 2022 by the ALA Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table’s Metadata and Cataloging Committee (pages 2-6). See that document for more detailed explanations, and also more suggestions (and examples) for improving comics cataloging.

Have a question about comics, graphic novels, manga, and libraries?

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Ask the Comics Librarians: Censorship & Challenges

Earlier this year, the American Library Association reported that they recorded 729 challenge reports to 1,597 books in 2021. Sadly, recent news suggests libraries and schools aren’t out of the woods. In this roundtable, members of our staff share advice and resources regarding challenges and censorship. We hope this roundtable will be helpful to librarians dealing with challenges or worried about having to handle one.

We also want to announce that ALA’s Graphic Novels and Comics Roundtable is soliciting comments from librarians about resources for dealing with challenges! Head over to this survey link and fill it out! They are taking responses through May 31, 2022.

If you have experienced a challenge (or more), what lessons from the experience do you wish to impart?

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Shawn

Stick to your policy and trust your instincts. If you don’t have a collection development policy, or the one you have is out of date, create a new one! In most cases, if something was purchased according to policy, it can be defended and retained.

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Megan

I agree, having a good policy is key! I know that the Office of Intellectual Freedom offers resources on constructing policies. Quite a few libraries also have their challenge/reconsideration policies available on their websites.

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Tayla

I think it is also important to have your front line staff (even non-librarians) be familiar with your library’s collection development policy and maybe even have some talking points for them if a patron ever comes to them with a challenge or complaint. You don’t want staff who a patron is interacting with at the circulation, reference, or children’s desk to be giving out incorrect information about how you library selects materials, because that could lead to the patron being more compelled to submit a formal challenge. I think a lot of formal challenges can be avoided by making patrons aware of our policy and selection process up front. 

 

A statement about collecting materials based on their artistic merit as well as their literary merit could go a long way in protecting graphic novels in your collection.

Tayla

How can you use a challenge policy for graphic novels? Are there issues outside the scope of a challenge policy that you might want to prepare for?

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Shawn

One of the main issues with graphic novels is that they are frequently not reviewed by the “standard review sources” like Booklist or Publisher’s Weekly. If you rely on review sources in your policy you should include other more comics focused sources. No Flying No Tights is a great start. The site Comic Book Roundup is great for this as well.

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Megan

The School Library Journal also has a Good Comics for Kids blog that may be worth following for reviews specifically for children’s comics. I’d also like to point out that No Flying, No Tights links to additional review sources on the Comics 101 page.

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Tayla

The biggest difference between challenges to graphic novels and challenges to other texts is that graphic novels include images, and challengers are frequently objecting to these images outside of the context of graphic novels as a whole. It’s important to make sure that the language of your collection development policy is broad enough that it covers materials outside of traditional text based materials. I think a statement about collecting materials based on their artistic merit as well as their literary merit could go a long way in protecting graphic novels in your collection.

Requiring the challenger to be a member or stakeholder in your library is an excellent first step to curtailing these sorts of copy and paste complaints. Don’t remove books without the proper procedures being followed, and stick to your own rules.

Shawn

Many challenges sent in right now are either leaping over the official policies that many schools or libraries have in place or are using the process in a way that ignores the rules (copying and pasting complaints into a sequence of challenges.) Are there any collection development policy additions or alterations that can help combat these tactics?

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Shawn

Requiring the challenger to be a member or stakeholder in your library is an excellent first step to curtailing these sorts of copy and paste complaints. Don’t remove books without the proper procedures being followed, and stick to your own rules. In an ideal world you have an administration or board who will back you up. Additionally, when handling requests I search the web for the book and see if the same complaint has popped up elsewhere (ALA, Amazon, Goodreads, etc) and that informs my decision. If you can show a coordinated campaign that can help your case, since the challenge isn’t originating locally.

What resources do you recommend for getting help with graphic novel challenges?

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Shawn

The Office of Intellectual Freedom from ALA should be one of your first stops. Report, report, report. Even if you don’t need assistance, or your defence fails. The Graphic Novels and Comics Roundtable is also developing a guide for handling challenges to comics (coming soon!) and the Roundtable itself is a good resource for assistance. Also consider contacting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund or the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) if necessary. 

 

Are there local allies librarians and/or educators should know about who can partner with them to help fight challenges?

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Shawn

Potentially! I mentioned a bunch of national groups in the last question, but you can find local chapters of many of those groups. There are also typically local parent groups who are anti-censorship in addition to the challengers, and if you are aware of them reach out to them!

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Tayla

See if your state library organization has an intellectual freedom committee or section. They may have resources that they can share with you. Also your state organization will probably be thankful that you made them aware of a challenge happening in the state.

What resources do you WISH were available to all who are dealing with these challenges?  What would help that you have not yet seen?

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Shawn

The guide/toolkit from GNCRT is going to be a big help for these situations, and I wish it had existed when I first started getting challenges. Just having links to the various help groups and advice for librarians all in one place will be a big help.c

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Megan

You’ve mentioned the GNCRT resources a couple of times, Shawn! I’m really excited to see these!  Can you say what the resources are going to cover, or are things still being kept under wraps? Any word on a release date?

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Shawn

There is a committee creating a guide or toolkit to assist library staff with challenges to comics specifically. We’ve met a few times and are creating a survey to specifically target what library workers want to know, but the guide hasn’t been created yet. It’s a work in progress, and something will be presented at Annual this summer!

Make sure you have a clear goal of developing a well-rounded and diverse collection and promote it for the audience for which it is intended; use reviews and other materials to support your decision.

