Labels, labels, labels! Part 1

This is the first of a three part blog post about the importance of classifying and labeling graphic novels in libraries. Part 1 is about assigning call numbers; part 2 is about shelving needs; and part 3 is about subject labels. For anyone wondering about best practices for classifying, shelving, and labeling GNS, read on!

Part 1: Call Numbers

The mission of  labeling, classifying, and shelving items is to improve access to library collections. I am sure everyone has had experiences where you could not find a book where you logically thought it should be. A call number is the tool libraries use so each item in the collection has a specific spot where a patron should expect to find it.

But call numbers, especially for fiction collections, are difficult to create and keep consistent. Many people have heard of the Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and SUDOC systems, which work incredibly well for non-fiction collections. However, more often than not, fiction collections are given call numbers which take the author into account first, then the title of the book (For James Patterson, think FIC PATTERSON, FIC PAT, Patterson, etc.).

Comic books and graphic novels present many unique difficulties in regards to assigning call numbers. There are three questions to take into account when deciding what you want your primary access point, and basis for the call number, to be.

1) Title or author?

Most library collections use the first author listed as the primary access point. However, comic books sometimes change authors during story arcs. If you choose to classify books by the author alone, this can cause trade paperbacks to be shelved in completely different areas. As an example, let’s look at the Buffy the Vampire Slayer trade paperbacks.

Season 8 volume 1 was written by Joss Wheaton, season 8 volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan, season 8 volume 3 by Drew Goddard, and well, you get the picture. If the author’s last name was the main entry, then the books would be scattered about in the Ws, Vs and Gs. And that’s not great for patron access.

Buffy trade paperback volume 1Buffy trade vol. 2Buffy vol. 3

However, if you shelved by the title, all the books would be in the Bs for Buffy. I know that there are many standalone graphic novels like Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown which would be fine classified under B for Brown. You know that there will not be another volume in a series, so should this be classified by author or title? Do you mind if your collection has a little bit of both? These are questions to ask before making the title/author decision and how stringent you are going to be.

2) Series title versus monograph title

Basically a librarian’s way of saying are you making your title Batman and Robin vol. 1 or Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn. They are the same book, but let me point out some problems which you will have to work out depending on which path you take.

If you go with the series route and use volume numbers; Grant Morrison’s run on Batman and Robin will be shelved:

Batman and Robin vol. 1, Batman and Robin vol. 2, Batman and Robin vol. 3

But, what will you do when you also get in Peter J. Tomasi’s Batman & Robin? When you assign call numbers with this logic, they will end up Batman and Robin vol. 1, Batman & Robin vol. 1, etc. on the shelf.

However, if you decide to go by the monographic title, the trades would be shelved out of order. Again with Morrison’s Batman and Robin example, if you classify/shelve each book by their monographic title, they would be on the shelf as:

Batman and Robin: Batman and Robin must die (vol. 3)
Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn (vol. 1)
Batman and Robin: Batman versus. Robin (vol. 2)

There are pros and cons to classifying titles by series or as monographs. If you think your patrons want the ease of finding items in reading order, my suggestion would be to shelve them in series order.

3) What to do about franchises?!

We’ve already discussed author, titles, and series, but not let’s get forge what really makes classifying comics tough. Franchises.

Comic book franchises are prevalent and ever growing. You’ve got groups, like the Avengers, Justice League and Suicide Squad, and individual characters starring in multiple titles, Amazing Spider-Man, Astonishing Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Superior Spider-Man, etc. And then, what do you do with Spider-Gwen, Spider-Woman… It can be very confusing.

lego spidermen
Patrick Tanguay, “Spiderman Meets Clone Wars” from Flickr, 3/13/2006 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I am a firm believer that these books should be as close together as possible on the shelves in their volume order.

So, I would assign all Spider-Man titles a call number that is “Spiderman” or something thereabouts. I know that this will cause numerous items to have the same call numbers, but I’d rather have a patron come to the desk, ask, “Where’s Spider-Man books?” and send them to one place instead of multiple places.

In the end, I believe that the most efficient call numbers for a library which as a fairly good sized graphic novel collection should use series titles and volume numbers as the basis of their main entries and assign call numbers to be cluster by main character or group.

Check back for part two of Labels, labels, labels where the topic will be shelving.