After assigning call numbers to Graphic Novels (GNs), it is important to think about how you are going to shelve them. Shelving is a vital part of library services because it is how you present the collection to the public. Is the collection important enough to have room for front facing books? A separate section for new acquisitions? End caps with displays? Tall or short shelving….there is a lot to think about.
While these types of questions are important, I am going to focus on the shelving question most often brought up in regards to GN collections; age appropriate shelving, aka making sure items go where they belong. Most libraries already have children, teen and adult collections and it is a good idea to keep those three collection levels with GN collections as well.
Deciding where to put GNs seems like it would be a pretty simple endeavor, but library politics, patron’s impressions and the actual content within the item can make it difficult to know which audience level to put the item in. Most GNs and trade paperbacks have ratings on them, but they can be confusing and vary among publishers.
Children’s GNs are probably the easiest to know where they belong. Many children’s authors are also writing GNs so you can make associations there. The length is often very short, the text is larger print and there are fewer words per page.
There are many publishers which publish GNs exclusively for children.
There are also other great DC, Marvel, and licensed children’s TV characters which are created specifically for children.
Teen vs. Adult
The distinction between teen appropriate and adult appropriate GNs is a much more nuanced than for children.
The two major comic publishers, Marvel and DC, have their own ratings systems. Teen, Teen +, Parental Advisory, and Recommended for Mature Readers. To make matters more confusing, Marvel’s Teen+ is appropriate for teens 13 and up and Parental Advisory is “Similar to T+, but featuring more mature themes and/or more graphic imagery”. DC Comics Teen + is for teens 15 and older.
So what does this mean? A lot of comics deemed appropriate for teens contain a lot of suggestive content, be it sexuality, language, and violence. My advice is not to go blindly by what the publisher recommends. [unfortunately, not everyone can be as blunt as Sex Criminals…]
Come up with a general list of how you are going to evaluate the three criteria above. Is sex shown? How much bare skin is exposed? Do they use specific swear words (remember, sexually-derived expletives (such as f*ck) only needs to be said twice to make a movie rated R)? How often are they used? Is there explicit violence (do you see heads exploding)? Does the violence involve weapons or hand-to-hand combat?
Once you have answered these questions, make sure your library has a book challenge policy. I know that seems a bit bizarre to say, but if you’ve answered these questions (and have the answers written down), you can quickly explain why and item is shelved where it is. Challenges are often made to remove or restrict material based on a specific objection, so if you can explain how those objections are being addressed, the situation can easily be remedied.
One other consideration to take into account is parsing out your non-fiction graphic novels. Patron’s impressions of your collection mean a lot. Unfortunately, many readers still discredit GNs because they are “for kids” or “hold no literary merit”. As comic readers know, this is not the case, but non-fiction books tend to help legitimize a GN collection in the eyes of skeptics. If you lump your fiction and non-fiction collections together, great learning opportunities may be missed because patrons skip over non-fiction works.
If you do decide to shelve non-fiction GNs separately, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Using the Dewey Decimal system, all graphic novels are shelved in 741.5 and that is usually the only number given in the record. I suggest classifying based on the content, “Andre the Giant” by Box Brown in the 796s (athletics and sports) and “The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme” by Joe Sacco in the 940s (History of Europe).
Call numbers and shelving are two really important aspects of library services. Check in next week for “Labels, labels, labels part 3: classification labels”.