Megan

We are observing a stronger push for greater parental control over curriculums and library collections. Have you seen instances of soft censorship?  If you and your fellow library workers have had a discussion about soft censorship at your library, what steps did you decide to take to prevent it?

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Shawn

I haven’t personally seen this in my library system or in my children’s school so I can’t speak to specific examples or steps. All I can say is don’t do it! If the book is in your library, it needs to be accessible. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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Megan

I agree that it shouldn’t be done. I do think it can be easier to resist pressure to censor the collection or make uncontroversial purchases if you’re under leadership that supports you and values your expertise. So much of an institution’s behavior comes from the top, and working to change the conversation and policies at your institution could help. Also remember that you and your library can get outside support from organizations such as the Office of Intellectual Freedom in the face of challenges. It can be easy to forget you have outside support when you’re dealing with an intensely stressful situation!

We’ve started to see more libraries commit to social justice and diverse collections, and I think setting goals like this can help reframe your approach to collection development.  Make sure you have a clear goal of developing a well-rounded and diverse collection and promote it for the audience for which it is intended; use reviews and other materials to support your decision. The NFNT staff has put together some lists and has a sorting function that allow you to drill down to specific groups. 

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Tayla

I can’t think of any specific instances of soft censorship that I’ve witnessed or participated in per say, but I know that I’ve definitely thought twice about buying certain materials because I didn’t want to deal with the possible pushback if I did add them to my collection. And I think we all do it in small ways because we all have our own biases. So I think an important part of stopping soft censorship is checking in with your own biases and asking yourself, “Am I not selecting this material because I don’t agree with it or feel it’s too controversial or because it is not a good fit for my collection?”

Further Resources and Information

For further resources, aid, and information on challenges and best practices, we recommend the following starting points.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
aclu.org

With more than 1.7 million members, 500 staff attorneys, thousands of volunteer attorneys, and offices throughout the nation, the ACLU of today continues to fight government abuse and to vigorously defend individual freedoms including speech and religion, a woman’s right to choose, the right to due process, citizens’ rights to privacy and much more.

 

Book Riot Anti-Censorship Tool Kit
bookriot.com/

“What can be done to push back against book challenges and bans? Without structures like local journalism to stay on the beat, how does the average citizen or average librarian, school librarian, or administrator stay abreast and work to ensure intellectual freedom remains a fundamental right? There are several potent tools and methods to engage with, whether you’re able to dedicate a few minutes to the cause or lend hours of time to do the work. These lists are split up for citizens and for those inside libraries, but know that these are not mutually exclusive lists.”

This extensive list of resources from Kelly Jensen is invaluable for anyone in a community fighting challenges.

 

Book Riot Censorship Coverage
bookriot.com/

Book Riot is the largest independent editorial book site in North America, and home to a host of media, from podcasts to newsletters to original content, all designed around diverse readers and across all genres. In particular, Kelly Jensen at Book Riot has been instrumental in sharing practical advice and tracking censorship and challenges across the country.

Check out her ongoing coverage here.

 

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
cbldf.org

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers. The CBLDF provides legal referrals, representation, advice, assistance, and education in furtherance of these goals.

 

EveryLibrary
everylibrary.org

EveryLibrary is the first and only national political action committee for libraries. We are a gold-rated non-profit organization that helps public, school, and college libraries secure new funding through tax and advisory referendum, bonds elections, negotiations with school boards, and advocacy at municipal, state, and federal levels. 

 

Office of Intellectual Freedom (ALA) Challenge Support
OIF Challenge Support

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom provides confidential support during censorship challenges to library materials, services, and programs. Anyone can report censorship, even if they do not require assistance. 

Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table
ala.org/rt/gncrt

The Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table of the American Library Association is dedicated to supporting library staff in all aspects of engaging with graphic novels and comics, including collection development, programming, and advocacy. With more than 1000+ members from all over North America – and colleagues in Australia, Europe, Latin America and more – we are committed to comics advocacy and library and educational work in all aspects and in all areas. We believe #comicsareforeveryone.

 

Not Quite Banned: Soft Censorship That Makes LGBTQIA+ Stories Disappear
School Library Journal Article on Soft Censorship

Book banning can be quite dramatic, with petitions, public outcry, media coverage. Not infrequently, it also means a boost in attention and sales for a book that otherwise would not have been as visible.

But there is more subtle censorship that doesn’t get the headlines: a quiet banishing that often comes without explanation.”

 

Trade Secrets: Addressing Challenges to Comics in Libraries
Booklist Trade Secrets

A guide to addressing challenges from the Chair of the GNCRT Addressing Challenges Committee.

 

What’s It Like to Be the Target of A Book Banning Effort?
School Library Journal Article

School Librarian Martha Hickson Tells Her Story.  This article not only prepares staff for what it’s like to go through a challenge but also provides several practical steps staff can take to deal with challenges in terms of policies and emotional impacts on the staff and community.

 

Have a question about comics, graphic novels, manga, and libraries?

Send us a question through this form. We may use it in a future column!

Ask the Comics Librarians: Small Spaces

One of the frequent questions we have all encountered in our professional work with comics and libraries is the question of how best to maintain a comics collection in a library where the physical space available is limited.  We all wish we had unlimited shelf space and unlimited budgets, but we all struggle to make the best choices within limits for our collections and community.

For this Ask the Comics Librarians column, two of our contributors with experience in building collections in smaller spaces, Meredith and Shannan,  weigh in with advice.

