You know how something happens that makes you more aware of something and then suddenly it seems like the whole world is full of this thing? Your best friend gets pregnant, say, and suddenly you see pregnant women everywhere, or you finally learn what jejune means and the word is suddenly popping up every day. You wonder, “Is it just that I’m now noticing pregnant women more — or are there really a whole bunch more pregnant women roaming the streets?!”
This is how it is with graphic novels and me. Oh, I’ve been a fan of graphic novels for all ages for at least a year now (don’t snort — I’ve always been a late-bloomer). But suddenly it feels like graphic novels for kids are just exploding; you can’t turn a corner without bumping into some mention of them. Whether it’s various lucky ducks attending the New York Comic Con (such as Elizabeth Bird, Sophie Brookover, and Molly Phelan) or a school librarian blogging about the huge popularity of graphic novels, it’s clear that this is a huge phenomenon.
I would be happy to sit back and let all the excitement flow around me, but there are some big issues that keep insisting on my attention. Here are just a few:
How to catalog? In my library system, we use a fiction, independent reader, or nonfiction Dewey number for children’s graphic novels (depending on whether it’s Coraline, Stinky, or a graphic novel on a nonfiction subject), followed by a “GN” designation, followed by a series cutter if necessary. But the YA graphic novels are all in 740.9999. Go figure! And how to deal with those unending volumes in a series, some with different authors? Our catalogers keep finding new situations for which they must cobble together solutions.
Where to shelve them? I highly recommend pulling graphic novels together into a special collection, but not everyone agrees. And should nonfiction graphic novels be shelved with the fiction graphic novels, or should they be with other books on the subject? And what about those independent reader graphic novels?
Juvenile or YA? This is not a new question, but graphic novels complicate the issue. Manga in particular has huge appeal for young readers, but the content is not always what some folks might call appropriate for kids 12 and under. And many graphic novels look like they are aimed at kids, but they are actually adaptations of “classics” that teens read for school. Will kids read them? Will teens be offended by them?
How to handle the flood of graphic novels? Oh, it’s easy to deal with those wonderful one-offs or those short-series graphic novels, but what about those series that stretch off into the distance? By the time you’ve learned about a popular series, it’s on volume 22 and the first 10 are out of print. And now of course publishers have jumped on the bandwagon and are producing graphic novels by the hundreds. Let’s just say that they are not all of the highest quality. Will they have child appeal regardless? Separating the wheat from the chaff is not always easy when there are so many new series.
It’s important to seek guidance and to work together. In my library system, children’s librarians and catalogers are working closely to figure out the best way to guarantee good access to graphic novels. Children’s librarians and YA librarians are coordinating efforts to make sure graphic novels are shelved in the appropriate sections of the library. And we’re consulting sources like the Graphic Novels in Libraries listserv and the book The Librarian’s Guide to Graphic Novels for Children and Tweens by David S. Serchay (Neal-Schuman, 2008). Searching Google for blogs on graphic novels yields many useful sources, as well.
I am ecstatic that graphic novels have come into their own. They are a fresh and exciting new format that has an important place in every library. Someday I hope to see a big, prestigious award just for graphic novels for youth. And I’m happy to be a tiny part of this new groundswell that is exploring how best to evaluate, select, catalog, shelve, display, and market graphic novels.
And now I’m going to snuggle up with that stack of new graphic novels shimmering on my desk!
Graphic novels. I swear it’s not just me. They are popping up everywhere these days.