Librarian How To: Graphic Novel Collection Development in Academia

Dear Internet,
As my tenure at MPOW gets closer to the end, I’m in the process of writing lots and lots of documentation for my successor1. One of my projects I’m most proud of, and hope will be continued, is my graphic novel collection (which will always be mine no matter what). Since I seem to be fielding lots of questions from people in all sorts of places about graphic novel collection development in academia, I usually point people to my project Graphicdemia since that has all of my resources. But there are a few questions I have not really answered such as WHAT I’m collecting and HOW I’m marketing the collection to my community.
This post should answer those question. (Warning: Some of the content is culled from stuff I’ve written in emails, comments, and documentation so it may sound a bit familiar.)
Collecting graphic novels at a community college is a weird niche. We’re not a research institution nor are we a public library, so our needs are different and are often left unaddressed. If you look at a lot of professional publications, they more often than not push their recommendations towards public libraries (mostly) OR gear their recommendations for research libraries. Thus, trying to collect and being active in this area  while considered a niche area is is kind of difficult at times.
With that being said, when I started ramping up the collection in the spring of 2012, it contained less than two dozen items and as of today, now contains closer to 300 items.
Not too shabby.
How do I decide on what to collect?
The collection is split into two with history, how-tos, criticism, and biographies of the creators located in 741.5s. Graphic novels themselves are located at the beginning of the fiction collection with the local call number Graphic Novel, are alphabetized by the creator’s last name, and have a “Graphic Novel” designated sticker on the spine.
We did this for a couple of reasons.
While the collection circulates, much of the circulation was happening outside the community via interlibrary loan. As I will later note, we were doing quite a bit of promotion within the library, but since the core collection was still stuck in the stacks (and students seemingly hate browsing the stacks just for fun), we weren’t seeing a lot of internal traffic happening with the collection. The librarians had recently decided we were going to clean up our fiction collection (adding more local authors, getting in more popular materials, updating existing copies) and I thought this would be a good time to move the core graphic novel collection to the beginning of the fiction stacks for better visibility. Our fiction stacks are prowled through quite a bit and the hope was to increase circulation within the local community by their shelf-reading.
This tactic worked. Our circulation has improved dramatically.
How did I select works? Works were selected with the following criteria:

  • If the work is geared for ages 16+
  • Preference is given if the work is an anthology, biography, historical (fiction or non-fiction), cultural, literary, standalone, regional, or independently published
  • If the work is currently not fairly represented in MeLCat (our statewide consortium) or in GRPL or KDL
    • Example: Gail Simone’s Red Sonja, which came out in March and was highly anticipated, is not currently showing up in MeLCat at any of the over 300 libraries in the state. So I ordered it for MPOW.
  • If the work is being used for an event on campus, classroom, or other college related activities
  • As space is limited, and GRPL is located across the street, long running or complex series’ and manga will not be considered unless they fall into the above definitions

Because of the nature of the collection, I use the following for collection development resources:

I bought criticisms, how-tos, commentary, and anthologies in addition to the stand alone books because I wanted to provide historical and popular thought to the collection. While it is important to me that people read comics, it is also as important to know the hows and whys comics are the way they are. I attempted to keep these titles more mainstream and less academic-y but still provide diverse thought and various reading levels.

On to promotion! You’ve got the collection started, now what?

  • Like any good librarian, the first thing I did was create a Subject Guide. In addition to keeping in line with the template the librarian’s developed for the guides, I decided to also add tabs for blogs and journals; reading lists and collections; museum, societies, and careers; conventions (local AND national) and comic book stores; and then a direct link to our graphic novels board on Pinterest.
    • Monthly, I would also update the “New Title” section of the guide to showcase latest titles received at the library.
  • I routinely advertise to various departments (English, History, Art, ESL) who also create assignments based on the collection though we do not have a graphic novel class yet! 
  • I blogged about graphic novels on MPOW’s blog, which also cross-posts to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
  • As previously mentioned, I curate a board on Pinterest that is updated monthly with new titles and links back to the library’s catalog
  • I advertise through various college communications for events (banned books week, free comic book day, etc)
  • When we were doing displays throughout the library, I would create and rotate themed displays featuring graphic novels
  • We created promotional materials (bookmarks, mini posters) to display or hand out
  • I contacted our local public library system to partner with them for various events that could not be handled here at MPOW for whatever reason
  • I contacted our local comic book store (LCS) to also do promotions and events as well as to buy our comics through them (support local businesses, yo!)
  • I also did outreach to various student groups on campus that might be inclined to read comics (anime club, gaming club, etc)

As I mentioned last month when I wrote up Kristin’s panel at C2E2, colleges AND other educational institution can get involved for either local or national events by doing the following:

  • Partner with your local public library AND LCS to do cross-marketing for their events
  • Create displays around the library to promote the events
  • Create Pinterest boards to showcase your graphic novel collection
    • Also utilize social media
  • Volunteer at LCS and/or public library for the event (if applicable)
  • Work with departments to use graphic novels in their instruction, promote their teachings / class list

In addition to all of the above (phew!), you can also join the Graphic Novels in Libraries mailing list, while geared towards public libraries, is chock full of info. Additionally, there are several MOOCs happening dedicated to comics and graphic novels. Coursera has a class starting in August and Canvas Network has class going on right now.
And as always, all of this information (and more) is always available at the Graphicdemia project page.