What does your space look like? What’s your collection size? 

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Meredith

Everyone loves a cozy library but one of the downsides of working in a smaller branch is lack of shelf space, especially in our children’s area which is less than half the adult area. Until recently, I only had 6 shelves for my branch’s graphic novel collection, which is our second most popular children’s collection, behind picture books. It was only thanks to a closed-during-the-pandemic weeding project that I was able to expand to 10 shelves. Our current children’s graphic novel collection is somewhere between 150-175 items. 

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Shannon

I’ve worked in a few smaller library environments, but my current is just about my smallest, not helped by the fact that all of my books are on carts while the teen space gets renovated! Currently I have about 990 books (a mix of novels, nonfiction, and Spanish materials), 68 audiobooks on CD, and 762 graphic novels (combining manga and comics) in the teen collection. 

Is there a struggle with small spaces you’re still trying to find a solution to?

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Meredith

I struggle with graphic novel series, especially if it’s okay to ever split them up and weed some of the less popular titles in the series. Some, like Amulet, see consistent checkouts for all volumes. Other series, primarily ones without an overarching story, might have a few volumes that are checked out frequently with others spending more time on your shelf. It’s okay to weed the ones that aren’t moving. You’ll have more space to give other series a shot or replace the worn out copies of titles in other popular series. But it’s still a struggle every time to decide what’s the best call for each series!

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Shannon

Finding ways to carve out space for displays is the toughest thing for me. It feels like if there’s an empty countertop or shelving unit, then I should be using that to maximize storage of other things or for flyers. There’s no perfect solution for this because it really depends on your space and your resources, but having a small book cart that’s dedicated to the department means it can serve as a rolling display and maybe also passive programming supplies. 

What are some ways you’ve found to maximize your space?

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Meredith

Weed regularly. I personally love weeding! It’s a great way to find the gaps in your collection and get a better understanding of what your readers are looking for. Some graphic novels have lasting popularity but others are, unfortunately, much more an of-the-moment trend. Don’t be afraid to get rid of that beat-up copy of a book that hasn’t circulated in 3 years, even if it was the hottest hold back then. 

Another thing I’ve found to be helpful in my small space is shelving by book title. This was a system already in place when I arrived at my branch. This includes kids’ non-fiction graphic novels. How does this relate to the small space? When readers come in looking for a specific title, it’s easier to direct them to an alphabetized layout. For non-graphic novel series, we keep them shelved by series title. With graphic novels, especially ones with popular characters like Marvel or DC superheroes, being able to point to all the Spider-man or Batman books makes for easier navigation. Plus, it helps you see what characters your readers want and which ones maybe can make their way to the weeding cart. Kids who like a particular series won’t be looking for each individual book but instead, they can find them all in one spot together.

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Shannon

One of the lucky things about being part of a system library is that it takes some of the guilt away at curating my collection more closely to my population, and it means that if there are books I can’t keep at my location, there are other locations that might want them so they’re not just getting weeded. So, I generally try to pack as much manga in my space as I can, because that’s really been what the majority of teens have been asking for the last few years, cycling out the series I’m noticing aren’t really moving, and checking with patrons on what they’d like to see at the branch. This is true of duplicates too; if I see that I’ve got more than two copies of something on the shelf, I put the duplicates up for grabs for other branches. Those duplicates are taking up precious shelf space for new and interesting books. 

Do you have tips for someone starting work in a small space for the first time?

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Meredith

Don’t be afraid to curate for your community. I read a lot about new releases for kids’ graphic novels and get grand ideas of being able to get them all for my branch. Realistically though, I know what’s getting checked out. Some libraries can’t keep manga on the shelf. At my branch, with the exception of a few Pokemon books, kids’ manga rarely goes out. Rather than continuing to hope it gets popular, I don’t purchase it with my discretionary money. 

Be sure to talk to your readers about what they’re looking for! Booklists are always helpful but patron feedback is crucial in making sure what’s on your small shelf space is what the community wants.

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Shannon

I think one of the biggest things for starting work in a small space is to be aggressive with the collection. Weed books that are grubby, aren’t circulating, and are just gathering dust on the shelf. A small collection needs to be one that’s moving because there’s no room for those books people pass over time and again. I try to keep the weeded books and comics that are in better condition to use for future crafts, within reason (because lack of space). This also means being aggressive in promoting the collection, with displays and other ways to bring attention to it, and bringing it to the attention of patrons who may not realize what’s available. Weeding comics and manga can be nerve-wracking because if a series isn’t complete but has dropped in popularity, there’s every chance it’ll flare back up when say an adaptation comes out but the older volumes won’t be available anymore for purchase.

Have a question about comics, graphic novels, manga, and libraries?

Send us a question through this form. We may use it in a future column!

Ask the Comics Librarians: Manga FAQ

Manga collections provide some similar and different challenges for selectors.  To help anyone new to collecting manga (or who want to consider their collections again!), read on for our comics librarians tackling frequently asked questions about best practices for organizing, labeling, ordering, and weeding a manga collection.

Jump to:

We hope this installment of Ask the Comics Librarians has given you all helpful advice and practices about how to best organize your manga collections.

How do you define manga at your library?  What goes into that collection? Anything you keep out of that collection that people might think is manga?

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Eva

For us, manga are comics made in Japan for a Japanese audience. There are plenty of books that are the same trim size as manga that aren’t actually manga. Same with art style. Just because the characters have big eyes and small mouths (noses optional), doesn’t mean it’s manga. But since we shelve all of our graphic novels together regardless of country of origin, the definition doesn’t really matter all that much.

