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What IF . . . Library

  • I am very concerned about starting to collect graphic novels. Just the phrase “graphic novel” makes some adults pale, and that’s before they’ve even cracked a cover. Once they look inside, I’m worried the violence in some might be off-putting as well. I know that many kids see worse on T.V., but I don’t know if our board, or even my colleagues, understands or will remember that when they look inside some of the ones I’ve seen. How can I defend selecting some of them for the library?

  • We’re glad you are thinking about ways to articulate why you will have graphic novels (GNs) in the collection because school and public libraries serving children and teenagers today certainly want to be collecting materials in this format (so named because it presents stories and information in a highly visual manner) to the extent their budgets allow.

    While it’s important to know that some people have preconceived notions about, and even prejudices against, comics and GNs (assuming that “graphic” implies violent content, for example, or that they don’t constitute “literature”), it’s also important to keep everything in perspective. So, yes, you should think about why you are collecting GNs, but you should approach that thinking in terms of what GNs have to offer to help you meet the needs and interests of the children and teens you serve. In other words, how do they fit into your library’s collection development policy?

    If you look at this policy and criteria for materials selection, we bet you will find that GNs fit in a number of ways. Remember, that “graphic” novels are a format that embodies a wide range of material, from biographies and other books of information to adventure, fantasy, science fiction, contemporary realism, historical fiction stories and more—all things you no doubt want to be—and already are--collecting.

    If you are in a school library, you'll also want to collect GNs to support learning. There are GNs that relate to subjects across the curriculum, while the format itself offers opportunities to engage various types of learners.

    Like any publishing, GNs vary widely in quality and content. Some are mediocre, and others are literary masterpieces. So just as with selecting any item for purchase, you will want to turn to professional review journals or whatever other criteria the library’s collection development policy articulates for choosing materials.

    Here’s welcome news: GNs are now commonly reviewed in professional library review journals. An increasing number of bibliographies of recommended GNs have been developed for both school and public libraries as well. (For a listing, visit the CCBC’s graphic novels resource page).

    Just as you would for any concern that is raised, take advantage of the opportunity to explain about your goals in building the library’s collection for young readers, interpreting how GNs help you meet those goals and the diverse needs and interests of children and teens the library serves.

    You can also turn a question into the opportunity to explain more about GNs—show how many different kinds of books and storytelling are represented. You might even consider creating a display for individuals coming into the library to introduce them to the many kinds of storytelling and information to be found in the highly visual, or “graphic” format.

    As for your worry that some of the visual content might be upsetting to some, you are absolutely right. But the same can be said about language, violence or sexual content of some text novels; the illustrations in some picture books; and the information in some nonfiction. In other words, the reality is that many if not all of the materials found on the shelves of our libraries have the potential to offend someone. And as with any material in any library, it’s important to look at the work as a whole and not take individual components out of context.

    And so we encourage you to take a proactive approach to thinking about and collecting graphic novels and comics. You will purchase some as “popular materials” for the young readers you serve, and others as books of information, and still others because of their literary merit. As long as you are following the guidelines and criteria for selection outlined in your policy, you can be confident in the decisions you make.

    And if a complaint is raised or a challenge does arise, you’ll be able to turn to that policy and follow the same procedures you would for a complaint or challenge to any other item in the library.

    February, 2007

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