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Action Research Project LIS 600 Maggie Willis

Current Views and Uses of the Burgeoning Comics Collection of the New Hanover County Public Library
Comics and graphic novels are gaining a wider acceptance and increased popularity among readers of all ages and levels and in reaction to this libraries are collecting these materials more seriously than ever. In the spring of this year the New Hanover County public library system began to collect graphic novels for adults to add to their already established collection for young adults and children. The spike in interest was a result of the collective efforts of library staff and the local comic store which held a community raffle raising enough money to donate over 550 new graphic novels to the librarys collection (Nunn). Over the summer of this year the library system featured some of the recently acquired graphic novels on the main page of the OPAC making them more obvious to everyone who used the system to search for a book whether within the library or from home. The raffle and burgeoning collection were featured in an article by the local newspaper emphasizing that comics are not just for kids (Nunn). Although the collection will be geared towards adult comics the librarian in charge of ordering the materials is the youth librarian and the collection is an ongoing process. When reviewing the current literature on the topic of graphic novels in libraries I came to realize that although graphic novels are currently extremely popular in libraries they are still often stigmatized by librarians as youth materials and pleasure reading and not considered valid forms of information. Through my research I hope to ascertain the popularity of this relatively new collection among patrons as well as librarians. I would like to better understand the way the New Hanover County librarians view graphic novels and in what contexts they find them relevant and to compare this with frequency of use to see if the librarians are accurately portraying the usability of the medium. I hope to find out if graphic novels are an important part of information provision from the library to the community and if so to find out if they are appreciated as such by the librarians who service the community.

Defining of Terms:
Throughout this paper I will be using the terms comics, graphic novels, and graphic media to all represent the same concept of graphic sequential narrative as defined by Scott McCloud as juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer (McCloud 9). At the NHC library comics are classified as Graphic Fiction, Juv Graphic Fiction or if nonfiction are classified according to standard classification rules for nonfiction items. Comics are most frequently referred to by librarians as graphic novels I believe due to a general lack of understanding of the medium and because fiction comics are always collected in the graphic novel format by the libraries.

Research Questions:
Collecting adult graphic novels in the NHC library is a method by which the library hopes to attract comics lovers to the library but it can also be a valid means of enhancing the librarys ability to provide information to patrons in forms that werent previously available. Graphic novels are often read for pleasure and as a consequence are often relegated to a less substantial role in the information environment. However, they can be valid sources of factual information and literary content although they are not always seen in this way by the public or by librarians. This study attempts to find out the views of NHC public reference librarians on the incipient adult graphic novel collection and the frequency of use of nonfiction adult graphic novels as compared to other items the library holds dealing with the same subjects in order to ascertain if there is a dichotomy between use and library opinion. The study takes as its basis these questions: 1.) Is the new collection popular among patrons? 2.) How is the collection viewed by reference librarians in terms of information? 3.) How is the collection used by patrons in terms of information?

Literature Review:
Within the literature on comics in libraries there is a degree of separation between those who see comics only as materials worthy of attracting readers to the library and those who see comics as an information medium capable of supplying literary and factual content on par with more traditional texts. Much of the current information on comics in libraries focuses on the youth aspect of comics or treats the medium as a way to attract those with low reading levels into the library where they can then pick up more substantial materials and move on and up from comics. Although no one doubts the popularity of comics collections within libraries they are often misunderstood in terms of value by the librarians responsible for them. In her article on graphic novels collected in her library Alison Ching gives relevant statistics: currently we have 372 graphic novels, which account for 1.5 percent of our collection. As of late March we have had 3,158 graphic novel circulations during the 2004-2005 school year, accounting for a whopping 17.7 percent of our total circs during that time. In terms of percentage, this makes graphic novels our top circulating section, coming out far ahead of the next 3 runners-up(Ching 19) To further illustrate this point in an interview about graphic novels in libraries with four librarians in different parts of the country Amy Alessio, teen coordinator for the Schaumburg Twp. Dist. Library in Illinois states: With a collection of 6,000, we circulate an average of 4,000 books a month. A little under half of those are graphic novels. While Eva Volin, head childrens librarian in Alameda, California says I can tell you that graphic novels tend to turn at least 2-3 times more often than general nonbestseller titles do (Hogan). To further emphasize popularity an article from the New York Times comments: The Queens Library, the countrys largest by circulation, stocks thousands of manga volumes. At least 40 percent are checked out at any given time, and the most popular are taken out 60 times in two years before they fell apart(Bernard 3). In an article about librarians being featured on a panel at New York Comic Con it is mentioned that Libraries account for ten percent of all graphic novel sales, equaling roughly $30 million annually (Kim 15). This year the American Library Association added the first-ever Graphic Novel Panel during their 2010 annual conference and for its banned books

