Despite the popularity of graphic novels, it can be a struggle to start and maintain a robust collection. The bucks can add up when starting from scratch or attempting to update an existing collection.
This can be discouraging news, but from tough issues come creative solutions! There are ways to expand access to graphic novels when there are barriers to acquiring them by traditional means of purchase. Look around and see what is in demand, what other nearby libraries have in their collections, and what your patrons are requesting and checking out.
No Need to Call Oracle: Resources at Your Fingertips
Before you try to figure out where your graphic novels will come from and how to extend that access to your patrons, it's a good idea to use some notable resources to know what's currently trending in the graphic novel and comics scene. YALSA publishes an annual Great Graphic Novels list for teens and tweens (ala.org/yalsa/ great-graphic-novels), and the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table (GNCRT) puts out the Best Graphic Novels for Adults list (ala.org/rt/gncrt/ awards/best-gn-adults). Also check out the Eisner Award winners and nominees (comic-con.org/awards/ eisner-award-recipients-2010-present), which is considered one of the highest honors in the comics industry. The wide variety of categories means ample selections to explore.
While this seems most helpful when considering the purchasing of a collection, best-of lists can assist in giving library workers an idea of how to promote and otherwise inform their users of the potential graphic novels available to them. And it never hurts to learn more about a collection you intend to make a part of your own library!
Community Partnerships, Assemble!
The manner and method in which you'll consult with your community partnerships will depend on the individual factors of your own library. This is the time to look into what existing methods are available and where your library may fall short with regard to sharing resources. Is there a library nearby with a grand graphic novels collection that you would like to partner with? What about more "formal" partnerships (Is your library a member of a consortium? How about the use of interlibrary loan, or ILL?). How efficient is the process of requesting and receiving?
In addition to traditional means of collection sharing, think about forming a team of like-minded library workers in your region. Initiate an interest email that will help generate an idea of which libraries may want to participate and which collections are available to lend. Topics for discussion in meetings can involve planning for implementation, marketing, and methods for tracking statistical data. You'll also want to assess activities that will gauge user interest and acquire feedback. There isn't one correct way to go about this--it may be trial and error until your partnership discovers what works best.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Consortia
Sometimes, creating a collaboration from the ground up may not be necessary. If your library already shares an open access catalog, expanding reach to graphic novels may not be as strenuous a process!
For Reese Library, an academic library located in Augusta, Georgia, making sure that students and other university affiliates can retrieve graphic novels involved tapping into a partnership that was already in place. Galileo Interconnected Libraries (GIL) is an established system in the state of Georgia where participating universities share library resources. The collections in each university's libraries are available to students, staff members, and faculty through a service dubbed "GIL Express." Qualifying patrons can use their existing library accounts to request items to be shipped at no cost to their home institutions.
This system probably sounds familiar. Many libraries are members of consortia or other types of resource-sharing groups that allow patrons to borrow materials that may not be available at their local libraries. Using this method of expanding access may be a no-brainer, but have you considered doing so specifically to spread the good word about sequential storybooks?
Creative Brainstorming Powers, Activate!
It's a good time to evaluate the collections of in-network libraries and find out how they've cataloged, displayed, and otherwise promoted their collections. This doesn't need to be a very detailed process but simply one where it's enough to gather ideas and helpful hints when the time comes to consider building your own collection. Tapping into that team of like-minded library workers is a great way to start this process.
Above all, you'll want to know what's available in your network. Are there libraries that receive newer graphic novels near their release dates? How would this affect access to patrons outside of their libraries? Many will not lend new materials for a certain amount of time outside of the home library. Is there a robust manga collection? Are there additional language formats other than English? What about the movies? A movie release always inspires an increased demand in the source material.
Next, you'll want to ensure that your patrons are hip to the idea of being able to request graphic novels even if they aren't available on your own shelves. Ensure that marketing and outreach efforts inform users how to utilize their library accounts to request materials from other libraries and networks. Making vibrant, eye-catching signage and creating accessible video tutorials with closed captioning can also inform your users about the possibility of using the service.
If your resource-sharing network allows, borrow select graphic novels for display to incorporate themes based on holidays, popular topics, social issues, and the like. Include portable literature like brochures that details how patrons can request even more graphic novels. Above all, make sure that interested patrons can grab the books straight off the display and take them to be checked out!
Always Have a Contingency Plan: Don't Forget Your Data
While we're aiming to create opportunities for access where collections may not be robust, it's also crucial to keep statistics in the event that this may spearhead home collection development efforts. You'll want to keep track of requests, suggestions, circulation statistics, and anything else that may assist in helping to convince or encourage stakeholders to consider adding to an existing graphic novels collection or creating a new one. Being mindful of patron privacy, it may be helpful to create an editable document specifically for graphic novels where you can input titles, frequencies of requests and checkouts, comments, and anything else that may be helpful for your organization in the near future. Utilize existing library management software features to track the circulation of graphic novels if possible.
With Great Graphic Novels Come Great Readers
Libraries find themselves having to take creative initiative when the need arises. Resource sharing is a tried-and-true method of expanding access. When we factor in the popularity of graphic novels and the cost barrier to acquiring them as often as we'd like to, using resource sharing as a means for expanding access will be a library service that many patrons will appreciate. There may be other unexpected benefits to this as well--when patrons have access to items that they enjoy, they may also become more involved in taking advantage of other library services and programs!
Melissa Thompson is a library assistant and the resident GIL Express guru at Reese Library in Augusta, Georgia. She's currently finishing up her MLIS degree and making it her goal to help spread the good word about comics in education.