Thank you to everyone who was able to attend our session at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference this morning!

Rebecca and myself (Rotem) spoke about the history of the comics library, the challenges of cataloguing comics and being a non-profit volunteer-run space, as well as provided a few comics resources which we hope will be helpful to other librarians!

We are attaching a link to the slideshow here to share those resources. Please get in touch with us if you have any questions! Presentation notes are copied below.

Contact Rotem:

Contact Rebecca:

Contact the Canada Comics Open library:

social media: @canadacomicsol

email: website:

Presentation notes

Slide 2

(first 20 seconds) So you can see what our space looks like…bring up our most recent crowdfunding campaign:

Question to understand attendees experience with comics; discussion about the experiences of those who visit CCOL (newcomers in Regent Park, shared space, comics lovers…)

Slide 4

So first, I wanted to tell you about…why and my origin story with comics…

I read Archie; hours copying characters …hard to find any realistic narratives about being a kid…or by women (Winnipeg). As a teen, I read a lot of indie and superhero commix by men, amazing superhero-themed comics like The Watchmen, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman..

I also worked in bookstores for several years and noticed the segregation of comics and lack of representation in the stories being told. People who read comics can tell you that most often comics with BIPOC characters are not made by BIPOC creators, and there is a lack of “own voices” in comics. This matters because..

Not until my 20s that I was able to find the work of women writing about their experiences and struggles like…, and feminist comics like…examples from slide… and narratives that dealt with everyday experiences like mental health and mental illness. As someone who has suffered from depression…

So then I went to library school and began working in libraries: tailoring assignments to comics, zines, and their use in libraries and looking at the shortcomings of classification standards for comics and how comics were understood, are understood now, and how they have changed. I thought I would get in trouble for spending so much time…

Slide 5

Near my graduation, I began volunteering at TZL where I met Rebecca! and began speaking with other librarians, zine makers, cartoonists who loved comics as well, and saw the importance of creating art for wellbeing. We started talking about what a special library space dedicated to comics and accessibility could look like, and began planning CCOL.

We pooled together collections (along with donations from a few other spaces) and at this point I started collection development I began to catalogue them comics home using open source software Open Bibllo; my living room mountain of comics…my partner and roommate were very kind.

In my role at CCOL, I run the website, social media, blog, library space, am in charge of grants, outreach, administrative tasks, strategic planning, events— so…learning all the time.

Slide 6

So then, we held a crowdfunding campaign, and although we weren’t able to meet all our goals, we were able to form a partnership with the CSI and moved into our space in March last year! Shared goals and a bit more about partnership…

What we look like now; Currently > This is an 100% volunteer led organization. The majority of us are women, and we are a mix of librarians, cartoonists, zine makers, and people from other jobs with a love of comics

We also have several volunteer librarians who staff the library and help out with projects like cataloguing and creating subject displays

Slide 7

Decision making is made by board voting. Many of our library space projects are led by volunteers (like controlled vocabularies for keywords) or research for the CCD, We encourage volunteers to provide input as well for improving procedures and making the space more accessible (examples: dividing the YA section; staff picks; an accountant who volunteers connected us with open source finance software Wave)

Slide 8

Many of our goals are focused on accessibility (making our space as comfortable and browsable to people as we can), inclusion (representing diverse experiences and making work that is underrepresented in the mainstream industry more visible), malleability (to change, the word “open” in CCOL refers to the importance of community feedback to implement change…

I created the website before we launched, and I hope that it reflects our goals. One of the biggest challenges of this project is designing the library so it can grow into an accessible space while having a very small budget, and a very big part of that challenge is cataloguing comics—

Slide 9

Before Rotem goes into more depth on CCOL’s approach to cataloguing I’m going to briefly discuss the traditional way comics have been and are catalogued in a lot of public libraries, just to highlight the reasoning for us wanting to try to do something a little differently.

Also, just to note: no one at CCOL are experts in cataloguing – everything learned has been mostly through DIY trial and error & incorporating ongoing feedback by the community and other librarians.

Slide 10

Traditionally, in the Library of Congress Classification system, comics are shelved together within the same subject area — as a genre— and distinguished by region (often place of publication), and then subdivided by author, publisher or title under comic book, or comic strips. Comics can also be subgrouped by title and year in this area; and elsewhere comics are organized by author, so, the last name and year.

