“This document does not contain guidance on comics classification. Given the wide variance of classifications systems used by libraries (Library of Congress, Dewey Decimal, home-grown, hybrid, etc.), and the hyper-local focus of cuttering, classification is considered too variable and individualized a practice to be a candidate for prescriptive guidance and standardization” (GNCRT, page 1).
FIRST THINGS FIRST
So how do you make order out of chaos? Take a long look at your graphics. Graphics are generally defined as works primarily in a sequential, paneled format using illustration as the prime conveyor of information and meaning. Hallmarks include “bubble” speech balloons and short, informative text blocks within the panels. In most school libraries that collect graphics there is a combination of the following “subtypes”: graphic novels (New Kid, Dog Man); comic book compilations (Marvel comics like Spider Man, Lumber Janes); comic strip compilations (Calvin & Hobbes, Phoebe & Her Unicorn, Big Nate); and manga (Dragon Ball Z, Fullmetal Alchemist). Also falling in 741.5 are cartooning techniques (“how to draw” books) and histories of comics and cartoons. If you catalog your biographies to subject, you will also have cartoonist biographies and autobiographies in here.
After looking at the scope of your graphics collection, decide how you want to shelve them. Do you want to shelve all your graphics, regardless of content, in a distinct collection from other materials? Should they be interfiled with fiction and nonfiction? Will early reader graphics go with other graphics or with other early readers? What about comic strip compilations, cartooning technique, and history and criticism books about graphics? My intention here is to talk classification, so space considerations will depend on the size of your graphics collection, your shelving space, and any consortium or district standards. You make up the rules, but below I will lay out some scenario considerations.
ASSIGNING A CLASS
According to the Dewey Decimal Classification, 23rd ed. (DDC 23), 741.5 is the basic Dewey number for works of imagination in comic book, graphic novel, fotonovela, cartoon, caricature and comic strip format and works fine in most school libraries for all things graphic except nonfiction graphics (but I’ll get to that) (DDC23, v. 3, p.740). You can break it down more if you want:
741.51 How to draw comics
741.53 Criticism of graphics
741.56 Cartoons, caricatures, and comic strip compilations
741.59 History of graphics
FIC vs. 741.5
Some folks prefer using a FIC type of call number for graphic novels because they want to interfile them within their Fiction collection or to distinguish them within a graphics collection as fictional, novel-like titles. Doing this conveniently leaves 741.5 for drawing technique, strips, and history and criticism titles. You also need to consider what you’re going to do with other types of “fictional” graphic content: strip compilations, comic book compilations and manga, for example. Do you also want them as FIC or 741.5 or another number?
The DDC 23 manual instructs classification for graphics whose main purpose is to “inform or persuade” to the subject. So The Cartoon History of the United States is 973 and Crows: Genius Birds from the Science Comics series gets classed as 598.75. These are relatively straightforward as far as I’m concerned: put it in subject class. If you don’t care about or don’t have time to parse fiction from nonfiction, throw them all in 741.5. The only question I think you have to answer for yourself is if you’re going to interfile these with the rest of your Dewey collection or pull them out and put them in a graphics sublocation elsewhere.
Nonfiction graphics – the murkier side of things
If you are going to parse out fiction from nonfiction it gets difficult in the case of events, history, and biography-based graphics that are storylike in their presentation. The DDC 23 says
“class an account of a true event or series of events using the names of people involved, not inventing characters or distorting facts to enhance an intended artistic effect, and not going beyond the information available to the author from investigation and interviews, in the discipline appropriate to the facts described” (DDC 23, vol. 4, p.94).
VENDOR CATALOGING AND GRAPHICS
Here’s a scenario for you: pretend we’ve got a nonfiction comic series about different breeds of dogs. Time to catalog the Corgis volume, the Setters volume, and the Newfoundlands volume.
Corgis is first cataloged by Library Z. Library Z’s rule is to catalog nonfiction to subject so it codes a suggested call number of 636.7 into the MARC record. Anybody who copies that record will get a suggested call number of 636.7.
