The evolution of our comic book collection

Building up any type of collection from scratch involves a lot of trial and error, as you learn what works and what doesn’t. There’s constant modifications and your requirements and resources change, and I just wanted to share some of these changes that I’ve gone through with our comic book collection.

Cataloguing

We use Concord Infiniti for our LMS, and it allows for custom media types to be added. Which is good, because single issue comic books don’t come with an ISBN. So we now have a custom media type of ‘Comics’, but apart from that difference, I catalogue the comics pretty much the same way I do all other books.

I did make the conscious decision right from the start to include not only the writers and artists in the statement of responsibility, but also the colorists, inkers, and letterers. It was bizarre to me when I realized how few letterers there actually are in the industry (I totally secretly have a favourite one).

Loan restrictions
Most comic books have a helpful rating on them already – Teen, T+, M, etc. If all else fails, try checking the Comixology page for that particular item, they usually have recommended age restrictions listed down the side.

Initially, I’d add a label to the front of the latest issues to mark them as not for loan, so that everyone would theoretically have a fair chance at reading them, and they weren’t being hogged as soon as they came out. We do this with our print journals, for things like The Economist or History Review.

Eventually though, we found that the comics were rarely actually checked out to users’ accounts and taken home – because they’re short, clocking in at only about 20 or so pages each, they tend to be read within the library premises, during breaks or lunchtime or after school before the students catch the late bus home. To save a little time and effort on our part, we decided to do away with the “unavailable for loan” step, and just let all our comics be checkout-able if so desired.

Honestly, I don’t think anyone has even noticed the change. Was this yet another instance of librarians getting hung up on things only other librarians would notice, without recognizing what user behaviour really is? Probably. We’re all guilty of it, all we can do is learn from our mistakes and move on.

Displaying
I think this was actually our biggest struggle. I knew we couldn’t intershelve the comics with the rest of our graphic novels, because they would just get lost because of their thin spines. I eventually repurposed a cardboard box that was just the right width, modpodged some graphics to the outside, and housed our comics in that:

 

As our collection grew, I made dividers out of card paper, so that people could find the titles they were looking for more easily.

 

Then I had to make a new box.

Then more dividers.

I was starting to get properly concerned about our storage situation, but just in the nick of time, we salvaged an entire shelving unit that was going to be thrown out from another space in the school:

Each of those panels can be lifted up to expose a little cubby hole, in which we house the comics separated by title in little magazine holders (we just use these cheap IKEA ones, with a label on the front to tell you which title it holds).

With this set up, we can put the trade paperback/hardcover collection graphic novels together with the comic books. Even if you don’t luck out with a fancy shelf like this one, you really could do the same thing on a regular open shelf. Honestly, I suspect we might eventually have to move back to the open shelves ourselves, because of the rate at which our collection is expanding.

 

Classification

One thing I really think more libraries need to address is how they classify their comics and graphic novels. With most existing classification systems, there’s no real sense of order from a reader’s perspective. In our library, graphic novels followed the same convention as other books, with F for fiction followed by the first three letters of the author’s last name. While this works for things like a series written only by one author, like Tintin, or non series authors like Raina Telgemeier, it doesn’t work for things like Marvel or DC titles. If you follow that naming convention, there is no way all your X-Men titles will be together, or your Batman, or anything really.

As a user, if I approach the graphic novel shelves and am looking for Batman comics, I’d expect to find them all together. Maybe around them should be things like Justice League, or Nightwing, or Batgirl… other DC things, basically. I did a bit of reading (and I’ll try to come back and add some links later to some of the articles that I found helpful) and eventually proposed the following changes:

  • our top level classification should be based on the publisher, rather than the generic “F for fiction”
  • the next three letters should identify the series, rather than the author

Of course, there are caveats. We only do this for major publishers, from whom we have several titles. As of now, I believe the list is Aftershock Comics, Boombox, Dark Horse, DC, IDW, Image Comics, Marvel, and Vertigo. I did debate Viz Media, because so many of our mangas are from them, but in the end space constraints settled that question for us. They now sit with the rest of the graphic novels which don’t fall under any of the publishers listed above.

For these remaining graphic novels:

  • if they belong to a series, our call number is just the first three letters of the series. So Tintin books are all under TIN, Calvin and Hobbes is under CAL, etc.
  • anything that’s an adaptation of a “literary classic” gets the first two letters “AD”, and then the first three letters of the author’s last name. So Frankenstein graphic novels are under AD SHE, Wuthering Heights is under AD BRO, etc.
  • the rest of the graphic novels follow our standard book format, of F, followed by the first three letters of the author’s last name

It’s not a perfect system by any means. What do you do when you have a series published under two different names in the UK and US (I’m looking at you, Cirque du Freak)? Does Avengers vs. X-Men go under MAR AVE or MAR XME? Do you put Kaboom titles separately from Boombox ones?

It works better than our old method though, for sure. So until someone comes up with something better, this is what we’ve got for now!

Maintaining reading order

Our students are technically only allowed to check out three fiction and three non-fiction books at a time. Before I’d realized that they weren’t really checking the comics out, I was concerned about how this would seriously cramp their style. Most story arcs run for at least 5 issues, and some go on a lot longer than that. Even though the idea of buying monthly titles as they’re released is that the kids can keep up with the narratives, I was aware that a lot of them might want to revisit old series, or catch up on things they’d missed before.

Our LMS allows us to combine items into ‘kits’, so that users can check out the one box, and all the items inside that box are automatically added to their account as well. If I could find a way of physically combining all the single issues into one unit, I could them make them into kit in the system, and then the users could just check out one item instead of five or six, and be able to read the full story arc in one sitting instead of having to come back to the library to return the first half before taking out the second.

This was before I found out from my colleague that they apparently don’t even bother to read them in order. It’s okay, take a moment to cringe and let that sink in. I needed a long moment, I was horrified (as was the guy at the comic book store after I shared this with him).

Apparently they just pick issues at random and dive right in. I know, I don’t get it either. The only conclusion I can come to is that kids are weird.

At any rate. The problem remained – how could I compile multiple issues into one unit for checkout every time a story arc reached completion? We have a generous budget, but that doesn’t mean we want to be wasting it by just buying the trade paperbacks when they’re released if we already own all the single issues that make up that collection. I looked around for a while to see if we could get them professionally bound – unfortunately the cost of binding came up to more than just purchasing the trade paperbacks.

Eventually, I decided to just take the plunge and do it myself. That’s right, I totally now qualify for a bookbinder badge. I’ll share more details in a later post, but as long as you have a needle and thread, some time and patience, and the courage to make holes in perfectly good comic books (suppress the shudders, things will be okay eventually) this is something anyone can do.


I’m sure there will be more challenges and changes down the road, but for now I hope some of these will be of help to you if you’re thinking of building up a comic book collection in your own library!

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