This organization of comics by title or publisher reflects an earlier era of comics where they were (for the most part) not creator-owned, and artists had less rights over their own work, built into their contracts.

In Dewey Decimal classification, comics are, for the most part, shelved in the arts area (the 741.5 or 741s range) under → Comic books, graphic novels, fotonovelas, cartoons, cartooning, caricatures, and comic strips. They can then be further subdivided  as individual works, collections of works, historical, and critical treatments of works by an individual writer, or classed where a geographic area can be added.

Slide 11

Sometimes, at the cataloguers discretion, non-fiction comics may be shelved outside of the comics section in the broader subject area with other books, such as regional history or politics.

For example, in Dewey and Library of Congress the call numbers for Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco can be located under history of the Middle East.

And while we definitely think that is great because library visitors will be able to discover comics through subject areas that interest them and help dispel any bias they may have to the medium there are also a few drawbacks to doing this.

For one, it segregates these narratives from the comics section and may create or encourage a hierarchy of what comics “deserve” to be outside the comics section, also, it may feed into the historical bias that most comics are a lesser form of literature except for the select few. And finally, it eliminates the possibility for someone browsing the comics area to stumble into this work.

Slide 12

  1. Both of these systems make it difficult for people to find underrepresented and marginalized creators and in an industry that is still to a large extent made up of cis white male creators the lack of subject breakdown and visual cues specific to creator representation really perpetuates this.
  2. The second issue we identified is that the scope and variety of narratives that exist go largely ignored.

For example, it is immensely difficult to browse the shelves to find the autobiographies that tell the stories of people suffering from physical or mental illness such as In-Between Days, a memoir of cancer by Teva Harrison; or, unique perspectives of historical events, such as My Favourite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris; or, autobiographies about transgendered and queer creators such as Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye; or superhero comics made by creators of colour, such as Ichiro by Ryan Inzana.

  1. Lastly, removing select comics outside the space they’re normally in imposes a kind of hierarchy over what is considered ‘good enough’ – it also legitimises some comics over others.

Slide 13

This isn’t to say librarians and cataloguers do nothing to compensate for the shortcomings of MARC standards or traditional classification systems, in fact, they do a lot (events, diverse programming, story time, cartoonists in the library)

Slide 14

For example, because of the cataloguing standards of Resource Description and Access (RDA) replacing Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR2), cataloguers have adapted MARC fields to suit the unique features of comics. Importantly, RDA aims to be more accessible to the general public by eliminating most abbreviated words and making sure all creators are credited.

For example that comics are no longer catalogued using just the first creator and then “et al” in the author field.

So, previously information in this field would only provide an added entry for the first creator and if it has more, which is typically always the case with comics, the other contributors, such as pencilers, inkers, colourists, etc—were all represented by the et al, or not mentioned at all. So it’s great that this has now changed.

All this is to say — we do recognize that records for comics are much more comprehensive now than they used to be which *is* great! 

Slide 15

Also, although comics are shelved as one genre/subject, librarians also use genre headings to make comics more discoverable in the OPAC, highlighting select subject areas. However, there are only a handful of Library of Congress Subject Headings that apply to most comics and less than thirty Genre/Form Headings available for narrowing these results.

Also, the genre headings do not translate to browsability in the physical library space, unless a library staff member creates a display of comics from a subject heading search.

So, as readers of comics, we know they are and can be about anything –  just as varied as the classification of subjects in Library of Congress or Dewey— and not only that— since comics are also a hybrid medium for storytelling, they can fit into multiple subject areas, so, choosing how to catalogue and where to put them is clearly a challenge.

And this all leads us to what Rotem will now discuss with regards to how CCOL decided to catalogue comics..

Slide 16

The biggest questions that we had to reflect on were: how do we showcase the wide array of subjects and diverse creators within comics. And how do we recognize comics as a medium in the physical library space?

We had many discussions about cataloguing…gathered around my dining room table in my tiny apartment. Side story on creating sections for Indigenous and queer comics and how that may have segregated those narratives…and how do you account for intersectionality when a creator can fit within multiple representational categories…For example, an Indigenous queer creator who has written a comic with mental health themes.

