Friday, April 15, 2005

Ranganathan & Comics

As part of our salute to National Library Week, I've written up a little essay about Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science and how they might apply to comics:

In 1931 S. R. Ranganathan, the Indian librarian who is considered to be one of the fathers of modern library science, developed his Five Laws of Library Science. Those laws are:

1. Books are for use.
2. Every reader his or her book.
3. Every book its reader.
4. Save the time of the reader.
5. The Library is a growing organism.

With some reworking, these laws can be applied to comics as well:

1. Comics are for use

The purpose of a comic is to be read. That seems self evident, but so many people who consume comics are locked into a collector mentality. There is nothing worse for the soul of comics than for a comic to be locked away inside hermetically sealed plastic and treated as an item. The collector mentallity is something that I myself am trying to shake: I'm loaning out more comics, donating graphic novels to the library, etc. If I have 25,000 comics, it does no good to anyone to leave them locked up in my closet--they need to be set free! (Like I said, I'm working on it...)

2. Every reader his or her comic
3. Every Comic its reader

These should be pretty self-explanatory. Remember, every comic is someone's favorite (even if it's just the creator's mother), and there is a comic to fit every taste. I know the medium is supposedly dominated by super-heroes, but flip through Previews and you'll see instances of comics on just about every subject, from westerns to romance to biography to fantasy to chick lit to horror etc. There are comics that can stand alongside 'literature' and comics that are the equivalent of dime novels. There are comics written for kids and comics written for adults (and comics written for adults who act like kids!) And just because you personally don't like a particular comic, that doesn't mean that no one should. There's variety, and variety is good.

4. Save the time of the comic reader

This one is the hardest to directly translate, but in practice it reflects the aim to provide service to the customer. This means service on all levels, from publisher to distributor to store. The easier it is for people to get comics, the more comics they'll have. Bookstores, 7-11s, online merchants, it's all good, provided the service is good. And everyone is responsible for the good of the comics medium; we are all stewards of comics, whether we be creators, redears or retailers. We may disagree as to what is 'good' for comics, or even what 'good' comics are, but we all want to see good comics succeed.

5. Comics are a growing organism

The field of comics is always growing and changing. There have been a lot of changes and challenges to comics in the past few years, from a shrinking number of stores to the manga 'invasion' to the gradual switchover from pamphlets to trade editions to the emergence of the Web. But change is part of everything, and comics will, in some form or another, always endure.


Ivan Chew said...

Hello Dave, discovered your blog while researching for my blog post. That's a clever article. Have cited you here :(

Anonymous said...

I too found your article perfect for my About Comics category ( Thank you for the great piece!

A. Rivera said...

This is an excellent little essay. I found it from a link at the blog. As a casual fan of comics and a librarian, thanks.

tiny robot said...

As a librarian AND as someone totally engrossed in The Watchmen right now, I enjoyed your post.

Anonymous said...

As I am yet another librarian, I was also pleased to read your version of Ranganathan's Laws and posted a message about it to the Graphic Novel Librarians (aka GNLIB) listserv -

My comment on law #4 is that those of us librarians who work in libraries that have comics in their collections need to try our best to help the reader to find the comics that s/he is looking for. Not an easy task, since most comic books are uncatalogued (although the graphic novels usually are).