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Shannon

I’ll admit I don’t know our official definition, but I have seen works like Roadqueen: Eternal Roadtrip by Mira Ong Chua in manga, so I think we look more at format than country of origin. There’s also manwha (comics from Korea) in our manga collection, and we collect manga for all age groups. There are definitely comics of Japanese origin that aren’t in manga, which has to do with their content being more like indie comics than manga.

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Robin

I follow a fairly strict definition for our manga section: Japanese comics originally published for a Japanese audience.  We have occasionally included titles which are manhwa from the Korean market or manhua from the Chinese market, but the overwhelming majority are titles from Japan. I aim to be clear, through shelving, that manga can be just as varied as other comics traditions, including everything from kids comics to indie literary sagas to instructional titles. This helps dispel the perception that manga is only the classic genre or visual stereotypes.  We don’t include titles that are manga-style in our manga sections, like Scott Pilgrim or Nightschool, but instead those titles are shelved in our graphic section.  We are lucky that our shelves are flexible and plentiful enough that we can accommodate the taller or larger volumes (omnibus or special editions) without a struggle.

How many manga volumes do you have in your library collection?

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Eva

I’m a children’s librarian (serving ages 0-12), so not nearly enough. That said, I have a bunch. I just did a major weeding of my graphic novel collection, so there used to be more, but I still have at least 55 different manga series. If we average a conservative 10 volumes per series (some have fewer than 10, Pokémon has eight billion), that’s 550 volumes.

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Shannon

It varies from branch to branch; my last branch had 785 adult graphic and 876 for teens, but my current branch is a bit smaller, so I’m looking at 744 total graphic novels (with about 400-500 of that in manga) for teens and only 383 for adults, with 100 or so of that in manga. We just don’t have as much space in this building to support a larger collection. The teen space is also currently under renovation, so it’s all on carts right now! I can’t wait to get it back on shelves.

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Robin

We have around 2,400 volumes of comics in the Teen section — 1,342 of those volumes are our manga collection.  Tween also has a substantial number of titles, but Teen has the largest section at this point in time.

In terms of balance, how is your entire comics collection balanced — roughly how many manga series do you have, compared to superheroes?  To other graphic novels?

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Eva

Like manga, I don’t have nearly enough superhero graphic novels. Thanks, Marvel and DC, for never keeping your books in print. (Weasels.) Right now, graphic novels from traditional book publishers are what gets purchased the most because it’s what’s available the most for my clientele. But I buy the manga and superhero books I think our kids will enjoy as often as I can.

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Shannon

Just from judging the balance at the branches I’ve worked in, we have more manga for teens than comics for teens, but more comics for adults than manga for adults. It’s definitely a struggle against books going out of print, and the increasing number of imprints from publishers, even Marvel and DC, with more and more specialized series coming out that aren’t part of the general comics continuum. In both age groups though, we definitely have more cape comics than graphic novels.

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Robin

In terms of series, the rest of those standing orders include 17 superhero series and 8 graphic series (including series like Heartstopper, Lumberjanes, and Star Wars.) In terms of volumes, 19% are part of our graphic collection, 24% are our superhero collection, and 56% are our manga titles. So, in terms of shelf space, manga takes up a lot of space! In terms of narratives represented (stand alone volumes or ongoing series), 50% of our titles are graphic titles, 35% manga, and 15% are superhero tales.

How do you shelve your manga?  Is it interfiled, or in a separate collection, or something else?

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Eva

We interfile all our graphic novels together. We have the luxury of space to do that.

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Shannon

I separate comics/graphic novels and manga. The manga is shelved by title in volume order, on its own shelving when possible. The adult collection only has one small range, so I have the manga separated and on the first few shelves, then the comics and graphic novels on the lower shelves to help with visibility.

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Robin

We have separate sections for graphic, manga, and superhero titles within all of our age range sections, so our manga is separated into its own shelving.  We shelve by title and volume number, adding subtitles as needed to distinguish between sequel and variant series.

Do you have manga for different age ranges?  If so, how do you decide which series go where?

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Eva

We have three distinct graphic novel collections, one for kids, one for teens, and one for adult readers. We generally rely on professional reviews to tell us where to shelve the books, but that doesn’t always help with manga that is fine for tweens but labeled for teens. That’s when I’ll often turn to Twitter and ask people who have read the series if they think it’s appropriate for a 10-year-old. Not really a technique I’d recommend, though.

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Shannon

Like Eva, there are three collections in my system: one for kids, one for teens, and one for adults. We decide based primarily on publisher age range, and occasionally on how other libraries have them shelved. Of course, series can be shifted locations based on patron or staff feedback. 

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Robin

We also have manga in all of our age ranges, though we are lucky to have four sections (and separate spaces): kids, tween, teen, and adult.  I work closely with our Tween Librarian, so we often discuss in selecting and meeting reader demand which series fit in Tween versus Teen. For the most popular series, we do allow overlap, in that multiple age ranges might have copies of the same title, but we try to minimize that to save our budgets. I look at publisher age ratings, and consult with colleagues online as well. I also check the original published magazine in Japan via Wikipedia. Knowing that a title’s original intended audience is shonen (guys up to age 16 or so), shojo (girls up to age 16), seinen (adult men), or josei (adult women) helps me assess just where it might best fit in my collection. Those target audiences may or may not always match up to its audience here in the US, but I have a better sense of what might show up in terms of typical content.

How do you label your manga collection?  How does that labeling relate to how you label your other comics collections (is it the same, different, and if different, why?)