Also I just want to reiterate, as Rebecca mentioned, none of us are expert cataloguers, and we are constantly learning all the time

So after a lot of discussion and debate, we decided that for our library, we would divide comics into these subjects to make the scope of narratives more visible (on slide) We also added the separate Browse by Publisher or Keyword menus into Open Biblio’s code, along with the ability to add the cover images of comics. When this code is a bit more complete, we plan to release it publicly…

Slide 17

The stickering system reflects some of the collection development areas we prioritize: Everyday narratives (lgbtq+ comics, mental health, physical health, disability, work by BIPOC creators and other marginalized creators)…

side story about Canadian stickers (not everyone who lives in Canada identifies as being Canadian)…keywords though

also not separating comics by region (manga)

Difference between orange sticker (representing creators) and others (representing narratives); limitations of stickers and compensation with keywords

Slide 18

Our launch event at The 519 in November 2018 was our first time displaying our collection and our stickering system to the public for feedback. We also had a panel on storytelling, and workshops…

Slide 20

This is a snapshot of what volunteer cataloguers see (MARC standard fields that we have adapted to our needs); a few things to note…(Subject field and dropdown menu and Keywords fields): All the keywords are added by volunteer librarians using a keyword taxonomy we created based on our stickering system and goals of representation and accessibility. The ability to add keywords was really important to us as well, that could be easily updated over time and with community feedback, factoring in things like the language of self-determination within marginalized communities. Image on the right is the browsable view of our OPAC

Slide 21

This is an example of keywords that volunteers have added to the record for Surviving the City, a great comic about two friends growing up indigenous in Winnipeg MB, that talks about missing and murdered indigenous women, published by HighWater Press, which is an imprint of Portage and Main…expand on the Indigenous comics imprint

Slide 22

We also create library subject displays to make underrepresented narratives more visible and post these as resources on our blog. This is a display for International Women’s Month…Asian Heritage Month, and Muslim, Arab, and MENA (Middle East North African) comics

Note about cataloguing: Through how we catalogue, we hope to be able to make the library more accessible for visitors. We do not think that other libraries should or could adopt our practices, but we hope that CCOL can act as a case study for a different way of cataloguing comics…

Slide 23

We also include zines in our collection, which are a whole other challenge to catalogue…. We currently place them on display or in slipcovers on the shelves with labeled spines.

And for those of you who don’t know, zines are self- published works that are typically handmade.

In fact, there’s a session later on zines that includes Lyndsey at 2 called I scream you scream, we all scream for library zines so be sure to check it out if you want to learn more about them! There are also some great collections in Toronto including at the Toronto Zine Library, OCAD, and the Toronto Reference library..

Ro jumps!

Slide 27

So, I’m now going to highlight some resources for comics (all the links for these resources mentioned will be made available via the powerpoint as well)

So, as well as the physical space and community building we’re also continually trying to develop an online community and presence, which includes a variety of  tools such as the cartoonist database/directory, and we also pooled together as many useful comics and zine resources we’ve come across to have them accessible all in one place ie the CCOL website.

Some examples include:

The CCOL Website Blog (which has resource guides, subject displays, reviews)

Slide 28

The Canadian Cartoonists Database

This comics database, which has a lot of Ro’s sweat and tears built into it (is great for discovering/looking up guest creators to participate in any of your library programming or if you’re looking to diversify your collections and you don’t know where to start, it basically acts as an online directory of cartoonists

Slide 29

Also on the CCOL website there are a variety of comic websites that we’ve included if you want to learn more about comics, or to direct your library visitors to!

Great for finding guest creators to participate in library programming and diversifying collections

The links to these websites are at the end of the slideshow

Slide 30

Also on the CCOL website we’ve put together a list of zine and comics fairs and most of these are free to attend – they’re great places to build relationships with comics creators and publishers.

Slide 31

Finally, we also have zine resources on our website on everything from if you’re starting a zine collection, to if you want to check out some physical zine libraries, I recommend going to the Toronto Zine Library because it’s circulating library, so you can check out a stack of zines to read at home, there are also resources for digitized zines.

Slide 33

You can access every one of these resources on CCOL’s website!




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