What’s in a Comic Book Title? Using the Title Statement and Varying Title Fields

What are the two most important elements in any library record? Title and statement of responsibility, commonly the author and illustrator, and for comics in particular, can include the colorist, letterer, inker, and editor. Most of your patrons will come in with either a creator or a title in mind. However, graphic novels, and particularly trade paperbacks of serialized single comic issues, are notorious for having title statements formulated multiple ways on the same item. Maybe the series volume is on the spine, but the story arc is written on the title page, but only the series title is on the cover. So, what are the best ways to convey all the different titles in on MARC record?

When you are constructing your 245 and 246 MARC fields, always ask yourself, “How is my patron going to look for this book?” and “How is my ILS and/or discovery layer going to look for this book?” The former has to deal with the rest of the record, subjects, keyword notes, etc. The latter is concerned with hyphenation, spelling suggestions, and capitalization. It is important to know if your ILS will translate Spider-Man into Spiderman and Spider man and determine whether or not you should spell out the name three different ways in the 245 and 246 fields. As a cataloger, it is important to balance how patrons and computers will use and interpret your cataloging records.

If you are cataloging your graphic novels as series, you don’t have much flexibility in transcribing the title because you are using the collective title in the 245 and adding information about the individual volumes in the 505 contents note. However, if you are cataloging your trade paperbacks as monographs, you have more flexibility in transcribing several versions of the title.

Let’s use Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday as an example.

Astonishing X-Men

If you are cataloging your comic book trades as a series, your 245 and 505 would look like this:

245 10 |a Astonishing X-Men / |c writer, Joss Whedon ; artist, John Cassaday ; colorist, Laura Martin ; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos [and others].

505 00 |g Volume 1. |t Gifted — |g Volume 2.|t Dangerous — |g Volume 3. |t Torn —  |g Volume 4.|t Unstoppable.

While this will get across the title of the series and that each trade is named for a different story arc. This is the reason many libraries treat their trade paperbacks as monographs, conveying the chronology and title of the series, through the title statement. You can use subfields n, number of part/section of work, and p, name of part/section of work, to create a complete title statement. Let’s look at Astonishing X-Men Gifted by Joss Whedon again, this time, treating it as a monograph.

[As it appears on the title page and cover]

 245 10 |a Astonishing X-Men. |p Gifted / |c writer, Joss Whedon ; artist, John Cassaday ; colorist, Laura Martin ; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos [and others].

[As it appears on the spine]

246 18 |a Astonishing X-Men. |n Volume 1, |p Gifted

Note from the cover image that volume one does not appear on the cover or the title page, only the spine. So if a patron wanted volume one of Astonishing X-Men and you didn’t include a varying spine title 246, you’d have to use another resource to find the title you are looking for is Gifted. The 246 field has a lot of options for recording various forms of title, giving catalogers a number of tools to aid in search retrieval.  Parallel titles for foreign language graphic novels, cover titles, and spine titles can all be added entries for your MARC records. Again, as a cataloger, ask yourself, how is a patron going to look for this? How have they heard this title talked about? How will they ask a reference librarian to look for it when they can’t find it themselves? My rule of thumb, when in doubt, add a 246, your patrons will thank you for it.



Web and Digital Comics Monograph Cataloging

I was recently working on cataloging some locally produced content and the creator’s website deemed their style “un-categorizeable”. As a cataloger, I am always amused when a creator thinks their content is so unique that it cannot be compared to another form of work currently in existence. Sometimes, it feels like it is my job is to pigeon-hole content into categories which don’t quite feel right or are not comprehensive, like LCGFT. Genres and forms are one of the most frequent markers for people to narrow down what they are looking for in terms of searching.

While there are many genres for comic books, it can be difficult to know when to practically apply them. For example, this week I read Black Hand Comics by Wes Craig, known for his art on Deadly Class. Black Hand Comics was originally published as a webcomic, a short, three or more panel comic published natively on a website. Other webcomics include Mike Norton’s Battle Pug, Katie Cook’s Gronk, and the works of Emily Carroll. Webcomics shouldn’t be confused with digital comics, which are presented as full length comic book issues with a traditional grid structure. Digital comics include Panel Syndicate’s Private Eye and Monkey Brain’s Bandette.

Blackhand Comics HC

But, what happens when a webcomic is collected and printed as a physical monograph? Are there certain genres or subject headings you can assign to convey the original format? Can you use WEMI (work, expression, manifestation, item) principles to express the relationship between the original webcomic and the printed edition?

Currently, there are no LCGFT headings for webcomics or digital comics. In LC J 110, it explains that using the genres “webcomics” or “digital comics” would only be applicable when cataloging the digital resource itself, “assign genre/form terms only as they come readily to mind after a superficial review of the resource being cataloged”. However, another guideline states, “assign terms based on analysis of the resource being cataloged. Genre/form terms do not need to be justified by descriptive cataloging elements” and, “consider the intent of the author or publisher, and if possible, assign terms for this orientation without being judgmental.”  The original intent of the creation of this comic was as a natively digital comic.

If you have a dedicated comic book readership and want to convey the webcomic or digital origins of an item, I have a few suggestions.

Doing a bit of research, you could add a 500 note of “Selections from the webcomic Battle Pug, http://www.battlepug.com”. This could leverage the keyword search function of the ILS to pick up the term webcomic..

You could add an 856 Electronic Location and Access field with the webpage to the web or digital comic. In the definition of the 856 field, it states, “use field 856 in bibliographic record for a resource when that resource of a subset of it is available electronically… and access a related electronic resource or an electronic version of a non-electronic resource described in the bibliographic record”.

Using WEMI principles, you could also include a 700 added entry for the creator and the title. This would also link various forms of a webcomic and the printed versions.

700 12 |i Container of (expression): |a Carroll, Emily. |t Comics. |k Selections.

700 12 |i Container of (expression): |a Norton, Mike. |t Battlepug. |k Selections.

Finally, you could include local genre/form headings in you bibliographic records. Be sure these are indexed for faceted searching within your OPAC.

655 #7 |a Digital comics. |2 local

655 #7 |a Webcomics. |2 local

Do you have a special way to connect your patron’s with web or digital comics? I’d love to hear from you. Leave your comment below or reach out on Twitter @librnwithissues

The Merits of Dewey-ing your GNs

Cataloging comics is difficult. I know, I’ve made that comment a few times before, but it’s true. They don’t fit into the many standards that catalogers like; it’s not a novel, not a pictorial work, not really an illustrated text…it’s somewhere in between all of that. And, while I’ve explored some ways to make cataloging comics a little easier, classifying comics can still feel like the first time your Adamantium claws emerged from your knuckle. Many librarians feel stifled by the norms of cataloging all graphic novels as a genre term or in the dreaded 741.5 or what I like to refer to as the pit of comic despair.

Melvil Dewey
Public Domain

While I might dislike 741.5 a lot, it’s helpful if you understand a little of the history of Dewey Classification for some context. I found a discussion paper by OCLC from 2014 which quickly summarizes how 745.1 came to be and why it is perceived to be so restrictive.

The DDC 741.5 is for cartoons, caricatures, comics and graphic novels all together in one call number. It’s squished in between drawing techniques and graphic design and illustrations. The hierarchy is as follows:

700 Arts and Recreation

740 Drawing, decoration, design

741 Drawing

741.5 Cartoons, caricatures, comics and graphic novels

The reason that single-frame caricatures to three-frame newspaper comic strips and graphic novels are all together is because there is no good place to break the call number continuum. You can subdivide by the country of the artist or writer which was chosen over the original language because there are many graphic novels which do not have any words. This brings concerns about the collaborative nature of comics as many authors and artist come from different countries.

The notes in 741.5 follow the same rules for literature, the 800s, when it comes to looking at content and deciding whether to classify it in the subject area or literature. If a work uses the correct names, had no invented characters, and does not distort facts for artistic effect , it can be classified in the subject area. When a work includes conversations, feelings, and thoughts or speaks to the state of mind of the characters, it is classified under 741.5. In the discussion paper, it is mentioned that it is important to take into account images and text when deciding to put a graphic novel in the subject heading or 741.5. This is why Art Spiderman’s Spiegelman’s Maus would be classified in 745.1 because, while the account is a factual memoir, the people were not cats and mice.