3 week festivities this year the ALA published online a list of graphic novels that are frequently banned with the reasons for their disapproval. With all this popularity comes a better opportunity to understand the ways in which graphic media are viewed within the library and portrayed by librarians and how well they are understood. It is important for any collection for the librarian to have an understanding of all facets of its usefulness in order to effectively serve the patrons as well as to effectively serve the medium itself. Unfortunately, many librarians still see comics as strictly youth materials or introductory reading matter not to be used for serious literary consideration or research. In the article previously mentioned about the librarian panel at New York Comic Con it is noted that: panelists bemoaned that many fellow librarians still view anything in a graphic format as kid stuff (Kim 15). An article on graphic novels in libraries illustrates a common view held by librarians with this statement by a librarian: Although comic book reading is at least as beneficial as other reading, we know graphic novels are not here to replace text-based book reading but rather to enhance it. Comic book readers often move on to more serious reading and have positive attitudes toward reading (ALSCRDC 50). In her article on libraries and graphic novels Lucia Serantes states Graphic novels and comic books have proven helpful in bringing young patrons to libraries and keeping them inside! ( 46). While this insight is true of comics in libraries and positive for both comics and libraries it reveals the common mode of thinking by librarians in regards to comics as attractors for youth rather than as materials containing valid intellectual content. In the previously mentioned article about the Queens library in New York the librarian mentions: Much like urban fiction and romance novels, manga has been embraced by librarians who say their job is not to judge what people read, but to give them what they want, engage them and later, perhaps, suggest other genres (Barnard 3).This statement by a librarian is indicative of the widely held practice of librarians of thinking of comics only in terms of a lowbrow genre relegated to the pleasure reading realm and suggests the way librarians hope to use comics as a means to an end of enlightening their uninformed readers into a world of more substantial literature. Many libraries expeience staff confusion when they first begin collecting graphic novels but once staff become more comfortable with the medium their perceptions are often adjusted. This is evidenced by a statement from Amy Alessio, teen coordinator for the Schaumburg Twp. Dist. Library in Illinois: At first, as with any new media, staff had to go through an education process. The cultural lines of acceptability were the hardest to teach. Now, though, it is an accepted and well-known collection in the library (Hogan). Eva Volin, head childrens librarian in Alameda, California comments on this issue with Some staff education was necessaryespecially for those who understood the word graphic to mean dirty. But seeing the books circulate as quickly as they do, and seeing the kids excited by the collection, and going on to pick up prose books when they are done with the comics, has converted most of the staff into believers. This statement is both positive in its portrayal of library staffs change of heart and negative in its mentioning that they are pleased because comics lead to prose books. David Serchay, youth services librarian for the Margate Branch of the Broward County Library System and author of The Librarians Guide to Graphic Novels for Children and Tweens and The Librarians Guide to Graphic Novels for Adults adds that Most staff members appreciate that even if its not something they like, the patrons do. Some branches have asked for more due to increased demand (Hogan). Librarians are slowly coming around to a more honest understanding of the medium through patron awareness and a realization of the popularity of their graphic novel collections. Although there is a plethora of information about graphic novels being collected for youth collections and school libraries there is very little about graphic novels collected for adults or graphic novels as a more serious addition to the general collection. I could find no studies or statistics about adult graphic novel collections in libraries and their impact or purpose. I believe this is because this is a relatively recent phenomenon in most libraries and therefore there is no literature yet on the subject. There is, however, information on how graphic novels can be used outside of youth collections and

