Thanks to a new generation of comics reading librarians, the expansion of genres in the medium and the ability of graphic novels to attract hordes of male and female teen readers, comics—namely, graphic novel collections—have found a new home in the library market. The panel, “Bringing Comics to Life in the Library!” held at the recent San Diego Comic-Con International, looked at the strategies five libraries use to engage readers and the implications for comics publishers.
“The library is a really fantastic place to get a comic known,” said Susan Rodgers, a panelist and teen services librarian. “I went downstairs to the exhibit hall and looked around at all the indie comics, and I’m looking forward to putting some of those into the hands of kids in the library.”
Panelist Jack Baur said publishers are courting libraries. “They are recognizing us as a market. They’re realizing that we’re making comic book readers, and we’re very happy to do that.”
Baur, a teen services librarian at Berkeley Public Library, collaborates with panelist Jessica Lee, a teacher-librarian at Willard Middle School, located in the same city. The two host a “Middle School Comic Book Club,” during the school’s lunch hour, once a week, all school year. (Because seventh and eighth graders lunch together, the club moves to Longfellow Middle School every other year to account for new club members.) The club’s reading list includes such graphic novels as Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese and Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost, winner of the 2012 Eisner Award for “Best Publication for Young Adults.” Baur and Lee built the club’s collection through grants via Donorschoose.org and the public library’s funds for teen services. The club usually has 10 regular students, sometimes more if the book has a movie tie-in.
“We have grown it to a point where I can come from the public library to the school library every week for the entire school year,” Baur said, “and we can give the kids a different graphic novel every single week.” Lee added, “We like to have a variety of books that are very different in style, but the club has a strong appeal because there is something for everyone.”
Baur and Lee also develop discussion guides that include synopses, themes and engaging questions. “Even as comics and graphic novels have grown in stature,” Baur said, “I don’t know how much encouragement these kids have to read their comics, so we get to play this role in encouraging them to read comics with the same critical eye they have when they read other forms of literature.”
Teen services librarian Susan Rodgers takes her comics programming beyond reading. On the panel, she outlined “The New 52” ideas—coined in homage to DC’s recent reboot of its superhero universe—at Palo Alto Public Library. To name a few: Design a shield. Decorate a Comic Storage Box. Remix comics. “Take old comic books, cut up the panels, paste them together, and make a whole new comic. “I can’t tell you how much kids enjoy cutting up old comics,” she said.
Panelist Scott Robins, a librarian at the Toronto Public Library, discussed children’s programming for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, held every May, one the most popular and fastest growing comics conventions. TCAF is held at the Toronto Public Library in collaboration with the library and is free to the public.
“This year’s show attracted over 18,000 people to the library,” he said, adding that children’s programming, which he directs, has increased. He cited interactive events like “Turn Your Life Into Comics” and “Comics Quickfire,” led by Raina Telgemeier, author of the award-winning and bestselling graphic novel Smile.
“Kids from the audience get to select cartoonists to be on their team,” Robins said. “It’s a really great way for kids to feel like they’re part of something and like they’re getting an opportunity to work with some of their favorite creators.”
But passive programming is important, too, Robins said. He created a graphic novel reading lounge, outfitted with comfy chairs for parents. He also secured giveaway materials from Viz Media, DC Comics and Scholastic. “The passive programming is key to keeping people in the space all day long.”
While Robins and others focused on existing programs, Alameda Free Library supervising librarian Eva Volin had spirited advice for librarians looking to build a graphic novel collection. Graphic novels need their own browsing section, she said, just like ones for fiction, DVDs, magazines, et. al. To create one, librarians might fight with their technical services department; re-cataloguing stray graphic novels – Persepolis might be in non-fiction, for instance – can be an arduous task. “It’s a lot of extra work for them and they are not going to be on fire to help you do this, but make the effort because it’s going to be worth it in the long run.”
Volin also recommended that librarians read the ALA’s “Great Graphic Novel for Teens” list and review past Eisner Award winners and nominees. Staying current keeps customers happy.
“I now have six [shelving] bays of graphic novels for kids ages 4-14, with over 1,200 titles, and when the kids outgrow my books,” she said, “they have two different graphic novel sections to graduate to – one in the teen department, and one in the adult department.”