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

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.

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/


Labels, labels, labels part 2!

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.

Liu, Lydia, "Library Shelves" from Flickr, taken 6/19/2014, CC BY 2.0
Liu, Lydia, “Library Shelves” from Flickr, taken 6/19/2014, CC BY 2.0

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.

Toon Books (which also parse their books out into reader levels as well)
Graphix by Scholastics
First Second (Adult & Kids)
Random House for Kids
-Many others

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…]"For Mature Readers DUH. Don't sell this to a kid what are you, nuts? Seriously.

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).Great War by Joe Sacco

Call numbers and shelving are two really important aspects of library services. Check in next week for “Labels, labels, labels part 3: classification labels”.

Labels, labels, labels! Part 1

This is the first of a three part blog post about the importance of classifying and labeling graphic novels in libraries. Part 1 is about assigning call numbers; part 2 is about shelving needs; and part 3 is about subject labels. For anyone wondering about best practices for classifying, shelving, and labeling GNS, read on!

Part 1: Call Numbers

The mission of  labeling, classifying, and shelving items is to improve access to library collections. I am sure everyone has had experiences where you could not find a book where you logically thought it should be. A call number is the tool libraries use so each item in the collection has a specific spot where a patron should expect to find it.

But call numbers, especially for fiction collections, are difficult to create and keep consistent. Many people have heard of the Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and SUDOC systems, which work incredibly well for non-fiction collections. However, more often than not, fiction collections are given call numbers which take the author into account first, then the title of the book (For James Patterson, think FIC PATTERSON, FIC PAT, Patterson, etc.).

Comic books and graphic novels present many unique difficulties in regards to assigning call numbers. There are three questions to take into account when deciding what you want your primary access point, and basis for the call number, to be.

1) Title or author?

Most library collections use the first author listed as the primary access point. However, comic books sometimes change authors during story arcs. If you choose to classify books by the author alone, this can cause trade paperbacks to be shelved in completely different areas. As an example, let’s look at the Buffy the Vampire Slayer trade paperbacks.

Season 8 volume 1 was written by Joss Wheaton, season 8 volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan, season 8 volume 3 by Drew Goddard, and well, you get the picture. If the author’s last name was the main entry, then the books would be scattered about in the Ws, Vs and Gs. And that’s not great for patron access.

Buffy trade paperback volume 1Buffy trade vol. 2Buffy vol. 3

However, if you shelved by the title, all the books would be in the Bs for Buffy. I know that there are many standalone graphic novels like Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown which would be fine classified under B for Brown. You know that there will not be another volume in a series, so should this be classified by author or title? Do you mind if your collection has a little bit of both? These are questions to ask before making the title/author decision and how stringent you are going to be.

2) Series title versus monograph title

Basically a librarian’s way of saying are you making your title Batman and Robin vol. 1 or Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn. They are the same book, but let me point out some problems which you will have to work out depending on which path you take.

If you go with the series route and use volume numbers; Grant Morrison’s run on Batman and Robin will be shelved:

Batman and Robin vol. 1, Batman and Robin vol. 2, Batman and Robin vol. 3

But, what will you do when you also get in Peter J. Tomasi’s Batman & Robin? When you assign call numbers with this logic, they will end up Batman and Robin vol. 1, Batman & Robin vol. 1, etc. on the shelf.

However, if you decide to go by the monographic title, the trades would be shelved out of order. Again with Morrison’s Batman and Robin example, if you classify/shelve each book by their monographic title, they would be on the shelf as:

Batman and Robin: Batman and Robin must die (vol. 3)
Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn (vol. 1)
Batman and Robin: Batman versus. Robin (vol. 2)

There are pros and cons to classifying titles by series or as monographs. If you think your patrons want the ease of finding items in reading order, my suggestion would be to shelve them in series order.

3) What to do about franchises?!

We’ve already discussed author, titles, and series, but not let’s get forge what really makes classifying comics tough. Franchises.

Comic book franchises are prevalent and ever growing. You’ve got groups, like the Avengers, Justice League and Suicide Squad, and individual characters starring in multiple titles, Amazing Spider-Man, Astonishing Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Superior Spider-Man, etc. And then, what do you do with Spider-Gwen, Spider-Woman… It can be very confusing.

lego spidermen
Patrick Tanguay, “Spiderman Meets Clone Wars” from Flickr, 3/13/2006 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I am a firm believer that these books should be as close together as possible on the shelves in their volume order.

So, I would assign all Spider-Man titles a call number that is “Spiderman” or something thereabouts. I know that this will cause numerous items to have the same call numbers, but I’d rather have a patron come to the desk, ask, “Where’s Spider-Man books?” and send them to one place instead of multiple places.

In the end, I believe that the most efficient call numbers for a library which as a fairly good sized graphic novel collection should use series titles and volume numbers as the basis of their main entries and assign call numbers to be cluster by main character or group.

Check back for part two of Labels, labels, labels where the topic will be shelving.