Trinity graphic novel coverSo, libraries are given the opportunity to classify some graphic novels, like Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bombs by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (623.45119) in the appropriate subject area, yet many do not, opting to keep all graphic novels together in a genre classification scheme (like GN FETT for example). There are some reasons why a library may opt to keep fiction and non-fiction graphic novels in the same classification scheme. The line between some historically inspired graphic novels and straight non-fiction graphic novels can be difficult to separate. Some may be inclined to put The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Syndey Padua in non-fiction, but because of the narrative nature of the storytelling, it would more likely be in fiction. Another reason libraries do no separate out non-fiction graphic novels is shelving needs. Do you interfile non-fiction graphic novels in the general non-fiction collection or do you create a non-fiction graphic novel collection? As libraries continue to take on new roles, like being makerspaces, community event centers, and providers of social services, shelf space for physical collection can be a premium commodity making it difficult to segment space for a new collection.

Persepolis CoverPersonally, I am an advocate for Dewey-ing non-fiction graphic novel collections. There are so many well researched, high quality non-fiction graphic novels being created right now that you can create a sizeable non-fiction graphic novel collection. Memoirs have especially taken off after the success of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and have become routine additions to graphic novel collections. Another recent trend is to convert original non-fiction books into graphic novels like A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn based on his book A People’s History of the United States and The Torture Report and The 9/11 Report, graphic novelizations of government reports by Sid Jacobsen, Jane Mayer, and Ernie Colon. If you give these graphic novels the same Dewey Number as the original editions, it will be easy to create collocation for these items. Even if you create a separate non-fiction graphic novel collection, assigning the same Dewey Numbers will create an ease for patrons and staff.

Dewey-ing out graphic novels also gives prestige and legitimacy to graphic novels. I know it seems like comic books have become ubiquitous in modern society, but there are many who still scoff at their merits as literature and art. There is something interesting about the Dewey Decimal System as a gate keeper that gives credence to an item, that it has gone through a vetting process to ensure it’s an accepted part of human knowledge. One of my favorite phrases as a cataloger is that you’ve got to make graphic novels an option. If someone who is an avid non-fiction reader searches a library’s catalog for a specific topic and, because you’ve Dewed your graphic novel collection, picks a graphic novel, isn’t that a good thing? A good way to provide access to something they may not otherwise consider. These graphic novels are well researched and thought out and can be of great for people interested in a specific topic.

Finally, Dewey-ing your collection can be a powerful collection development too. While every ILS provides different reports, think of what you could learn comparing the circulation and browsing of non-fiction graphic novels versus their standard book edition. You can see what types of non-fiction graphic novels your patrons are interested in. Many non-fiction graphic novels are published by smaller presses as well, so it can give you an indication of if your patrons want books from larger publishers or smaller presses.

It is important to consistently evaluate cataloging practices to see if they are best serving your patrons and library functions. Get feedback from front line staff and patrons themselves about ways to improve access to your collections. I know from experience that re-classifying entire collections are time consuming, but talk to your ILS provider and system administrator to see if there are any shortcuts which could make the process easier.

Do you Dewey your graphic novels? Why or why not? Let me know on Twitter @librnwithissues

Cataloging (Or Not So Much) Manga

Manga Kanji
Manga Kanji

Have you ever asked a manga reader what other types of graphic novels they like to read? Sometimes, the answer you will get is, “Well, I don’t read graphic novels, I read manga.”

Which is a completely valid point.

There is little doubt that modern manga was heavily influenced by the influx of western comics making their way to Japan during World War II; however, there is centuries long traditions of illustrated texts in Japanese culture. Manga is an amazing meld of differing artistic and literary art styles geared towards readers of all ages.