4 pleasure reading shelves and how they are becoming more and more valid in society. Leslie Bussert maintains that Comic books and graphic novels are becoming two of the most pervasive and influential media forms of popular culture. Placed within the context of changing society, comic books and graphic novels entertain and educate, but they have also been instrumental in documenting and interpreting social, historical, and current events (103). This is evidenced by books such as Marjane Satrapis Persepolis, Art Speigelmans Maus, Still I Rise by Roland Owen Laird and Elihu Bey, The Book of Genesis illustrated by R. Crumb and Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. Leslie Bussert justifies the more intellectual aspects of comics collecting with: Scholarship and research surrounding comic books and graphic novels are growing. Many in the fields of history, sociology, and arts and literatures realize the unique and valuable insight inherent in studying comic books and graphic novels. Thus, new collections and resources are being created and developed to meet the needs of fans, collectors, scholars, and researchers alike. (103) Comics are not only lures for attracting novice readers and previously uninterested young people but are worthy elements in themselves only recently breaking onto the information scene. In the past comics have been viewed by society and librarians in a predominantly negative manner but that is all changing as the world changes technologically and many new media and forms of information transmission are becoming accepted where they once were marginalized in favor of traditional modes of communication. As we can see graphic novels are an increasingly essential element of library collections and although frequently viewed by library staff as merely childs play they a have a variety of uses outside of pleasure reading that are not being sufficiently taken advantage of, often due to previously held stereotypes against the medium by librarians. Comics are just beginning to be recognized by information professionals for the valid means of information expression that they are and are slowly emerging as a not only useful but extremely popular source of information and a valuable asset to any library collection. Librarians are becoming more and more accepting of the medium but still lack an understanding of just what it is capable of as far as information dissemination and expression which can have a negative effect not only on the library but also on the community in that resources are not being used to their full potential.

In order to answer questions on the popularity of comics in the library I decided on a two part path towards collecting information. In order to understand the specific details of the collection at the New Hanover County public libraries I hoped to interview the person in charge of the collection. She declined to assist me due to time constraints so the information I have on the collection is mostly gleaned through a newspaper story done at the start of the collection and observation. To ascertain the thinking of reference librarians about the graphic novels collection I interviewed the reference librarians at each of the three branches of the NHC public library system which have regular reference librarians. I asked 8 questions in person to each librarian after informing them of my intentions and recorded their answers. The 8 questions are as follows: 1.) Do you get a lot of questions about comics? 2.) What age group asks the most questions? 3.) What gender? 4.) Do you ever use comics as reference sources? If yes when? 5.) Do you ever recommend comics if not specifically requested?

5 6.) Do you ever recommend comics for factual content rather than pleasure reading? 7.) Would you say comics are for young readers or everyone? 8.) Would you say the graphic novel collection is a popular feature of the library? For the second part of my research I collected information from the OPAC in order to answer the question of graphic novel usage by patrons of the library in order to compare the librarians views on graphic novels as information resources with the frequency with which nonfiction graphic novels are checked out compared to other sources of the same information. I located seven nonfiction graphic works currently collected by the library and compared the frequency with which they are checked out against the frequency of the top ten items listed on the OPAC when I searched for the specific subject matter of each comic. The books I chose and their topics are: Persepolis by Marjane Sartrapi dealing with women in Iran, Maus by Art Spiegelman dealing with holocaust survivors, Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco dealing with arab-israeli conflict, Fun Home:A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel dealing with gay-coming out issues, The United States Constitution: a graphic adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey dealing with the U.S. Constitution, The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb being a translation of the book of Genesis and The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert dealing with war in Afghanistan. The library is still working on its adult graphic novel/comics collection which it just began earlier this year so there is a limited amount of nonfiction works to choose from at present.

