I'm tired of trudging up to the nonfiction section
February 12, 2016 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Why are comics and graphic novels catalogued as nonfiction in libraries?

In libraries that use the Dewey system, most comics and graphic novels are catalogued in the nonfiction section under 741.5, even if they are entirely fictional. Why is this? And are there any other works of fiction that get catalogued under nonfiction?
posted by zsazsa to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 741.5 is where books about comics, and drawing, and similar topics go, so it makes sense to put the Superman books near the books about Superman. Some libraries that use Dewey pull out graphic novels into their own sections.

Shakespeare is also in the nonfiction at 822.33-.34 because that's the Dewey number for Shakespeare, so his works as well as criticism and books about Shakespeare are all housed together. Dewey is a browsing system, so it kind of makes sense.
posted by jabes at 8:39 AM on February 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: A lot of times "literature" will also be in the nonfiction section in libraries, especially college/university/research libraries. So Jane Eyre will be next to the books about Jane Eyre. Some libraries choose to pull fiction out into its own section. Some libraries do the same thing with graphic novels - either putting them in the fiction section or giving them their own section. Some libraries might separate out romances and SF from other fiction.

Some libraries will also have multiple copies in different places - it wouldn't be unusual to find copies of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the YA, fiction, and Dewey/LC-classified literature sections.

There's no particular rhyme or reason to it - it's all about the preferences, biases, and expectations of the librarians and the library patrons.
posted by mskyle at 8:46 AM on February 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

My local library shelves adult graphic novels next to the scifi fiction section and children's graphic novels in a section next to the teen fiction.
posted by GuyZero at 8:53 AM on February 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Graphic novels & comics are a relatively recent addition to many library collections. Because most started out with a few high demand titles, libraries using Dewey put them in the place that made the most sense: 741.5: Comics, graphic novels. It didn't make sense to make a separate section for comics because they only had a handful of titles at most. Now, some places have broken them out into their own section, but many libraries still keep them in 741.5. Maybe due to space issues, maybe because they refuse to admit comics could use their own section, maybe because that's just how they've always done it, maybe because having special collections for every niche area is a pain in the but and can cause other issues, maybe because it makes it easy for people not familiar with their library to find it (provided Dewey is the system they're familiar with).
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:58 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Depending on where you live and what librarians happen to be employed at your library and how much say they are given in how the collection is arranged, I definitely propose that you raise this issue. Maybe chat with a few librarians (maybe someone in fiction and someone in the nonfiction section where the graphic novels are shelved if your library is large enough to have specialized staff) AND an email or comment card to a library administrator.

Most libraries that have graphic novels shelved this way do it because they haven't bothered to move them or they haven't thought about the customer service advantage of moving them. There's a lot of "that's how it's always been" in a lot of libraries.

I worked in a library where that was the case, but when I (as an employee of the fiction department) offered to move them they were fine with it if I did all the work. The librarian up in the PN6700s (we had Library of Congress classification) was thrilled because she didn't like having to deal with them.

Good Luck!
posted by lodie6 at 10:33 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hmm, interesting. In my local library, the children's graphic novels are in their own, large and busy section, but the adult ones are in with the nonfiction. I'm wondering if that's due to the staffs for the two sections having different ideas for where they should go.
posted by zsazsa at 11:44 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In terms of breaking them out - it also often has a lot to do with the available shelf space. Breaking out a subcollection can help a lot in some ways, but it usually takes up more space than simply shelving them with everything else (i.e. you end up using empty shelf space to make the special section, like you might fill 3 shelves out of 5 on a set of shelves.)

If the collection is already really tight for space or the space is set up that you'd need to move lots of other books to make a separate space that makes sense, that's a big project, and it's the kind of thing many libraries would save for when they're doing other major moves or renovations (which might not be for a few years!)

Childrens libraries and YA sections are often smaller sections, comparatively, so it can be a lot easier to move bits of them around. (And they are often also designed to make it easier to pull out parts of the collection easily for displays, current changing trends, etc.)
posted by modernhypatia at 12:33 PM on February 12, 2016

Best answer: I think one reason they put adult graphic novels in 741.5 is that a) when graphic novels became a mainstream thing that libraries collected, nobody knew what to do so they just put them with the art books and it stuck because it works OK and a lot of people in libraries are resistant to change

and b) we have to make sure that kids don't come across adult content graphic novels, so putting them with other adult nonfiction out of the children's room will keep all but the most determined kids out of them. Kids are certainly allowed to browse adult books, but for the most part they won't, since most of the adult nonfiction is not interesting to them and/or your library may be really strict about kids being supervised by an adult at all times.

The other options are interfiling graphic novels based on either subject or author name, so you'd check out the autobiographies for autobiographical graphic novels, or the author's name in fiction. I would not do this unless I had a very small collection, because people looking for graphic novels and novel-novels or just information are probably not looking for the graphic format and vice versa with people who just want to browse graphic novels. Also, if you collect graphic novels, particularly comic books, they tend to change the author/illustrator frequently so what was once under one name is now under another, so if you want vol. 1 it's over here, but vol. 2 is way over there, and that's a pain in the ass to either direct people to, or explain that sometimes a book is under the title, but sometimes it's the author! Super confusing!

I think the ideal is to keep all graphic novels together and visible in their own display and arrange by title. But then you run into kids figuring out where the super violent comics are more easily (which is fine until the wrong parent wants to make a federal case out of it), and adults who want to complain about how in nineteen-dickety-two only REAL books were in the library. Also, it costs space and money and effort to build and maintain the shelving order. Which will fall by the wayside if there is any change in administration before the collection is firmly established. So there are tradeoffs no matter what you do.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:57 PM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, you have to have one solution that every library in your system does. So if you trade books between Branch A and Branch B, and Branch A wants to have graphic novels in their own section with the shelf label GN Titlename and Branch B wants to keep them under 741.5 Authorname, the system breaks down really quick.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:22 PM on February 12, 2016

our school library shelves them in 741.5 because they are authored by many different people and following Dewey is the only way to get them ALL in the same section for easy browsing. I know because I asked our librarian!
posted by wwartorff at 1:34 PM on February 12, 2016

Best answer: Hmm, interesting. In my local library, the children's graphic novels are in their own, large and busy section, but the adult ones are in with the nonfiction. I'm wondering if that's due to the staffs for the two sections having different ideas for where they should go.
posted by zsazsa

Yes. In my library, we have one person in charge of the children's room, a different person in charge of the adult collection, and a third in charge of YA. We have a Children's comic section and a YA comic section but no adult comic section, just a few high demand adult comics in 741.5, such as Roz Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant.

Also, comics have been more accepted as legitimate genre for kids long before they were accepted as a legitimate genre for adults. (And some folks still balk at the idea of their kid reading comics as real reading. Some folks don't think it's real reading for adults either. Those groups are both totally wrong, of course.)
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:40 AM on February 13, 2016

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