Some key aspects when looking at manga are also how it is distinguished from western comics. Manga reads from right to left, even when the text has been translated, vexing many librarians as to whether or not you should put the barcode on the front cover (traditionally back cover) or the back cover (traditionally the front cover). It is also incredibly rare to have full color manga, many books only have a few pages or a short story presented in full color, otherwise, they are strictly black and white. Length can vary greatly depending on the type of story, but are generally around 200 pages and the books are 5 x 7.5 inches. Manga is also aimed at specific audiences and you can find more information about different types of manga from this Kotaku article.

Really, comics, graphic novels, and manga are incredibly similar, but when it boils down to serving patron’s needs, it can be incredibly important to be able to quickly identify manga vs comics. With current cataloging practices, there is no way to look at a cataloging record and definitely say, “Yes that is manga”. But there are some fields in the MARC record which are good indicators that what you are looking at is manga.

Fixed Field Cont

The Cont field is used to identify significant parts of a material. This is the field that indicates if an item is a dictionary or encyclopedia, contains filmographies or discographies, and if something is a comic or graphic novel you up “6” in the Cont field. This replaced the code “c” in LitF and covers, “Instances of “sequential art” in which a story (whether fact or fiction) is told primarily through a set of images (often in the form of multiple “panels” per page) presented concurrently but meant to be “read” sequentially by the viewer. The accompanying narrative and/or dialog text, when it occurs, works integrally with the images to tell the story” (from OCLC’s Website).

While many OPACs do not exploit the fixed fields, it is important to ensure that your MARC record is as complete as possible for future projects and system upgrades.

Translations Indicators

I generally use a trio of fields to communicate an instance of Japanese manga. They include a 041 Language Code to indicate the item has been translated.

041 1# eng $h jpn

Alice in Murderland volume 1 coverA 240 Uniform Title field with the original title as found normally on the copyright page.

240 10 $a Kakei no Alice. $l English

245 10 $a Alice in Murderland. $n 5 /$c Kaori Yuki ; translation: William Flanagan ; lettering: Lys Blakeslee.

A 650 Topical Subject Heading can also be used to indicate a work of translated manga using the following subject string:

650 #0 Graphic novels $z Japan $v Translations into English.

Genre/Form Fields

I have had several discussion with fellow librarians lately about the genres and as they become more nuanced, how useful, or not, they become. For manga you really have three genre/forms you can use from the Library of Congress Genre/Form Thesaurus:

655 #7 Graphic novels. $2 lcgft

655 #7 Comics (Graphic works) $2 lcgft

655 #7 [Whichever specific genre heading fits your needs from the LOC genre form thesaurus found here]. $2 lcgft

These are just recommendations for identifying a manga from a cataloging record. However, there are some situations where these guidelines will not be useful.  Since 2007, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has awarded the International Manga Award to non-Japanese manga artists and the market for international manga is on the rise. That makes the translations fields a bit less clear when determining if an item is manga or not. For example, Australian manga creator Madeleine Rosca’s Hollow Fields is not translated and not from Japan, so the above suggestions would not apply.

There are a few things you can do locally to make your records more patron friendly. While it would be nice, and make sense, if the LCGFT, which is intended to describe what the work is versus what the work is about, would have a specific heading for manga, it doesn’t. Until manga does get their own entry in the LCGFT, many libraries are creating their own local genre headings. You can also create a separate item categories and call numbers for manga to further distinguish them in your collection.

Cite Your Creators with Relator Terms!

This week, I saw a commentary on Comic Beat’s website featuring a tweet from colorist Matt Wilson of The Wicked + the Divine. Here’s the tweet and a link to the article:

It takes a whole group of people, authors, artists (pencilers, inkers, colorists, etc.), letterers, and editors working together to create a comic book.  And, I’ll admit, it’s easy to cite the author and primary artists when talking about comics, I’ve done it on the blog (and will change my ways after this). Colorists and letterers have been honored by the Eisner Awards since the early 1990s and play a very important role in comics. Gone are the days of four colors layered on top of each other and in are the days of digital coloring which has created a new and varied aesthetic in comics.