Librarian Interviews:
Question 1: As a reference librarian do you receive a lot of questions about graphic novels? The answer to this question was a unanimous No. One librarian suggested the reason for this as being because patrons who are interested in comics already know what they want so dont need the assistance of a librarian in deciding. Another librarian said that the majority of the questions she receives about comics deal with their location within the library. Question 2: What age group asks the most questions about comics/graphic novels? Three out of four librarians said that they receive most inquiries about graphic novels from adults ranging in age 20-30. Only one librarian said she receives most questions from children although this particular branch of the library is very popular amongst children with a lot of childrens programs. Question3: What gender asks most frequently about graphic novels? Two librarians said they most often are asked about graphic novels by males. One librarian said she thought it was about equally divided between male and female. The other librarian said she is asked most often by adult males but for younger people it is equally divided among genders. Question 4: Do you ever use comics as a reference source? If so under what circumstances? Two librarians said they never use comics as a reference source. One librarian said she sometimes uses them particularly when she is familiar with the material. She used Persepolis by Marjane Sartrapi as an example as one she would use as a source if someone was interested in world literature. Another librarian said it depends on the subject matter, as in if someone was looking for a graphic novel she could help them but she wouldnt normally recommend them otherwise.

Question 5: Do you ever recommend comics if not specifically requested? One librarian said she does if she is familiar with the comic and noted that she would recommend them more often if she had read more herself. The other librarians said they never recommend comics unless asked specifically by the patron. Question 6: Do you ever recommend comics for factual content rather than pleasure reading? All librarians except for one said they never recommend graphic novels for factual content. The one who does said she sometimes recommends graphic novels she is familiar with if they fit the searchers need. Question 7: Would you say comics are for young readers or for everyone? All librarians asked believe comics at the library are for everyone not just young readers. Question 8: Would you say the graphic novel collection is a popular feature of the library? All librarians answered an emphatic YES to this question. One librarian noted that the collection is becoming more and more popular all the time while another noted that although very popular within its interest group she wouldnt say it was a popular feature outside of already committed fans. The opinions of the reference librarians towards the comics medium are both positive and negative and fit well with the views already discussed in the literature review. While all of the librarians agree on the popularity of the new collection as well as believe that the collection is for all ages they still dont usually recommend comics for serious information inquiries excepting a few instances when the librarian is familiar with a specific book. Comics are still seen mostly by the NHC reference librarians as pleasure reading materials although on a positive note they are not viewed as only youth oriented materials. The librarians seemed to suggest that if they knew more about the medium they would be more inclined to use it in more diverse ways.

Catalog Search (see table 1):

Topic 1-Women in Iran: (see chart 1) This topic compares the frequency of use of the graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Sartrapi with the top 10 items listed on the OPAC by relevancy when the main subject matter of women in Iran was searched. This comic with 25 times borrowed was checked out almost twice as many times as the next most popular item with 13 times, while many of the other books rated between 0 and 5 times. The comic was checked out 36.2% of the total times for all eleven items. Topic 2-Holocaust Survivors: (see chart 2) This topic compares the frequency of use of the comic Maus by Art Spiegelman with the top 10 books listed on the OPAC by relevancy when the main subject matter of holocaust survivors was searched. This comic with 11 times checked out was the most frequently consulted of the materials searched, the next most common was 8 times while most items ranged in between 1 and 4 times. The comic was checked out 30.6% of the total times. Topic 3-Arab-Israeli Conflict: (see chart 3)

