Introducing Graphicdemia: Collecting Comics and Graphic Novels in Academia

On March 2, I presented, along with two other colleagues, at the MSU Comics Forum on Golden Age: Comics and Graphic Novel Resources in Libraries. Our schtick, if you will, is to present the collection and outreach methods from three different types of libraries: academic, public, and special; and present specifically at a non-library conference.

In 1974, Will Eisner (yes, that Will Eisner) penned an article in School Library Journal entitled, Comic Books in the Library. For at least 40 years, libraries have been well aware of the importance of collecting comics and graphic novels. Librarians write and present on this topic to other librarians at librarian conferences and publications across the country all day, every day.

But what about interaction with the public, the communities we serve, comic stores, artists, etc? Do they know we’re doing this?

The answer is: Not so much.

My presenting colleagues and I recognized there is a disconnect between what librarians are doing and the community and artists we’re doing it for and this is where our presentation comes in. We’re also going to be doing similar presentations at C2E2 in April and Grand Con in September. The C2E2 presentation is going to be more of a how the collection is promoted and utilized, while the Grand Con presentation will be similar to MSU Comic Forum presentation or a hybrid of the two.

At the MSU Comics Forum, our Q&A after was pretty awesome and we got a lot of great questions. I felt really confident about our work and the audience seemed to really respond well to what we were saying. The confidence/passion of how we feel about our topic is evident, and we had a great rapport with each other to back up the other’s points. I’m excited about our future presentations.

Now, I began collecting graphic novels at GRCC for a couple of reasons. We literally only had a few titles, like Astonishing X-Men Vol 1 and Cartooning for fun and profit (circa 1945), but there was absolutely no cohesion to our collection (series titles were not continued, some of the books were older than dirt, and so forth). In addition, I was told someone local was going to donate a few boxes of graphic novels several years ago but they were all rejected by the librarians at the time as not being relevant to our curriculum. Even despite the fact someone was obviously buying titles since the library already a small growing collection in the stacks. So, no consistency or cohesion to the collection.

The other reasons I wanted to collect graphic novels was the value and diversity they bring to the collection, they would or could be supported across various curriculums and lastly, they could introduce students to new topics or be a bridge to a difficult topic.

I took my proposal to the librarians and my director, and they supported the idea of collecting graphic novels. I worked with our cataloger on how to best catalog our collection. By mid-spring 2012, I started collecting graphic novels and peripheral books.

When you hear librarians talk about collection development, they often mention the core collection. Typically this means titles that should be standard in your stacks, for whatever reason. To bring cohesion to the collection, I needed to find fairly recent core collection lists, websites, and books to start gathering titles as well as start tracking newly published titles to purchase.

This is when I started running into a number of problems.

  1. 90% (if not higher) of professional literature (print and online) on comics/graphic novels is geared for teen, tween, or younger
  2. General core collection books were outdated or the titles recommended would be out of print or geared towards teen and younger
  3. Suggested reading lists from various organizations (library and non-library based) would include out of print or age inappropriate or content inappropriate titles
  4. Review lists from in the profession literature or general newspapers and magazines, concentrate more on teen/youth over adult titles
  5. Academic institutions that carry comic / graphic novel collections either had their collections in special collections (typically non-circulating), focused on a specific type (golden age, silver age, etc), or  the emphasis was on research only
  6. Catalogs by publishers or book distributors concentrate on youth  over adult books. A recent spring catalog by a large distributor was 20+ pages on graphic novels, maybe 3 pages were geared for adult content.

First let me clarify, when I refer to something as being “adult,” I am not referring to something as being racy or pornographic. I am referring to materials that contain situations, language, or ideas appropriate for 18+.   It is generally accepted most weekly comics are rated as such, but per my list above, publishers, reviewers, and such concentrate on the under 18s. Which is maddening!

I am also get that adults will read content geared for the under 18s, which is fine. But my first goal is to support our curriculum so I have to be very specific on what I can and cannot buy. I can also afford to be picky as our local public library is one block away, whereas if it weren’t, my range would be much more diverse.

As I started researching and creating my core list, I was finding a lot of great sites that I thought would be of interest to my students, so I started a graphic novels subject guide. In order to get a better idea of what to put on my guide, I searched for other guides on graphic novels and became disheartened by what I found.

  1. Guides that were obviously templates and could be for any subject, with no relevant information on the specific topic (general database links, general how to pages, etc)
  2. Guides with dead links, broken embeds, out dated information or rarely updated
  3. Guides with mixed messages: Instructions on how to use databases, cite papers, find materials and then provide available books geared for instructors / researchers.
  4. Guides that did not provide additional information outside of their own resources, so no list of blogs, websites, societies, museums, etc for future investigation.

Many guides had one problem, but most had multiple. I imagined myself as a student gettings super frustrated if I was doing homework on the inability to find information.

This is what got me thinking about how graphic novels are perceived in academia, from a student’s point of view and a librarian’s point of view.  And to be honest, it’s a mess.

This is when I sussed out I had numerous goals I wanted to achieve when it came to graphic novels in academic libraries.

  • Present at non-library conferences how libraries of all shapes and sizes are collecting, promoting, and circulating graphic novels
  • Inline with collecting the collection, promote the heck out of it to my patrons and community
  • Keep the subject guide as divergent and current as possible for not only my students, but others as well
  • Start Graphicdemia, and keep it as current and robust as possible as a resources for librarians who are collecting at non-research institutions,  special libraries, adult services public librarians, or something else entirely
  • Perhaps write on this topic for publication

Currently I’m debating on what to put on Graphicdemia vs putting it on the subject guide, so currently my rationale is, “If it helps someone on the development and collection side, that goes on Graphicdemia. If it is of general interest, that goes on the subject guide.”

The response to this has been fantastic so far, and it’s interesting to see how many librarians are struggling with the same problem. This is what makes working at a community college so unique is we fall into that sphere between public and four year academic institutions  and we can pull from both on many things but others, we get lost in the shuffle.

I have a lot of work to do.