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Eva

We have our children’s graphic novel collection labeled by series/title rather than by author. My priority is the reader, so we’ve made it as easy as possible for the kids to find what they want to read. If they want to read about Superman, they can go to the S’s, rather than try to find all the different people who have written for that series. Same with Sailor Moon. The kids know they want Sailor Moon and that Sailor starts with S, but probably won’t remember who the creator is.

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Shannon

All comics and manga are labeled the same across the system, with spine labels stating ‘graphic novel’ and then the author’s last name. I’d love to change this to series (so the spine label would list Batman instead of say Snyder), but in a system our size that would be a pretty ambitious project. Here’s hoping!

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Robin

Our manga titles get an “M” sticker on the top of their spine (white bold M on a dark pink background), and then the classification is by title (subtitle if needed) and volume number.

How do you handle ordering manga?  Do you have standing orders, or create spreadsheets of ongoing series, or…?

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Eva

Since I only order books for children, standing orders have never really been worth setting up. When I decide to pick up a series, I’ll order as far in advance as possible, so that if I miss a release, I have a buffer. I also subscribe to Any New Books, which alerts me to graphic novels being released that week. It’s not foolproof and it doesn’t catch everything, but it’s tremendously helpful when it comes to smaller publishers that may not get noticed by the review sites.

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Shannon

I don’t handle ordering for the most part; we have a collection development department who does ordering. I believe they have standing orders on continuing series and keep their eyes open on new and upcoming ones. I will occasionally send requests for series to add when I see a gap, such as yuri manga for adults. 

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Robin

I rely on our standing orders, which I create via Ingram, to automatically order all of our ongoing manga series.  I definitely keep an eye out for reviews and coverage of new or newly popular series, and will add a few volumes in a series to test their popularity before I commit to adding them to the standing order list.  Right now I have 51 series on standing order, 26 of which are manga series.  I do check in every 6 months or so to adjust our standing order, taking out what has completed and adding in any new titles that have made the cut to be added to our standing orders.

How do you weed a manga collection? If a series is waning in popularity, do you weed the entire series? Or only the volumes that aren’t going out?

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Eva

You all have heard me say this a million times, but manga isn’t like most American and European comics in that each series tells one long story, rarely in story arcs. So only having a few random volumes of a manga series is like having a few random volumes of the Harry Potter series. Sure, you can read the individual volumes, but you’ll never know what’s really going on. So I weed a series if it has waned in popularity (this rarely happens) or if 15% of the volumes are missing and can’t be reordered. Skip one volume and you can still figure out the story. Skip four volumes? You might as well skip it altogether. Also — and I know this is controversial — I need books to wear out, go missing, or get weeded. Otherwise I won’t have room to bring in new materials. I rarely agonize over weeding.

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Shannon

I tend to go with grubby first; if they’re worn out, it’s time to go. From there it goes to how long has it been since it was last checked out. Since I’m part of a system library, often even if something isn’t circulating at my branch, it might at others’ so I’ll offer it up before moving to weeding. So really, the big one is condition, though the two can coincide like the poor last copies of Wish I encountered recently. No recent checkouts, and looking their age. And thankfully since I am part of a system, if I weed volume 15 of a 30 volume series, there’s a good chance we still have other copies available.

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Robin

I usually weed an entire series, rather than leave only parts of it on the shelf. That decision is driven by the popularity and availability of replacement volumes. I have kept some series on our shelves longer, provided they’re circulating, if I realize that I won’t be able to replace volumes because the title is out of print.  However, circulation is key, and as with most graphic series they circulated robustly until they fade out of popularity. I am lucky that I have a substantial budget, so if I need to replace volumes, I can do so regularly and easily. I also will take advantage of omnibus volumes (especially the 3-in-1 paperbacks) to replace the grubby early volumes of our consistently popular series, like Naruto or One Piece.

How do your patrons ask for manga at your library?  Has that changed anything about how you shelve, display, or label the collection over the years?

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Eva

In my library, kids don’t often ask for manga unless they’ve seen the anime. Pokémon is a perennial favorite. Dragon Ball is always checked out. But once they’re done reading those (can anyone really be done reading Pokémon?), they’ll browse and find Sugar Sugar Rune or Twin Spica, etc. Or non-manga comics. Browsing is one of the main reasons I interfile all the graphic novels together.

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Shannon

I’ve actually noticed recently with teens that they’ll see the manga on the shelves and comment to their friends “Oh look, anime!” I think because they’re getting exposed to anime more easily now than manga. So I’m often getting requests for series that have an adaptation, which means I can’t keep My Hero Academia on the shelves. It does mean that for displays, I focus more on series that aren’t as popular or don’t have an adaptation to help highlight them. 

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Robin

We have many, many browsers and a lot of teens who stand in our comics hallway and recommend manga back and forth. They know a number of our librarians on staff and can suggest titles, and I often ask them myself about any series they might like us to have or that we might be missing. When they do ask, they tend to ask by title or by describing the plot, rather than by creator or genre.

If there was one piece of advice you’d want to give a librarian new to collecting manga, what would it be?

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Eva

Ask yourself what you’d do if you were collecting cookbooks, but don’t cook. Read reviews, ask people who love the format to make recommendations, look to see what libraries consider to be core titles (NFNT can help with that), etc. Most of all, read. Pick the series that circulates best in your library and read that. Or find a series in a genre you already love and start there. Be patient. Reading manga will take some practice, so give yourself time to get used to reading from right to left.