7 This topic compares the frequency of use of the comic Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco with the top 10 books listed on the OPAC by relevancy when the main subject matter of Arab-Israeli conflict was searched. This comic, although only checked out 3 times, was still more popular than all 10 of the other items searched all having been checked out 2 or fewer times. It was checked out 20% of the total times. Topic 4-Gay/Coming Out Issues: (see chart 4) This topic compares the frequency of use of the comic Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel with the top 10 books listed on the OPAC by relevancy when the main subject matter of gay coming out was searched. This book with 4 times checked out was more popular than all of the 10 items located with the next most popular item with 3 times and the rest with 0 or 1 time. It was checked out 40% of the total times. Topic 5-U.S. Constitution: (see chart 5) This topic compares the frequency of use of the comic The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey with the top 10 items listed on the OPAC by relevancy when the main subject matter of U.S. constitution was searched. This comic with 6 times checked out was not the most frequently used item although it was in the top 4 with 6 of the 10 items used less than half as frequently as the comic. It was checked out 14.6% of the total times. Topic 6-Book of Genesis/ Translation: (see chart 6) This topic compares the frequency of use of the comic The Book of Genesis illustrated by R. Crumb with the top 5 (there were only five options available not counting commentaries) items listed on the OPAC by relevancy when its main subject matter of the book of Genesis was searched. This comic with 11 times checked out was more popular than all of the 5 items located, the next highest being 7 times with the others rating 1, 2, 4, and 5 times. It was checked out 36.7% of the total times. Topic 7-War in Afghanistan: (see chart 7) This topic compares the frequency of use of the comic The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert with the top 10 items listed on the OPAC by relevancy when the main subject matter of war in Afghanistan was searched. This comic with 5 times checked out was not the most popular of the items but was the 3rd most popular beating 7 other items, which rated from 0 to 2 times, by more than half. It was checked out 6.6% of the total times. This study clearly shows that nonfiction comics dealing with serious intellectual topics are frequently used sources of information in the library. Most of the comics were much more popular than all other items and those that werent the most frequently borrowed still maintained a very high level of usage as compared to all ten of the other items. (see charts 8 and 9)

The results of the two methods of study show the dichotomy between NHC library staff perceptions of the uses of graphic novels and actual uses by the community. I would have liked to include more about the librarys purposes and desires for the collection as well as the level of community involvement but I could not acquire this information from those contacted due to unwillingness to participate or time constraints. Another aspect of the equation that would be relevant to the study is patron response to the collection and community desire for, opinion of and knowledge of the new collection.

8 The results of the survey in some ways reflect the negative aspects obvious in the current literature in that librarians dont always take seriously the collection and believe it to be mostly for pleasure reading rather than intellectual content. However, the results of the search of the OPAC confirm that patrons are in fact using nonfiction comics with astounding frequency as compared to other non-internet library resources. The collection is still in its infancy so the results of the librarian survey probably in some ways reflect a novice knowledge of the subject matter which will evolve over time as the collection becomes a larger part of the library. All of the books searched on the OPAC are fairly recent acquisitions to the library as well so this could have bearing on their popularity either in a negative or positive light in that they could be experiencing the novelty of the new or they could be unknown to most patrons due to their newness. Overall the study revealed that the New Hanover County library system is similar to other libraries in that it is beginning to recognize the importance of collecting comics not only for youth collections but for adults as well. Although the NHC library is not far ahead of the common notions of comics held by many libraries and librarians around the country it is making headway in coming to terms with its new comics collection in ways that show promise for the future.

