A report on the organization of graphic novels: An observational study of three urban branches within a large Canadian urban library system
 
by Sarah Eccleston
 
Introduction

What is a Graphic Novel?
	Coined by graphic novel pioneer Will Eisner, the term “graphic novel” is defined as “sequential art, the arrangement of pictures or words or images to narrate a story or dramatise an idea” (Lee, 2004).  This definition sounds very similar to the kind of definition that might be given to a comic book.  Michele Gorman, however, differentiates between the two when she describes a graphic novel as “meatier” and “fuller-length” than a comic book (2002).  Stephen Weiner gives the simplest and perhaps most complete definition of a graphic novel. “Told in comic book form, a graphic novel is a story with a beginning, middle and end; all bound up between two covers and in other words something we consider to be a book, only told in pictures as opposed to straight prose” (2003). 

A Brief History of Graphic Novels 
	Will Eisner created the first graphic novel in 1977 (Lewis & Clark Library System, 2004).  His book A Contract with God was a four-part story in comic book form, which he put into one hardbound book and labeled a “graphic novel” on the cover (Lewis & Clark, 2004).  It was the awarding of the Pulitzer Prize to Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus in 1986 that was a fundamental turning point in the evolution of the graphic novel (Gatley et al., 2005).  Spiegelman’s biographical account of his parents’ survival of the Nazi death camps was both a strong survivor’s tale and also a chance for the graphic novel genre to transcend its low comic book reputation (Gatley et al., 2005).  As Gatley et al. explain, “A library that did not add this title to their collection risked being perceived as irrelevant by their reading community” (2005).
	Support for graphic novels began to coalesce in the early 1990’s and by the later 1990’s and early 2000’s there was a graphic novel explosion on library shelves (Gatley et al., 2005).  The Lewis & Clark Library System describe the current position of graphic novels as a “global phenomenon” and note that in Japan, graphic novels are considered a literary equal with prose, television and movies (2004).

Reluctant Readers  
	One reason why graphic novels have seen such a marked increase in interest in recent years is their usefulness and appeal to reluctant readers.  Reluctant readers are described as those individuals who choose not to read (Snowball, 2005).  They will not just read for the sake of reading. Instead, they tend to be highly selective about what they choose to read, but are willing to read once they find something they can connect with (Snowball, 2005).  For many reluctant readers, graphic novels are something that they can connect with.  Described as “reading and watching a story unravel at the same time”, graphic novels provide that “special something”, which provides interest to reluctant readers (Snowball, 2005).
	Not only are graphic novels visually interesting to readers, but they also explore important issues such as homelessness, child abuse, domestic violence, and environmental damage (Lee, 2004).  Graphic novels enable reluctant readers to have access to materials with difficult or controversial political, economic or social issues (Lee, 2004).  Reluctant readers are not excluded from more sophisticated subjects because of their disdain of more textually based materials.
	Many educators see graphic novels as a stepping-stone for reluctant readers onto more challenging textual materials.  Phillip Crawford explains that graphic novels help to improve language and literacy development and the illustrations in graphic novels “provide valuable contextual clues to the meaning of the written narrative” (2004).  Brenda Pennella believes that reading involves a series of skills, “questioning, visualizing, inferring, predicting, connecting and responding” (2006). She states that graphic novels provide “the scaffolding necessary to build solid readers” since all of these experiences are built into the “architecture of the genre” (2006).
	For many reasons, educators and readers view graphic novels in a favourable light.  Unfortunately, a problem regarding graphic novels in libraries does present itself.  How should graphic novels be organized in a library?  With such a wide variety of topics and reading levels, should graphic novels be inter-shelved with other items in a library’s collection?  Should they be shelved with the comic books?  How about the art books or perhaps they should have a section of their own?  This question has created a great deal of confusion and debate among library communities.
 
 
 
This paper was originally written in March 2006 as part of the course requirements for LIS 599: Directed Study.  It has been updated and converted to a web document to meet the requirements of LIS 600: Capping Exercise.  Created by Sarah Eccleston on June 25, 2006.  Any questions or comments may be directed to Sarah Eccleston at sarah@dashinformation.com
 
Website last updated on June 27, 2006.