Cataloging Graphic Novels
by Kat Kan

Congratulations; you have started your graphic novel collection! Now, you need to take care of the niggling details, such as how to catalog graphic novels, and where to shelve them. Diamond spoke to Kat Kan, a lifelong comics fan and respected industry professional for her take on these issues. Ms. Kan has been a librarian since 1984, and has worked exclusively as a young adult librarian since 1988. Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) has published her column on comics and graphic novels, "Graphically Speaking," since 1995.


Most libraries follow the Dewey Decimal system as established by the Library of Congress, which puts graphic novels in the 741.5 call number area. Some libraries have established a COMICS GRAPHICS or GRAPHIC NOVELS call number. Basically, you’ll want to do whatever best fits with your library and community. While I, personally, do not like the 741.5 call number area for graphic novels, cataloger Joel Hahn defends the Dewey Decimal system quite well in posts to GNLIB-L sometime in April2005 (see the References and Resources page for more information on GNLIB-L). Also, if a nonfiction graphic novel is primarily intended to inform the reader about a topic, be it history, math, or any other topic, it should be cataloged in that topic’s call number. Therefore, most copies of Maus by Art Spiegelman are cataloged in the 940s, with the Holocaust books.

What title to use can be confusing. So many of the super-hero series - Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. – have several series, then volumes within each series. The rule seems to be if an individual volume title can stand independently of the series, then one should catalog the book by the volume title, with the series in the series area. For titles such as Azumanga Daioh and Chrono Crusade, which don’t have individual volume titles, but only numbers, then the book should be cataloged with the series title as the main title, followed by the title of the volume (e.g., Azumanga Daioh Vol. 6). Some libraries use the series title as part of the title (Invincible Vol. 3: Perfect Strangers, for example). Including the volume number wherever possible will help you to keep the series organized chronologically, as subtitles may not alphabetize in order of publication.

Once you get by that hurdle, you’re then faced with the subject headings and subdivisions for form. Some libraries use Fiction, some use Comic books, strips, etc. Some libraries use Graphic novels and/or Comic books, strips, etc. as genre/form headings. However, Graphic novels as a genre/form heading should only be used if the title is indeed a standalone graphic novel, not previously published in individual comic book issues (see the Glossary for the definitions of "graphic novel" and "collected edition"). Books that are compilations of previously published parts should be assigned the Comic books, strips, etc. genre. Diamond's Bookshelf website catalogers give you those subject headings and subdivisions online, along with a call number.



Once you’ve cataloged your graphic novels, then comes the question of where to shelve them. One school of thought says to intershelve all the graphic novels with the rest of the library’s collection, in order to encourage browsing. Another school of thought says shelve the graphic novels in a special area to highlight this section of the library’s collection.

I belong with the second group, based on my experiences in several libraries. Even if the books have the 741.5 call number, if they are pulled out from the rest of the books in that area and featured on their own shelves, they will circulate much better. Visibility is the key, because so many library patrons still don’t know that libraries carry graphic novels; if they don’t expect to find them, they won’t look in the 741.5s. (Let’s face it, most library patrons don’t know the Dewey call numbers!)

If the books are shelved in a separate, visible area, however, they will catch the eye of patrons young and old. Even if they are shelved in a not-so-visible area, they are still more easily seen than when stuck in the 741.5s. At the Hawaii State Library, the Young Adult Section had little floor space for anything, but we had a short, two-sided wood shelf about coffee table height. We pulled out our graphic novels and shelved them in this little unit, which sat so low we thought people would never see it, so we put a few titles on the top of the shelf with a little sign. The books we pulled into this shelf unit circulated much better than the books we had to leave in the 741.5s for lack of space. At Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, most of the graphic novels in Young Adults’ Services were shelved in spinner racks and a magazine display rack, placed in high traffic areas with lots of visibility. The circulation of these books was, again, much higher than for those still in the 741.5s, or in the other nonfiction call number areas. Maus was cataloged in the 940s when I started working at the library; I then bought a second copy and placed it with the other graphic novels in the spinner rack; that second copy circulated several times for each circulation of the copy in the 940s.

If you’re just starting out and have a fairly small collection, you don’t have to go to great expense to display your graphic novels. Simply shifting other books to clear a couple or several shelves at the end of a range can be good enough. Or, you can use a book cart placed at the end of a shelf to hold your graphic novels. It can be as simple as making a sign to show you have graphic novels on the shelf, they will move as people find them in your library.

Good luck with your new collection!