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Shannon

If you don’t already read manga personally, try some out. Even if it turns out to not be your thing, it can help to be familiar with some of the features of the format and the styles of storytelling you can find in manga. It means you can also potentially help new readers who come to you with questions not just on what to read, but maybe how to read. And this is cheating since it’s technically a second piece of advice, but consider your space. If you have a smaller space, you might want to focus on collecting just the first few volumes of lots of series rather than the full series of just a few. Hopefully you can then help fill in the gaps from there with interlibrary loan if you’re not part of a system library.

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Robin

For your readers: listen to them, and let them educate you!  I rely on my readers to tell me what’s exciting now, what’s just been released as anime, and what old school title might be making a resurgence. I love hearing what they think about series new and old, and it helps me immensely in making sure we keep up to date.

For yourself: try actually reading manga, and make sure it’s of a type that you’d normally enjoy in other formats. Whatever you like to read in terms of genre or style — romance or mystery or biography or sci-fi — there’s a manga that you might like. (We here at NFNT would be happy to help you find a story that you’d enjoy!) I think a lot of people who don’t read any manga still retain a lot of stereotypes about it, but there are just as many types of manga as there are in other comics traditions (if not more!).  You don’t have to become a manga fan, but if you have read a volume or a series, it will help you understand a bit more what your readers get out of it, and what it’s different from other types of comics.


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Ask the Comics Librarians: How do I label my collection?

One of the frequently asked questions librarians ask themselves in collecting comics boils down to: how do I classify my collection?  How do I make the organization and labeling clear, easy for both patrons and staff to find?  What can I do to work within the limits of the physical space I have?  What do I do with manga?  Superheroes?  Nonfiction titles?

We recently had a question sent in about how to best arrange a large comics and graphic novel collection in a public library. 

Right now in the children’s area, we have all our graphic novels and comics by title (or series title if there is one). I would like to re-arrange them so we have Manga (by series or by author), Superheros (by character name or by Universe + character name, i.e. DC – Batman, and all Other graphic novels & comics – by author. Currently the collection numbers 1,600 items, and we probably purchase about 160-200 titles a year. If we have different shelves, the spine label must be different enough that a staff person could see exactly which shelf it goes on.

Do you have any suggestions or advice?

A Children's Librarian

At a public library

I’ve gathered together a group of we NFNT staff to talk about collection organization, including current systems, what we see as best practices, and the variations that can work in different institutions.

How do you have your graphic novel collection organized currently? 

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Katie

In our smallish branch library (about 60,000 volumes), we have approximately 2,200 volumes of graphic novels, separated equally between juvenile material and YA/adult. Juvenile graphic novels are shelved prominently, right next to new releases. They are shelved alphabetically, usually by author or occasionally by series title. This section houses everything from easy reader style graphic novels to the Amulet series. Our adult/teen graphic novels are shelved near our study area. They are separated into nonfiction, fiction, superhero titles, and manga. We use color coded tape on spines (and shelving notes in the catalog) to differentiate between subsections.

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Matt

When I worked in a public library, we had our childrens’ GN and teen GN collections separated into their own special areas. Adult GNs were filed among the books in our Adult Fiction collection, which was not separated out according to genre. The three sections were in different physical areas of the library and numbered roughly 2000 volumes altogether.

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Shannon

 I work in a public library system with 30 locations. I’d say there’s probably 500 total young adult titles, combining manga and comics, and slightly more than that with the adult graphic novels. Our collection floats between branches, so that’s not a solid number unfortunately. I have the manga and comics separated physically, on different sections of shelving for the adults and on different small bookshelves for the young adult. Both adult and young adult have manga organized alphabetically by series title; comics are separated into two sections, with Marvel & DC organized alphabetically by character, then the independent comics organized alphabetically by author. Juvenile is handled by the children’s librarian, and she has all juvenile graphics interfiled by author.

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Robin

I work in a public library, and we have three locations — all with graphic novel collections for every age range: children’s, tween, teen, and adult. We have around 12,000 (distinct) titles but many more volumes. For example, our Teen section alone at our main location has 2,400 volumes.

The four sections are set up in each audience’s spaces, and at this time all of the collections are organized the same way. All graphic titles are shelved separately as a collection with three major, color-coded sections: graphic, manga, and super. Each section has a color label featuring the section letter that goes at the top of the spine: G on a green background for graphic, M on a pink background for manga, and S on a red background for super. These colors were chosen to not duplicate already used colors in our labeling, and we include the letters to make sure it works even if the colors don’t jump out at a patron. Any age range stickers (Tween and Teen) also go at the top of the spine.  The titles are then classified by title or character first, then the first word or words of a subtitle added, plus the volume number if needed, on a label at the bottom of the spine.  Nonfiction graphic titles are integrated into each section and classified by title.

What is the logic behind your current classification set up?

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Katie

The juvenile graphic novels are shelved where they will be highly accessible. Because it is a smaller collection, all types and genres of material are shelved together. In the YA/adult section, graphic novels are separated into smaller sections (superhero manga, etc.) to enhance browsing and “findability.”

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Matt

The idea was to keep the graphic novels separated according to reading level and age-appropriate content.

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Shannon

The spatial separation is partially because we do have a small teen space and want to encourage it as a space for them and their materials, and the adult graphic novels are with the rest of the adult fiction. Separating manga and comics was something I did when I came to the branch because I felt it made things easier to find for manga fans, who generally know the title but not the author. It also made finding all of one character, like Batman, easier, since he’s been written by a few different people at this point.