Libraries have also been bad about not giving credit to all those involved in a specific work in regards to cataloging practices. Under AACR2, the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd edition, there was a, “rule of three” stating if there were more than three creators on a specific source, the first would be an added entry (7xx field), appear in the title and statement of responsibility (245 field), and the other contributors would be represented as et. al. appearing nowhere else in the record.  RDA, Resource Description and Access, the new cataloging standard implemented by the Library of Congress in 2013, does not follow the rule of three. The first listed contributor is the main entry (in the 100 field), the title and statement of responsibility (245 field) lists all contributors on the chief source of information, and all other contributors are added entries (7xx fields). Creators appearing in the 1xx and 7xx fields are indexed in most online library catalogs, so if a patron searches using the “author” search, they will find anything in the 1xx and 7xx fields.

Developing relationships between creators and works is a key principle of the FRBR/WEMI models which directly impacted the development and implementation of RDA. Ok, I know that’s a lot of acronyms, so here’s their breakdown. FRBR, Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, is a model that explains entities, relationships, and attributes thus creating metadata. There are three groups of entities in the FRBR model used to describe attributes. Group 1 are the products of intellectual and artistic endeavor, including Works, Expressions, Manifestations, and Items (WEMI). Here is a visual example of WEMI in action.

From http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/frbreng.pdf

For example, the work Captain America: Winter Soldier can be either the book by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Mike Perkins and Michael Lark, or the film directed by the Russo brothers. The book could be expressed as the single issue comics or a trade paperback; be manifested as a paper book or a digital file, and your library could have a hardcover or paperback item.

Group 2 are those responsible for the intellectual and artistic content, such as a person or corporate body and Group 3 are the subjects of the works, including groups 1 and 2 plus concepts, objects, events, place.  You can find a lot of information about FRBR and RDA online. The one thing to drive home about FRBR and new cataloging practices is the importance of the relationships in metadata.

I bet by now you forgot this was about artists right?

Because the relationships are important, it is necessary to detail the aspects of each contributor, which is where relator codes in RDA come into play. Relator codes can be found on the Library of Congress’ MARC Code List for Relator webpage. The terms are slightly different than those found in the RDA toolkit. Looking at the list, there are many that are primarily geared to comics and graphic novels.

They include: artist, author, colorist, creator, and editor (with more expanded terms in the RDA Toolkit). These relator terms appear in the subfield e for the 1xx and 7xx fields. Plus, practically speaking, the relator terms are free form, so I’ve seen a lot of interesting terms in the subfield e.

This may seem a bit cumbersome for a practicing cataloger. To include upwards of 10 collaborators and their responsibilities on a single MARC record takes time and effort. But let me give you a real world example of how practical this information can be.

2017-04-magenetoLet’s say a parton comes up to your reference desks saying something like, “I really love this author, Skottie Young. Could you give me other titles of things he’s written?” Without relator codes, when searching the OPAC, you’d just see Young, Skottie, which would include I Hate Fairyland written and illustrated by Young, colored by Jean-Francois Beaulieu and lettered & designed by Nate Piekos, or maybe The Wonderful Wizard of Oz adaptation, written by Eric Shanower, illustrated by Skottie Young, colored by Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and lettered by Jeff Echleberry, but what the patron really wanted was something like Magneto: Not a Hero, written by Skottie Young, penciled by Clay Mann and Seth Mann, lettered by Chris Eliopoulos, and colored by David Curiel Insheild, a book Young wrote but did not draw at all. Here’s what the relator terms would look like for these three books as displayable in your OPAC.

I Hate Fairyland
100 1# Young, Skottie, |e author, |e illustrator.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
100 1# Young, Skottie, |e illustrator.

Magento: Not a Hero
100 1# Young, Skottie, |e author.

Think about what other items in your collection this is beneficial for. Many creators now straddle their original artistic endeavor and relator terms help to identify their work. Lady Gaga, for example started off as a singer and is now known for her acting. So give yourself, your reference staff, and patrons a searching boost by adding relator codes to all your records and explore the diversity of individual creators in your catalog.

Genre/Forms, It’s Not All Fiction

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 and750-years 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.