Setters is first cataloged by Library Y. Library Y’s rule is to catalog all graphics to 741.5 regardless of content so it codes a suggested call number of 741.5 into the MARC record. Anybody who copies that record will get a suggested call number of 741.5.
Library Y also catalogs Newfoundlands first. It assigns the call number 741.5.
A school library buys shelf-ready books from its vendor. The school’s specifications say to catalog all nonfiction graphics to subject and any 741.5 titles to FIC. Vendor catalogs Corgis to 636.7 (the suggested call number by Library Z) and Setters to FIC because the suggested call number from LIbrary Y is 741.5. The vendor isn’t wrong given the rules as set down in the specs. Common sense is not in play here.
The school library gets a copy of Newfoundlands donated, and an aide does the copy cataloging, routinely accepting the suggested call number. They search the library software for matching records and find Library Y’s record. The suggested call number is 741.5. The aide catalogs Newfoundlands at 741.5. The library now has three volumes on the same subject from the same series with three different call numbers.
Moral of the story: watch your graphics cataloging like a hawk. Make your cataloging rules for graphics, and check every new graphic before you accept it with the knowledge that vendors and helpers may mess it up because they haven’t read this article.
The path of least resistance for cuttering is always to use the primary author. If this is what is in your own head and on your vendor’s specifications it will work fine for most of your graphics. However, comic book series from publishers like Marvel and DC Comics frequently change authors, or have different story arcs written by different authors. The authors are less well known than the series title or main character. In comic book stores, compilations are usually filed by publisher and then title. It may better serve your patrons to cutter these by publisher, series title, or series main character. While this is easy enough a rule to implement if you are doing your own cataloging, vendors will want an either/or rule: cut all graphics by author or title. You will have to edit and retag these when they come from the vendor.
A SIDE NOTE ABOUT SHELVING INDICATORS AND SUBLOCATIONS
The distinction between shelving indicators and sublocations is another local choice that you need to make. As far as I’m concerned it’s dictated by how your software works with these two sorting choices— some work better displaying, sorting and reporting by indicator and some by sublocation. The best way you can tell is to see how many reports you can run by sublocation. If you can’t, don’t use sublocations. (I’m side-eyeing you, Destiny.)
Any way, in general:
Shelving indicators are text or numbers that are part of an individual book’s call number and tag. They are usually a word or code that indicates what collection or special collection a book is shelved in. For instance REF, PROF, or GN at the start of a call number are shelving indicators. The lack of a shelving indicator in a library can also dictate where a book goes. So, for instance in a library that uses indicators, a dictionary may be REF 423 WEB, Telgemeier’s Smile GN FIC TEL, and a novel by Pennypacker shelved in general collection Fiction is FIC PEN.
Sublocations indicate what collection or special collection a book is shelved in but are coded as a separate field in your software. Sublocations display in most catalogs as separate from the call number. In general, you don’t include these in the call number field, as it is redundant. You indicate where the book is shelved on the spine with a genre or collection sticker, color dot or other visible marker. So the same three books listed above would be 423 WEB, FIC TEL, and FIC PEN on the call number and spine with the sublocations coded as Reference, Graphic Novels, and Fiction respectively. The reference and graphic novel titles get spine stickers for accurate shelving.
Shelving indicators and sublocations are often used together in libraries to reinforce each other. This is another decision you have to make whenever you are pulling together any kind of subcollection from the general collection. As always with cataloging and classification, the most important key is to set down rules and be consistent.
Because of the explosion in Graphics publishing and collecting over the last 20 years or so, cataloging and classification of them is an emerging and ever changing practice. This allows you to be more creative with your graphics catalog, but it also means a higher amount of time and maintenance needs to go into classifying those titles. Let me know what creative ways you have come up with to balance consistency, time management and accessibility with your graphics. And, as always, feel free to write to me with any questions you may have.