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 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:
The Dewey Dilemma from Library Journal:
BISAC Basics via the Feral Cataloger:
Dewey or Don’t We?: Transitioning to a Deweyless Library via Colorado State Libraries: