Getting Started with Graphic Novels

I'm in charge of ordering the adult graphic novels for my location and some of our eight branches. I took on this part of the collection several years ago, as well as responsibility for ordering nonfiction that falls in the 741.5 call number, which is where our catalogers put all the books on how to draw manga, comics, and graphic novels, as well as things like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes. I "only" have $750 to spend a year at this location (and $100 per branch), so I only place orders twice a year. Your mileage may vary--I realize this is a bigger budget than many libraries probably have.

Because we also have a young adult graphic novel collection and a separate collection down in the children's department, I can focus on titles that will be of primary interest to adults. The YA librarian orders many of the most popular superhero titles--Batman, the infinite varieties of X-Men, and so on--leaving me blissfully free of that budget drain.

What if I'm Starting from Scratch?

First, review Robin's tips for staying sane while approaching collection development. If you're starting a new graphic novel collection, it's probably in response to patron demand. See if you can talk to some of those people who wanted graphic novels and see what they're looking for. Perhaps you can work with circulation or your ILS to figure out what people have been requesting from other libraries. Speaking of which, what do other libraries have? Review the collections of a few other libraries in your area, or libraries around the country who serve similar populations.

Diamond Book Distributors has core title suggestions for kids, young adults, older teens, and adults. Graphic Novel Reporter also offers similar core lists for all age ranges. Diamond also has an updated Graphic Novel Common Core list arranged by grade level. YALSA has a yearly list of great graphic novels for teens. Reviewing these lists will give you way more backlist titles than you can probably ever afford to purchase.

Your collection should have a combination of series and stand-alone titles. If you order all series books, you will spend your entire budget each year replacing titles that have gone missing and occasionally adding new volumes. Readily available graphic novels tend to skew toward white male writers and artists--try to keep this in mind as you work to create a balanced collection. I also try to balance super popular (and magically disappearing) titles with those that are well-reviewed but usually don't circulate as much.

There's Already a Collection Here

Great! All the stuff I wrote about starting from scratch may also apply. First, check everything in and clear up any not-really-missing statuses. There will likely still be several missing items. Your job is to decide whether or not it's worth replacing them or not. If they're part of a series, check the circulation on the other titles. Are there duplicate copies at nearby locations? If you've got a collection with those graphic adaptations of classic works, does anyone ever check them out (no really, I want to know)? What graphic novel or manga series has the library been buying? Are you going to continue purchasing them or let them fall by the wayside? Circulation stats should be able to help you figure out popularity, but also be aware that graphic novels are very often used in-house and circulation numbers may not reflect their actual use.

Once you've figured out how much of your budget you're going to tie up with replacements and series continuations, you probably won't have that much money left. It's time to turn to book reviews to find out the best titles coming out soon.

Where Can I Find Reviews?

No Flying, No Tights is an independent review site for graphic content for kids, teens, and adults. Diamond Comics Bookshelf and Graphic Novel Reporter offer reviews of graphic novels, as well as curated lists, creator interviews, and other resources.

I use reviews from the sites I mentioned above, as well as:

Because I am me, I have a giant spreadsheet where I list individual titles and which review sources they have appeared in. If something's reviewed (favorably) in at least three separate sources, it's usually guaranteed a spot in my cart.

The New York Times publishes a weekly bestseller list for hardback and paperback graphic books, as well as one for manga. Netgalley is a good place for librarians to preview forthcoming graphic novels and comics before they become available. I also keep up with a variety of webcomics, some of which have been turned into books.

You are never going to be able to buy everything you want to buy, but being able to point to reputable review sources can help you with this next part.

What if Someone Complains?

Challenges happen, and graphic novels--especially those for adults--sometimes have material that people find objectionable. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a collection of suggestions for librarians, including tips on how to handle challenges. See also the ALA's Dealing with Challenges to Graphic Novels.

Any other tips and review sources to add? Leave a comment.


Elena said…
Would have loved this post last year when I was starting a collection from scratch with exactly your budget! I, too, find my giant spreadsheet helpful. Bookmarking this for future reference.

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