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Robin

In the past we had different systems depending on the audience and selectors while also taking physical space into consideration at each location. Three years ago all interested parties (selectors, catalogers, and our Head of Collection Development) got together to come up with one system for all age ranges and locations.  Our goal was to be clear and easy to understand from a patron point of view while also being consistent so that our technical services folks could catalog and classify titles consistently.  Creating a consistent procedure makes each section familiar as patrons age up as well as makes browsing easy.  Our patrons were already expressing a preference for being able to browse only manga or superhero titles, and we hoped that separating out the graphic would also keep those stand-alone titles from getting lost amid the long runs of manga and superhero titles. Also, manga is most often of similar size, as are superhero comics, and thus shelving them together means we can shift our shelving height to best suit those sizes.

Do you like the current system you have?  If you could change one thing, what would it be?

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Katie

For the most part I believe our system works very well. One thing I would change would be to intershelve nonfiction and fiction graphic novels. So many graphic novels are a mix of fiction, history, autobiography, and folklore that I think the division between fiction and nonfiction is not a very useful one.

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Matt

I would have liked to separate out the adult fiction section by genre and have a separate graphic novels section, as with the children and teens, as I feared the adult GNs got lost in the shuffle. Of course given the content complaints and challenges we got on the teen graphic novels, that may have been intentional on the part of my bosses. Still, it was an improvement on when I first got there and all the graphic novels were in a single section, with Watchmen shelved next to Babymouse! 

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Shannon

I’m not completely happy with how I have the independent comics organized compared to Marvel & DC, because I think it’s confusing for people less familiar with comics. Otherwise, I like it!

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Robin

I am very pleased with our current set up!  After many years of the system being less consistent, it’s wonderful to have a collection organization that really encourages browsing.  For me, the ultimate point is clarity — I want patrons to be able to find what they’re looking for without needing to ask us, and this system is both aesthetically clear on the shelf and easy for patrons to parse.

One issue that crops up for youth services librarians is what to do with extremely popular creators, like Raina Telgemeier, who write stand-alone titles. In our current system, they are shelved by title, so it means her titles are scattered throughout the collection instead of next to each other.  However, at this point most kids know which title they’re looking for, and ask for them by title, so up to now this hasn’t been a barrier to patrons finding the titles.

Do your readers like the set up?  How do you know?

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Katie

We don’t receive a lot of feedback overall about our shelving practices, so we don’t have a lot of information about this. Our graphic novel collections circulate well, so we feel confident about our system. Sometimes we do need to orient new users to our layout, but once patrons understand it, they seem to easily find what they’re looking for.

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Matt

I never heard any complaints about it, apart from adults having no idea we had graphic novels filed among the general fiction.

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Shannon

I’ve gotten positive feedback from patrons about the change to manga who remember how it was organized before, and when I explain the comics usually they appreciate it.

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Robin

We’ve had a lot of patrons who are long-time comics browsers let us know how much they like the new system, especially the manga and superhero fans.  In observation, I’ve also noticed how much more easily readers find the graphics section, including nonfiction tities.

Are there other systems you’ve seen or heard about that you think work particularly well?  Why?

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Katie

With the caveats I’ve mentioned, I haven’t seen other systems that work better. One option I’d be interested to see in practice is separating out more advanced Juvenile titles from younger ones.

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Matt

The LCC method of sorting graphic novels works well, in my experience.

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Shannon

Not that I can think of, though I’m always looking for more and better ways to organize them.

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Robin

I think a lot is defined by your physical set up — limits on shelving and separate collections are so varied across libraries. I definitely understand that classification is impacted by those limitations.  I am lucky to work in a library that gives us the space to have multiple collections, but I completely understand if some arrangements are not feasible because there just isn’t the room.

In an ideal world, how would you set up your graphic novel collection for your patrons?

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Katie

In an ideal world, we would have the physical space to shelve much more of our graphic novel collection face out. Our space is always limited, and graphic novels are tight on the shelves. Face out shelving is a great way to encourage browsing and trying new things, and I think it would also increase circulation.

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Matt

I think separating the books based on age level is essential in a public library, if only for ease of organization. However, I like the LCC practice, which allows for series to be sorted by volume number without worrying about the author’s or artist’s last name. If possible, I’d favor a hybrid approach that would separate out graphic novels according to age range but sort them within those sections according to series, title and creator.

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Shannon

Ultimately, I’d love to have graphic novels all by series (since of course there are series outside of Marvel & DC), then have it alpha by author within the series, for all comics. Manga I think really does best being organized by series.

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Robin

The one thing I wish we could do to make it easier for patrons is to somehow convince mainstream superhero publishers to 1) title series in a way that makes them distinct and 2) keep up a logical volume number run.  With our current system, we’ve been able to separate major character runs (example: SPIDER-MAN Miles versus SPIDER-MAN Peter), but the repetition (or lack) of series names and restarting volume runs makes our major superhero comics sections a bit of a mess.  We have way too many BATMAN vol. 1 volumes, and keeping them in order by subseries feels like a losing game.

If you could give this librarian any two pieces of advice, what would you say?

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Katie

I would take a careful look at how kids and families are using the collection before making a decision. Think first and foremost about what will make it easier for them to find what they are looking for, rather than what makes most sense in your mind. When we have done this, we’ve always ended up making shelving systems simpler rather than more complex.