Works Referenced
Barnard, Anne, and Robert Gebeloff. "At Queens Libraries, a Passion for Japanese Comics Endures." New York Times 17 May 2010: 21. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 16 Sept. 2010. Bussert, Leslie. "Comic books and graphic novels." College & Research Libraries News 66.2 (2005): 103113. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 16 Sept. 2010 Ching, Alison. "Holy Reading Revolution, Batman!." Young Adult Library Services 3.4 (2005): 19-21. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 17 Sept. 2010. Hogan, John. Graphic Novels in Todays Libraries. Graphic Novel Reporter. Web. October 2010. <http://www.graphicnovelreporter.com/content/graphic-novels-todays-libraries-roundtable>. Kim, Ann, and Michael Rogers. "Librarians Out Front at Comic Con." Library Journal (1976) 132.6 (2007): 15. Library Lit & Inf Full Text. Web. 16 Sep. 2010. McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print. Nunn, Cece. Tales from the Library. Wilmington Star News. July 12, 2010. Web. October 2010. <http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20100712/ARTICLES/100719957>. Serantes, Lucia Cedeira. "Es Un Pjaro? Es un Avin? ... Es Supermn! Spanish Comics for American Libraries." Young Adult Library Services 3.4 (2005): 46-8. Library Lit & Inf Full Text. Web. 17 Sep. 2010. Association for Library Service to Children Research and Development Committee. "Graphic Novels for Children. Should They Be Considered Literature?." Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children 4.3 (2006): 49-51. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 17 Sept. 2010


Table 1:
Topic Women in Iran Holocaust Survivors Arab-Israeli Conflict Gay-Coming Out Issues U.S. Constitution The Book of Genesis-Translation War in Afghanistan TOTAL Graphic Novel Book 1 Book 2 Book 3 Book 4 Book 5 Book 6 Book 7 25 11 0 0 0 5 13 11 0 1 1 4 2 2 3 1 0 2 1 0 2 4 1 0 1 1 0 0 6 2 2 2 10 8 0 11 1 2 4 5 7 5 2 17 47 1 0 1 65 18 22 57 22 22 18 Book 8 2 3 2 0 2 0 9 0 1 0 3 0 2 6 Book 9 Book 10 GN vs. Books 12 36.2% 3 30.6% 2 20.0% 0 40.0% 8 14.6% 36.7% 0 1 6.6% 12 26 23.5% 1 8 2 0 1

Chart 1:

Holocaust Survivors
Women in Iran

Graphic Novel Book 1 Book 2-0%

Graphic Novel Book 10% Book 2 31% Book 3


2% 3%

Book 4 Book 5


Book 3-0% Book 4-0%

Book 6
Book 5 Book 6 19% Book 7 Book 8-0% Book 9 7% 16% Book 10

3% 8% 6% 11% 5%

3% 3%

Book 7 Book 8 Book 9 Book 10

Chart 4: Chart 3:

Gay-Coming Out Issues

Arab-Israeli Conflict
13% 20% Graphic Novel Book 1 Book 2-0% Book 3 13% 7%

Graphic Novel Book 1 Book 2-0% Book 3 40% Book 4 Book 5-0%

Book 4
Book 6-0%

Book 5-0%
Book 7-0%

Book 6

Book 8
Book 9-0% 10% 10% Book 10-0%

Book 7



Book 8-0% Book 9



Book 10

Chart 5:

Chart 2:

11 Chart 6:
Graphic Novel Book 1 Book 2 5% 2% 5% 5% 5% Book 5 Book 6-0% Book 7 Book 8-0% 19% 24% Book 9 Book 10 13% 7% 17% Book 4 3% Book 5 Book 3

U.S. Constitution
15% 20%

Book of Genesis-O.T.-Translation
Graphic Novel 23% Book 1 37% Book 2

Book 3
Book 4

Chart 7:
1% 1% 1% 3%

War in Afghanistan
7% 3%

Chart 8:
Graphic Novel Book 1 Book 2

9% 2% 4% 23%

Graphic Novels Books 1 Books 2

Book 3 22% Book 4 Book 5-0% Book 6 Book 7-0% Book 8 62% Book 9-0% Book 10

3% 7% 7% 8% 8% 8%

Books 3 Books 4
Books 5 Books 6 Books 7 Books 8 Books 9 21% Books 10

12 Chart 9: