I do a fair amount of original cataloging for comics and graphic novels. More and more small and independent publishers are popping up all over the book market, breaking down the publishing gatekeepers and allowing for different and diverse stories and storytellers to reach a large market. As a professional cataloger, however, there are many difficulties which can arise from cataloging small press and self-published books. Many of these difficulties originate from the publisher themselves creating inconsistencies or leaving out vital information catalogers use to create cataloging records. And here’s a tip for all you publishers out there, some libraries don’t add items unless there is a good cataloging record available. It’s always good publicity to have a library catalog your book, so be have some sympathy for your catalogers and follow some of these general tips to make your books more catalog-able.
There are two pieces of information every cataloger and searcher relies on to find a specific item. The first is contributors’ names. Note how I say contributors and not authors because colorists, pencillers, letterers, and editors, can be as desirable a search term as the author. Because names are so frequently used and searched, librarians use controlled vocabulary to ensure that all contributors have uniquely identifiable names. This can mean the contributor’s middle initial or name, birth year or date, or area of activity can be used to make a unique name. So, you could have Smith, John and Smith, John (Letterer) as two distinct names. Sometimes, comic book contributors do not have an authority file yet, and a cataloger has to pick the best, unique name to use. As a publisher, ensuring the name is spelled consistently on the item, your website, and any solicitations, is important to determine the author’s desired name spelling.
Nearly as important as how you spell contributors’ names is providing attribution to those contributors. I know that Mark Waid and Chris Samnee started crediting themselves as “storytellers” in many of their collaborations, but this is incredibly unhelpful to librarians because we still live in an author centric world, so the author will always be the main contributor listed. So, even if you are going to be crediting an author and artist as “storytellers”, state in the blurb who is responsible for what. As more authors provide art and more artists become authors, attribution is very important for searching and building relationships among contributor’s works. It helps searchers know the difference between Jordie Bellaire the colorist and Jordie Bellaire the author.
The second, really important piece of information is the title. I know this seems like a pretty simple piece of information, but you’d be surprised at how many different ways you can formulate a title. Librarians will record the title from the title page but will also note the title from the spine, front cover, title page, and title page verso. If you have a volumed series, make sure you distinguish between a subtitle and the volume title. Let’s look at the Bandette to see the dilemma cataloger’s face. The title page says, “Bandette in Presto!,” the cover and title page verso says “Bandette Volume One: Presto!,” and the spine says “Bandette Presto! 1’. What’s a cataloger to do? In all honesty, local practices usually dictate which title you’re going to use, but here we have one book with three different title formulations and 99% of the time it will be formulated as SERIES TITLE : SUB TITLE. VOLUME, PART TITLE. Think X-Men: Blue. Volume 1, Strangest.
Many, many hours are spent designing graphic novels and trade paperbacks to create appealing books readers want to pick up. However, the way your book looks when it is fresh off the presses is not the way it’s going to look when it hits the library shelves. A lot of key information for catalogers can be obstructed by how the item has been processed. ISBNs are the most important identifying number on your item. It is the first way most catalogers search for an item, but because libraries buy from vendors who can pre-processes items, sometimes the UPC/ISBN barcode is covered with a sticker so it isn’t confused for the library barcode. If you do not put your ISBN on the title page verso, librarians have a really difficult time finding and adding the item to their collection. Barcodes will go on the back or front cover and call numbers 100% of them time go at the bottom of the spine, often with a genre sticker as well, take up the bottom two inches of your spine. Also, libraries use a lot of technology to ensure their items are not stolen. Tattle tape is inserted into the spine of the book, so if you don’t have a good gutter, some of your text and images will be lost. RFID tags are also used for security and foil covers will interfere with the radio frequency, rendering the security functionality useless.
I understand that a lot of artistry and creative energy goes into making a graphic novel and you should create whatever type of book you want. The suggestions in the post should be used as a frame for thinking about marketing your books to the library crowd. Libraries have collection development policies to ensure that diverse, representative collections are created in libraries. Simply making your book more accessible to catalogers can make a bigger supporter of small and self-published books.