How Graphic Novels Became the Hottest Section in the Library

Friday, May 3

According to old stereotypes, it shouldn’t work—serious librarians should want nothing to do with the raucous, pulp world of comics—and for a long time it didn’t.

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By Heidi MacDonald

According to old stereotypes, it shouldn’t work—serious librarians should want nothing to do with the raucous, pulp world of comics—and for a long time it didn’t. But over the past decade, the graphic novel category has become one of the fastest-growing at libraries of all kinds, as a new generation of librarians adopts the category as a means to energize collections and boost circulation and patronage. The audience of children and teens is growing, critical and academic recognition has confirmed comics’ literary and artistic value, and a new shelf of modern classics has arrived. The use of comics is on the rise in educational circles as well: a recent survey by test-prep publisher Kaplan showed a third of ESL teachers use comics to help teach English, and the call for unorthodox learning materials in the new Common Core standards could result in even more attention for the growing field of nonfiction comics.

In addition, graphic novels are a key to several new initiatives for e-book lending. Comics Plus: Library Edition, a team-up between library distributor Brodart and the digital vendor iVerse Media, is a new service aimed at making digital borrowing more convenient and cost-efficient; it goes live this summer.

Pockets of resistance remain, but generational objections to comics have dissipated among librarians. “People who don’t read them or grew up at a time when they were considered poor literature still have that stigma from the 1950s,” says Robin Brenner, teen librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts and a leading crusader for comics in libraries. But it’s hard to stay dissatisfied with comics’ high circulation numbers. According to librarians surveyed for this article, graphic novels are among the most circulated categories, right up there with teen paranormal romance and DVDs.

Mike Pawuk, of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio, reports that graphic novel circulation numbers match those of popular prose teen books. In 2011, graphic novels made up about 10% of his collection but 35% of his circulation—and the number grew in 2012. Read More

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