BISAC & Comics: More than subjects and classification

While I do a lot of comic book reviews, read alikes, and programming ideas for this blog, in my heart, I am a cataloger. I love making sure comic books are findable and accessible through cataloging and classification. It’s not for everyone and many people don’t understand what catalogers and metadata librarians really do, but for the select few, it brings us so much joy.

If you liked it then you should have put Metadata on it
(Gotta love cataloging humor)-Info Sci Antelope tumblr

The most accurate way of providing access to materials is through subject analysis. There are many different subject headings available to librarians; Library of Congress, Sears, Medical, Art and Architecture Thesaurus, the list goes on. But a few weeks ago, I came across the first book with BISAC subject headings in the LOC CIP (Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication, the metadata on the verso of the title page) with BISAC subject headings, which means the Library of Congress is now including them in their original cataloging.

BISAC: An Overview

Book Industry Study Group BISG logoBISAC stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications, a subgroup of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), a trade association for publishers and the book industry. BISG defines use of BISAC as, “transmitting information between trading partners, as search terms in bibliographic databases, as access points for database searching and as shelving guides.” Basically, BISAC can be used as both searchable subject headings, like LCSH, and classification/shelving guides, like LCCN. Getting a two-for-one deal on subject headings and classification seems like a good way to streamline services and it is understandable that many professional libraries would be eager to jump on the BISAC bandwagon.

Many libraries colloquially refer to BISAC as, “The Bookstore Model” because the subjects are laid out for bookstores, often making them more user friendly. When I work the reference desk, people are amazed when I can walk them directly to the stacks where the subject they are looking for is housed. I deal with Dewey and the Library of Congress every day.  The hierarchy and classes makes sense to me, but not the average lay person.

BISAC is formed using headings made up of two to four parts/levels and each is separated using a “/”. A tree is a group of headings which share the first and second level information and a branch is a distinctive third level which belongs to a tree. One of the most fascinating aspects of BISAC is that all the subjects are left undefined because, “The Committee attempts to create clear and succinct subject descriptors that are not duplicative within the list”. Doesn’t leave much up for debate, right?


Many public librarians loath hauling around the 4 volumes of the DHey Girl, You know I'm not usually the jealous type, but who is MARC?DC and 5 volume Library of Congress Subject Headings just to catalog something. I’m sure other people have become wary of placing comic books in the 741.5 (Comic book, strips, etc.) in DDC because it quickly becomes a giant black hole consuming everything with nuance. Many libraries simply move their graphic novels to the fiction collection and arrange them by the standard author/title.

What I love about BISAC is, even if you don’t use it for subject headings or classification, you can use it as a guide for arranging graphic novels in the fiction collection. On the American Library Association Graphic Novel Member Interest Group (ALAGNMIG) Facebook page and casually among my comics reading patrons and friends, many people have requested that superheroes be shelved together, story arcs, no matter the authors or illustrators, and specific sub genres, like manga, be shelved together.

BISAC: More than Just Subjects

Not only is BISAC a great way to think about classifying your collection in groups, it is also a great collection development tool. Sometimes, it is difficult to actively think about diversity in collection development. You get your professional journals, your favorite review websites and go with the flow.  However, browsing the BISAC headings, you can easily ask, “When was the last time I ordered COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Manga / LGBT or COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Dystopian”.

Does your library use BISAC for subject headings? Classification? Let me know by sending an e-mail to librnwithissues@gmail.com or leave your ideas in the comments.

Further Reading

If you’d like to learn more about BISAC in libraries, here are some great, if dated, websites:

ALCTS: BISAC and Beyond: http://www.ala.org/alcts/confevents/upcoming/e-forum/041712
The Dewey Dilemma from Library Journal: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2010/05/public-services/the-dewey-dilemma/#_
BISAC Basics via the Feral Cataloger: https://cbtarsala.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/bisac-basics/
Dewey or Don’t We?: Transitioning to a Deweyless Library via Colorado State Libraries: http://cslinsession.cvlsites.org/past/dewey-or-dont-we/