I work in a library that is fairly progressive and accepting when it comes to trying out new ideas. As I’ve written before, about a year ago, I approached my director with the idea to move and expand our graphic novels collection, yanking them out of the customary Dewey call number of 741.5 and putting them into something that means the spine labels read more like this:
You know, the way an actual human being might look for it. My director readily agreed and our circulation on graphic novels increased drastically.
What that meant, for me, was that suddenly I became the gatekeeper of all library geekery. A highlight reel of some of the delightful questions I have been asked by the library staff:
“Who is Joffrey, and why do my kids hate him so much?”
“How do you play D&D? Is it just like…you tell me that you are entering the castle, and I say that boiling oil falls on you?”
“Is Batman still a cool guy?”
Not to mention the number of times that I’ve had to explain how Doctor Who regeneration works (I do not, and have never, watched Doctor Who), what a “Crossover” is, what it means when I say “Marvel/DC Universe,” and why people dress up for comic book conventions — also, what a comic book convention is.
I am the first person people look for when there is any sort of question about the comics section — whether it’s about the location of a book or the entire continuity history of the Avengers. I spend about two hours every week reorganizing the books, as they get pulled out of place constantly by readers. It has, unfortunately, gotten to a point where my co-workers will not even shelve, sort, or pull the graphic novels for patron holds, because that is “Ivy’s thing,” and therefore out of their jurisdiction. Since I also do the ordering (about $300 – 500 USD every month for new graphic novels and replacements for damaged or lost books), I essentially have a full time job running a small comic book shop, on top of my regular full time job being the assistant manager and young adult services coordinator.
Additionally, comics are held to a much higher level of scrutiny when passing through technical services, the department that catalogues and labels them. While 50 Shades of Grey and countless tawdry romance novels get an instant pass, the graphic novels I order are often opened, paged through, and left for me with a post-it note asking me to discuss it. Prince of Cats, by Ron Wimberly, which mixes Shakespearian English with hip-hop slang, was subjected to an intense cross-reading not for its nudity and violence, but because of its use of certain colloquial racial terms, leading me to be put into a position of essentially defending the creative rights of a creator of color. I cannot order Sex Criminals, a multiple award-winning book and New York Times best-seller which I believe portrays sex in a healthy and realistic way, but traditional prose books and movies that use rape as a plot device are welcomed unquestioningly.
If you want to start a graphic novel collection in your own library (presuming, of course, that you are a librarian, or hold a lot of sway at a public library), be prepared to defend it constantly. Be prepared to answer every kind of inane question. Remember that even if you know that Tank Girl is an incredibly important book culturally, it is probably going to be shot down as a selection. Remember that you will, with patience and kindness, have to tell people that yes, people still know who Batman is.