- LibLearnX 2022

The Annoying SpiderMan: Overcoming the Shelving Challenges of Comics & Graphic Novels Through In-House Classification #LibLearnX

Every time I am shelving in our comics and graphic novels section, I face the following reality: comics and graphic novels do not easily conform to our traditional classification schemes. LibLearnX Presenter Jack Phoenix knows this and offered a fantastic presentation on in-house classification alternatives that just might fix the problem AND make your comics and graphic novels more browsable, more visually appealing, and more accessible. Phoenix, author of the 2020 book Maximizing the Impact of Comics in Your Library: Graphic Novels, Manga, and More, noted librarian’s tendency to shoehorn things that aren’t traditional books into systems that don’t support them before reminding participants that, “Dewey didn’t see these things coming.”

The traditional practice of organizing titles by creator does not work for comics for many reasons, not least of which is the argument made by Phoenix that, “Creator or even title are often not the main point of access” for readers. Instead, readers of comics, even emergent readers or those new to the format, are usually drawn to a series or franchise or main character first. Thus, Phoenix suggests, we should be organizing our collections to reflect that patron need.

The whole presentation was strong, offering several options for libraries considering a change; however, the primary suggestion was to reclassify these titles using the following set of notations:

  • Franchise
    • Series Title
      • In-House Assigned Static #
        • Volume #
screen grab from Jack Phoenix presentation at #LibLearnX 2022

The static number (seen in column 3 above) does not reflect any official or chronological ordering; instead, it is just a way for the classification to ensure each series (even those with identical titles like The Amazing Spider-Man, as shown below) gets a unique identifier, allowing each Vol. 1 to be sorted to its appropriate series and enabling sequential shelving by individual series.

screen grab from Jack Phoenix presentation at #LibLearnX 2022

The discussion in the chat was energetic, and some raised the question of how to handle perennial favorites like Raina Telgemeier, whose work is not officially a “franchise” featuring the same main character(s). Some suggested franchise could be an umbrella term which could represent individual creators whose work is distinct and well-known enough to warrant the notation. Other possible concerns would be how to classify emerging graphic artists/writers who are not yet a “franchise” and are also not creating a series. I’m thinking of such recent notable titles as The Legend of Auntie Po, a graphic novel for young readers by creator Shing Yin Khor whose first title is a standalone graphic memoir.

Another option that might solve this problem would be to organize the graphic collection by genre, which would include a spot for folklore, perhaps, or memoir. Other suggestions to think about would be to pull other related materials in the graphic novels section, bringing traditional titles featuring Batman to the comics instead of the other way around. Or to employ franchise and series posters to visually distinguish the sets and draw the patron eye.

Graphic novels, comics, and manga are a vital part of any library, with titles circulating with higher frequency each year. Figuring out the best way to organize your collection may take some creativity (and persuasion, even), but it is well worth it to make it even more approachable to patrons.


Conference Blogger Sara Beth Coffman is a student in the MSIS program at UTK, pursuing a second career in public librarianship after many years as a teacher. A writer and reviewer, Sara Beth also works with children and youth at the Chattanooga Public Library and served as member-manager for YALSA’s blog The Hub in 2021. Sara Beth is looking forward to all the inspirational and educational sessions at LibLearnX and can often be found (or overheard) eating tortilla chips.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.