Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What your shelving style says about you

I've already thought a lot about how to catalog and shelve graphic novels--I even wrote a post about it for the YALSA blog. But my brother just pointed me to a series of articles on Popmatters that addresses this issue from the perspective of comics readers rather than librarians. (OK, so in the article below, the comics reader sat in on a discussion among librarians, so maybe it's more of a cross-section of perspectives.)

Peep this:
"Regardless of how to interpret different ways of categorizing comics in a library, what underlies such questions is how readers read, and what comics means to them. Do they follow writers (what one librarian at the session I was at called the “Neil Gaiman problem”)? Do they follow publishers (as above)? Do they follow pencilers (or some other artist)? Do they follow a particular character (what another librarian called the “Wolverine problem”)?

... For some, the idea that someone would read anything about one character, regardless of author or artist, suggests much about the low nature of so many comics, proving that they are more about corporate properties than artistic or literary expression. For others, such questions are reflective of the deeply fannish nature of comics reading, and the diverse nature of that fandom."
Woah, does the way I catalog my comics say something about the status I believe they deserve? Fascinating.

Another article in the series, "Creator: Various" suggests that works with single authors often receive more attention then those written "by committee," because we have this reverence for authorial vision. (And if you're not clear on exactly what pencilers vs. inkers vs. script writers vs story writers do, this article is a great introduction to how a comic is constructed.)

The article concludes thus:
In this way, film studies offers better models of authorship than does literary criticism, where the text, the author, and the reader are the primary coordinates. While the director as author still shapes college film courses, books, and reviews, within the wider field are perspectives that emphasize the contributions of others, for example, producers, stars, and the role of forces like budgets and processes like commodification in the making of movies and the history of cinema.
Which makes me wonder if we should shelve comics by title, because that's how we shelve films?

At my library, we're doing this weird hybrid (which was totally my idea, so I really shouldn't distance myself from it). We catalog single-author and stand-alone works by author. We catalog series by series title. That means all the Wolverine books are together, and so are all the books by Doug Tennapel.

Part of the appeal of this system is that it fits with what we were already doing. I'd say the main drawback is that there's a lot of room for me to be subjective. For example, do I put the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen under series title or author?

I went with author, which I guess proves the point that I revere an authorial vision.

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