Comics ‘zoo’ or ‘house pets’. Where do I shelve them?

“Where should I shelve them?”

This is used to be the old Genre vs Format question, now I think it’s more a question of how your customers will find the books– and will they leave the shelves in a recognizable state afterwards.   The question is how efficiently can you feed the beast?  Do you have your comics as housepets, in zoos, or in a wildlife sanctuary?

Some libraries find value interspersing comics with other fiction or non-fiction titles; the “genre” methodology.  Technically correct, this satisfies the more intellectually meticulous among us library folk.   It also pleases the more serious authors and illustrators who prefer their works to be treated as ‘real’ literature, not ghetto-ized and stigmatized and lumped in with the flying pajama crowd.  Fair enough.

I call this the ‘housepet’ method.  Each title has inherent value in and of itself, and may be treated as individual members of your book family.  You wouldn’t dump a bag of dog chow in a trough to feed a pair of parakeets.

Functionally this may be the best option if you have a relatively limited collection.  Library users hunting through the stacks searching for a particular Graphic Novel may accidentally discover a fiction author and decide to read a prose novel in addition to checking out a book full of action pictures.

Other libraries choose to group Graphic Novels and other sequential art in the same area, regardless of theme of the content.  The Format resolution.

As comics collections have expanded into literate forms discussing a wide variety of topics, beyond funny books or testosterone fueled adolescent power fantasies, overworked Librarians and cataloggers (deweyjacks?) decided that rather than actually read the books to decide whether they belong in a SciFi or Fantasy collection, perhaps we’re safer simply peeking under the cover and making a snap decision:  if it looks like a comic, call it a comic and slap the appropriate dewey on it.

After all, one needn’t read every word of a volume of poetry to decide whether the author is memorializing  their Viet Nam war experiences, or  is instead recounting a dissolute few years pub-crawling through Britain.

One theory here is that many readers of Graphic works are indiscriminate devourers of anything in the format.  You may decide to read bulgy men and women zooming around beating the everlovin’ heck into each other, you may also enjoy reading about young punk rock latinas in southern California in the 1980’s.

I call this the Zoo method.  You may enjoy watcing the great cats, you might prefer to watch monkeys, but if you’re going to the zoo you’re looking to see some kinda wild animal walking around in the altogether, held captive while approximating whatever it does that makes a beast a beast.  You’re guaranteed to see something interesting without having to go on wild safari yourself (ie the wild tangles of the comics specialty store — where they may be more likely to have the most recent volume of a particular story arc, but you may get lost there for hours and hours, overwhelmed by gear and knicknacks and perhaps unsure of the local lingo).

At our Library here in Takoma Park, we mix the methods.  Some books need to be treated as honored members of the family:  Art Spiegelman’s Maus lands in WW2 memoirs for instance.   Mark Schultz and the Cannon brother’s ‘The Stuff of Life’ is a lighthearted and enjoyable treatise on how genetics and DNA work at a molecular level, as told by advance scouts working for a dimwitted alien sea cucumber.   It finds a home among other biology texts.

The bulk of the collection though finds itself  somewhere in the 741.5 deweys (depending on the country of origin).    But in order to truly feature the collection, and to keep the shelves elsewhere from being overrun with comics-devouring hordes we created bump-out collections on shelves of their very own.  The All-Ages collection, Comic Strips,  Manga, and Young Adult graphic novels each get a place of their own.  The adult collection is still interfiled with the rest of non-fiction art books, but if we had space I imagine we’d carve a section for them as well.

I suppose with this much space devoted to comics you could consider ours the ‘wildlife sanctuary’ method: to preserve comics in something as close to their natural habitat as possible.  Albeit without the gear and cool plastic action figures and stuff.


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