Four Tips to Find the Best Graphic Novels for Your Library

Librarianship | Kendal Spires & Suzanne Temple| March 26, 2019

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Get the most out of your graphic novel collection with these tips from collection development specialists at EBSCO’s Core Collections and NoveList.

Graphic novels present unique challenges for collection development. While it’s easy for librarians to collect award winners and titles featured on lists and in podcasts, those sources barely scratch the surface of what is available. If you aren’t a graphic novel reader yourself, you may feel uncomfortable choosing titles for your collection. Here are four tips to make it easier to find the best graphic novels for your library.

Remember graphic novels are a format, not a genre.

Like the audiobook format, graphic novels come in a wide variety of genres, from memoirs and history to fantasy and horror. It would be unfair to assume that graphic novels are one-size-fits-all. After all, both March by Congressman John Lewis and The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman are graphic novels, but they deal with completely different subject matters. Consider where you would like to shelve your graphic novels. Many libraries have a dedicated graphic novel section, while others shelve their graphic novels with the rest of their circulating collection based on genre or call number. Ask yourself where patrons will look for a specific title and whether its circulation will benefit from that location.

While it’s easy for librarians to collect award winners and titles featured on lists and in podcasts, those sources barely scratch the surface of what is available.

Review illustrations when assessing the quality of graphic novels. 

Graphic novels use illustrations to help tell a story; therefore, illustrations are essential in assessing the quality of graphic novels. Illustrations can set the tone through the style of drawing. For instance, cartoony illustrations may indicate humor, while surreal illustrations may indicate a more whimsical or fantastical tone. Color can also contribute to the tone. A muted palette may be used for dystopian subject matter whereas a vibrant palette may indicate a lighter and more positive subject matter. Color can also be used to draw a reader’s focus to a specific action or to evoke a specific mood. While illustrations can be used to set a tone, illustrations can also be used to dilute harsh subject matter. This is frequently found in heavier children and teen subject matter.

Utilize awards, lists and other graphic novel resources available.

It’s also important to remember you don’t have to do this all on your own! There are awards and lists to be found from ALA, and comics and graphic novel publishers themselves are eager to provide book news and resources to any librarian who will listen. DC Comics maintains an annually updated list of what they consider to be essential graphic novels for their universe and characters. Multiple publishers (including DC, Image, and Lion Forge) send librarian-specific email newsletters with giveaways, review copies, classroom activities, event kits and more. These can be easily subscribed to from publisher websites.

Get input from your patrons.

Finally, rely on your patrons for purchasing suggestions when needed. You may not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the newest and most beloved shonen manga titles, but there’s almost certainly a teen patron or two happy to tell you what they’d like to see on the shelves.

Visit the SEE-IT website for more information about the SEE-IT Award for achievement in youth graphic novels and view last year’s finalists.

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Kendal Spires & Suzanne Temple

Kendal Spires works on collection development for EBSCO’s Core Collections, and also serves on ALA GNCRT’s Metadata & Cataloging committee. As the jury liaison for SEE-IT, Kendal manages juror communication and logistics. Kendal is a lifelong lover of scifi/fantasy and comics of all stripes, and also enjoys the occasional historical mystery or crackerjack nonfiction tale.

Suzanne Temple is a Metadata Librarian for NoveList, where her primary focus is cataloging and enhancing children and teen titles. Part of that role includes leading the graphic novels team. Suzanne also writes graphic novel and audiobook reviews for Booklist. As content advisor, Suzanne is SEE-IT’s graphic novel subject and audience level expert. Suzanne loves the darker side of fiction, reading mostly horror and dark fantasy, though enjoys a wider variety of graphic novels. She is also an avid audiobook listener.

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