Genres are a very important aspect of reader’s advisory. Assigning accurate genres are very useful because they describe a material to create ease of accessibility thru a searchable term. Gone are the days of fiction, non-fiction and periodicals, that’s it, that is all the library’s collection. Now we have dystopian fiction, urban fiction, zines, and specialized non-fiction collections. The addition of linked data and controlled headings in online catalogs creates connections from assigned genre headings within the OPAC. Patrons can click hyperlinks and be taking to all the other materials with the same heading. Also, in a way, once a genre is assigned, it gives legitimacy to a group of work. A group of librarians and experts has deemed a movement legitimate by giving it a name and uniform heading. Whether or not we agree with or like it, metadata creators are major gatekeepers in the world of reading.
The Library of Congress, along with other groups, have many thesauri to assigned controlled and authorized headings for cataloging records, meaning all libraries use the same spelling or established term to describe something.
The Library of Congress Genre/Form Terms for Library and Archival Materials (LCGFT) describes what a work is instead of what it is about, which is covered by subject headings. This thesaurus combines both genre, “the category of works characterized by similar plots, themes, settings, situations, and characters” and form the “characteristic of works with a particular format and/or purpose”. It is interesting that form is discussed in the 655 and also in the 380 MARC field for the Form of the Work, but that discussion is for another time and focuses more on RDA cataloging practices. If you look at a MARC record, LCGFT terms are in the 655 Genre/Form field with a second indicator of 7 and a subfield 2 of lcgft.
Personally, I love authority control and controlled headings. I use them all the time during reference interactions to find the authorized form of the word to help patrons find items faster (think Airplanes instead of Aeroplanes). They are also great for jumping from narrower to broader headings. I thought I’d take a look at how comics and graphic novels are described using authorized genre/form headings.
As we’ve discussed many times before, nomenclature is incredibly important when discussing comics. In the LCFGT, there are two general headings you can use for comics and graphic novels, “Comics (Graphic works): narrative works that employ sequential art, and often prose, to tell a story,” and “Graphic novels: Book-length narratives of any genre that consist of sequential art, either by itself or in combination with text”
I want to point out a few things, but first, let’s take a look at the visualization for both of these headings. Blue represents the term, light green are broader terms, and teal are the narrower terms.
Comics (Graphic works) has a beautiful circle of connected headings illustrating the connections created between comics and specifically more specialized types of comics, such as Horror and Superhero comics.
But, when you look at Graphic novels, there is just one little connection, between “Graphic novels” and “Comics (Graphic works)”. It looks like a said, lopsided dumbbell.
What do these visualizations and authority files really tell us? From a practical standpoint, the narrower terms under Comics (Graphic works), such as Superhero comics, are used very often, but rarely do I see the generalized heading. It’s also interesting to compare the combined genre/form headings (XXX comic) vs the singular form heading of Graphic novels. Many would argue that there are many different genres of graphic novels which were never single comics books. Would it make sense to assign the genre/form “Biographic comic” to “Andre the Giant” by Box Brown, even though it’s a graphic novel? I’d answer yes, because you can have more than one genre form and, according to the definition of the terms set out by the thesaurus, using both makes sense.
Does it make good practical sense? Is it user friendly? Not in my opinion. I know that we often use more than one genre to describe a book (historical and mystery fiction is a popular combination). If you are going to distinguish between comics and graphic novels, there better be good and clear reasons. What makes the form “Graphic novel” so interesting is its definition, that it is a full length narrative, written and intended to be read as one collected work. It’s difficult because you can’t even say, “All comics are graphic novels” but you can say, “All graphic novels contain comics”. However, when graphic novel is used in conjunction with subject headings, you can easily find biographic graphic novels or non-fiction graphic novels, but it takes delft searching skills within the OPAC.
Because the comic and graphic novel market is expanding at a rapid place, the genre and form headings used to describe the works must expand as well. I’ll leave you with an example to ponder. The book 750 Years in Paris by Vincent Mahé is a beautiful book where each page is a city block in Paris and shows how the building’s façade has changed through the centuries. It was reviewed by many graphic novel blogs and many libraries have it shelved it in the graphic novel section even though the genre/forms assigned to the record are Illustrated works, History, and Pictorial works. Does it have sequential art, even if that art occurs one page/fame at a time? Would you use Comic (Graphic works) or Graphic Novels to describe this book? These are questions catalogers wrestle with every day and it is up to all information professional to advocate and think about how we describe resources.