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Matt

However they ultimately organize their books and manga, I would suggest creating unique spine labels for each section – preferably different colors. The biggest challenge I ran into with my collection was having teen comics shelved in the children’s section because I used two spine labels to denote JUVENILE and GRAPHIC NOVEL and one spine label for GRAPHIC NOVEL in the teen area. The nuance was lost on many of our volunteer shelvers, unless I specifically instructed them on how there were two sections where graphic novels went. I could have saved a lot of trouble had I just printed off a unique Teen Graphic Novel spine label that looked different from the juvenile sticker, but my boss at the time thought that was a bigger waste of my time than having me explain the labeling system to each new volunteer.

Beyond that, I would make sure their system is simple enough that all the staff, even the ones who do not track graphic novels, can understand it and navigate it.

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Shannon

Spine labels will definitely help, whatever your choice: they’re key to not just reinforcing the shelving decision for staff who shelve and find books, but makes it easier to identify at a glance how the collection is organized. If you want to add identifying stickers on top of that (YA or Juvenile, that kind of thing) it might help if your library already uses these kinds of stickers. Also, it’s definitely worth your time to talk to your staff about the change and encourage them to ask questions if they’re confused so they feel involved in the process. 

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Robin

I want to emphasize Katie’s points about talking to and observing how your patrons use the collections and note what’s working as well as what’s creating confusion, and be led by those observations. Nothing is more important than your readers being able to find what they want.  To that end: make sure your catalog listing matches the spine labels! Nothing is more confusing than a mismatch between where your catalog says a title is and where it physically is on the shelf.

Check your own biases. If you’re already a comics fan, try to look at your collection as if you aren’t.  If you aren’t a comics fan, try to think through what fans want as well as what novice readers want and strike a balance.  If you are used to adult comics, understand that there may be different needs for a kids comics section, and vice versa.

Keep it as simple and clear as possible. While you may need to train your patrons to understand a change to a new system, if you have to put up a sign forever that explains how your shelving works, then that system fails.  You shouldn’t have to include additional signs or primers for shelf organization — it should be comprehensible to your patrons as is. I definitely agree with Matt’s point that you should also always check with your shelvers — they too may need to learn a new system, but if it’s too confusing or complicated for the shelvers to learn, then it’s too confusing for your readers.

We hope this installment of Ask the Comics Librarians has given you all some ideas about how to best organize your collections.

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Ask the Comics Librarians: Is Fangirl Manga?


I have had two different library-centric discussions about what to do with the new release of Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, adapted by Sam Maggs, and with art by Gabi Nam.  The title is published by VIZ, one of the most well-known manga publishers, and is part of their new effort to publish manga-style comics sourced from creators outside of Japan.  VIZ dubs the line VIZ Originals, and all of the press and title descriptions call Fangirl manga.  So what’s a librarian to do? For the purposes of shelving, is it best designated as manga or as a graphic novel?

As always when considering classification, I keep our patrons in front of mind. What do they think about a title like Fangirl?  Is it most important for fans of the original novel to find it?  Does it fit in well with the expectations of our manga readers?  Where might it best find new readers who don’t know the source material?

With the understanding that every library will have to think through this decision on their own, here’s how I thought through where to shelve Fangirl in our teen comics section.

Consider your Fangirl readers

Rainbow Rowell fans may well love to re-read the novel in comics format, so think about where they would think to look for the title.  Would they look in your graphic novel section?  Would they look in your manga section?  How likely are non-manga readers to crossover to the manga section in search of titles?

In my library, we have divided all of our graphic collections into three major shelving categories: graphic, manga, and super. The goal of these sections is to help readers more easily browse our graphic novels, Japanese manga, and superhero titles, and all of our various comics readers have responded very positively to this setup.  

For our patrons, it feels more likely that readers of the original series would browse and find it in our graphic section. They would expect an adaptation of a US novel in that section rather than in our manga section.

Consider your graphic readers

We have a significant number of comics readers who will not venture over to our manga shelves.  Whatever their hesitation, they tend not to venture into those shelves of series and stick to our graphic section.  Those readers look for titles that are grounded in realism and are teen versions of the younger slice-of-life favorites from creators like Raina Telgemeier, Faith Erin Hicks, and Victoria Jamieson.

To that end, the story of Fangirl will appeal to our typical graphic browsers, so I feel confident that those readers will be happy to find the title in our graphic section.

Consider your manga readers

Would your usual manga readers think of Fangirl as manga?  As a manga reader myself, I have a fan’s sense of what makes manga appealing to US readers. Fangirl presents as a manga in terms of the art style and the trim size of the volume, though it also reads left to right.

Japanese manga’s appeal, however, is not just defined by the art style. The enjoyment of manga includes making your way through a different culture’s pacing, editing, cultural references, and jokes. Part of the appeal of reading manga as a US reader is experiencing stories created by Japanese artists for Japanese readers. We are not the target audience, and that’s part of the fun of learning through reading. In this sense, Fangirl doesn’t quite fit into why manga usually appeals to its US fans. The intended audience is US readers, so the story, pacing, sense of humor, etc. may be less appealing to your usual manga readers.

Will it get lost on the shelves?

Previously, with titles all shelved together, stand-alone volumes would be lost in a sea of manga and superhero series.  Given that Fangirl will be only a few volumes as a series, it should be more findable through browsing the graphic novel shelves.

Thus, in the end, we decided to shelve it in our graphic section.

As more VIZ originals are published, I’ll be curious to see how this line expands and varies.  We may come to different decisions depending on how closely aligned with manga’s many facets these titles are.  

For Fangirl, though, I know the most interested readers will find it, and that’s always my goal.

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