About a year ago, I was helping my boss, the director of the public library at which I am employed, shift books. We were in the 740’s–for those unfamiliar with the nightmarish nonsense that is Dewey Decimal, that’s “Arts and Recreation”–and both of us were sighing heavily at the state of the graphic novels. Comics occupy one tiny call number, stuck between books that detail drawing techniques. It does not make much sense as a call number, and is likely one of the instances of Dewey Decimal needing to make room where there wasn’t any previously: another good example of this is the creation of an entire new number for books about the Internet, fabricated because the already existing “Technology” section was full.
Anyway, we were shifting the deteriorating volumes of forgotten 90’s DC, with Superman’s mullet in full effect, when my boss shakes her head and says:
Do you know anyone who reads comics?
Now, this question always puts me in an interesting place professionally. My geekery is something I’ve consistently been an expert at hiding, up until the past year or so. It is not in my nature to immediately come forward and admit to my superior that yes, I read them and have read them since I was a toddler. That I had, many times, come over and moped around 741.5, trying in vain to organize them into an understandable order–disobeying Dewey to make sure that all of Runaways stayed together, their library-bound trade dressings in a neat order.
“I, uh…I do,” I managed. She seemed surprised, but then suggested I take a hundred dollars down to the local comic shop and pick out anything I felt we needed to have. My selections on that first trip: I Kill Giants, Unwritten volumes One and Two, and House of M. I arranged them on the little new materials display and figured that was that.
However, the more time I spent in the section, the more money I spent on new books (a few more trips to the comic store eventually lead to a list emailed to our technical services person to be ordered direct from the supplier), and the higher the circulation increased. After about six months of this careful maintenance, I initiated a move of the graphic novels to a new section–away from a strange corner of the non-fiction, nearer to the movies and audiobooks. Most importantly, our library has decided to get rid of 741.5 entirely, instead creating a system of organization more similar to the one used in bookstores, inherently more intuitive to the casual browser.
It is not unusual for a comics reader to have to defend their hobby. As an individual, someone can tell you that you’re a nerd and dismiss your interests. As a librarian, I have found myself in the interesting position of having to defend comics as a thing that exists, to justify their very creation, and to fight tooth and nail to have them seen as valid literature in the eyes of my greater community.
In this column, I’ll discuss the experience of ordering comics, finding graphic reads for all ages, negotiating bureaucratic shenanigans (I will bring the people Saga if it’s the last thing I do!), creating various creative programs surrounding comics, and all the other strange, funny, and frustrating little things that come up in my day to day working in a library that has chosen to recognize graphic novels as equally important works of art.