How Buying Comic Books Can Benefit the Library

Previously, I wrote about how my library buys very few DC or Marvel comic books.  While they do purchase books like Hey, Kiddo or The Faithful Spy, superhero comics tend to be very few and very random–you will hardly ever find an entire series together.  But I believe that there is an audience for comic books at the library–and that adding more comic books to the library collection could benefit the library in the following ways.

Increase circulation.

This point may be obvious, but adding a new type of material to a library collection can increase circulation as people realize the library houses something they would like to read.  Furthermore, comics are fairly quick to read and they typically come in long series.  This means a patron coming in for a title like Ms. Marvel or Squirrel Girl could leave with five or more volumes if they wanted, just of that one title.  That’s really great for generating circulation numbers to show to the library board or government officials as library workers ask for more funding.

Bring New people in the door.

Once word gets out that the library has a fine collection of comic books, people who have never before been in the library might come to check them out.  After all, comic book series tend to very lengthy and thus very expensive.  Not every person can afford to buy every comic they want.  Once people are in the door, they may learn about other services they had no idea they have access to!

Introduce people to new parts of the library.

Comic books have wonderful crossover appeal among different age ranges, so housing them is a great way to get people into different parts of the library.  Adults going into the teen department or the children’s area for a comic book may realize there are resources and materials available for their families, their classrooms, their volunteer group, or their friends with families.  Teens going into the adult department for a comic book may find other titles they enjoy.  In other words, housing comic books could be a great way to make people realize that there are services they never knew about.

Create new comic book readers.

Curating a collection can be a way to help new readers approach comic books.  After all, comic books can be very intimidating.  Which ones are good? Which ones are teen friendly?  Where should a new reader start? Having a well-organized collection focused on titles the community will find interesting can be a safe way for people to start their comic book adventures.

It can also simply a way for people to realize, hey, comic books exist!  After all, where else do you see comics regularly besides a comic book store?  (Though I have heard that Barnes and Noble has expanded their comic book section.)  Simply providing access to readers may help them realize they love comic books!  And isn’t finding readers something they love part of every library’s mission?

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Why Do We Read?

“Why do we read?” is one of those perennial questions asked of students by English teachers.  After all, time is finite and choosing to spend time with books means choosing not to spend time doing other things.  So the question “Why do we read?” might more specifically be asked, “Can we justify spending our time reading instead of doing something else–something else more useful, more uplifting, more selfless, more something?”

Readers have proposed various answers to this question over the years.  On occasion, I hear a student excitedly advance one or more of these answers, pleased at last that they have realized why they were enrolled in that annoying English class in the first place.  And yet, I admit that sometimes the traditional answers do not quite satisfy me.  Over and over again I find myself asking myself, “Why do we read?” and never concluding that reading is necessarily a better pursuit than a number of others I could take up.  Below, I examine some of the traditional answers to the question “Why do we read?” and explain why that answer never feels like the final answer.

For Information

One of the most basic and obvious reasons people read is to learn information or education themselves.  For example, people might choose to read a book on the American Civil War to learn more about history, on personal finance to make more successful investment choices, or on design in order to decorate a room.  However, people can also learn information by watching videos or documentaries, by listening to a podcast or a lecture, by speaking with a friend or family member, or by experimenting themselves.  Reading is a great way to get information–but it does not follow that we  must read in order to be educated or knowledgeable.

For Culture

Some people read because they want to be seen among the cultured.  They want to be able to speak about the latest literary fiction at a cocktail party, to be able quote Shakespeare to impress others, or to recite poetry to a lover.  Or maybe they just want to know what Harry Potter is because everyone else seems to know.  However, it seems to me that culture can be acquired in myriad ways.  Maybe going to wine tastings or art museums or just watching Shakespeare plays would also make a person cultured.

To Become Better People

Readers like to talk about how reading places a person in another’s shoes and allows them to see the world from another perspective.  Studies have even suggested that reading literary fiction (but not genre fiction or non-fiction) improves the ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling, leading to increased empathy.  And yet, it is fairy obvious that there are some readers who are not necessarily very empathetic or kind while there are many non-readers who are.

To Gain Critical Thinking Skills

Many activities involve and teach critical thinking.  Finding your way home when your car is broken and you have no cash requires critical thinking.  Playing a board game requires thinking.  Making a costume for the school play requires critical thinking.  Planning your garden requires critical thinking.  Yes, reading teaches critical thinking, but it holds no monopoly.

To Gain Communication Skills

Reading can teach communication skills.  But non-readers often are very effective communicators, too.  They seem to learn from interacting with people.  And many are highly effective at code switching, changing their communication style based on the group they find themselves in.  Again, reading is useful to teach communication skills, but it does not follow that non-readers are doomed to inarticulate ramblings.

For Entertainment or enjoyment

This final reason for reading is actually the most compelling to me, though it is the one answer to “Why we read?” that I would expect to hear least advanced in the halls of academia.  It does not exactly justify funding the English department, after all.  However, I find it the most compelling because presumably people choose to get information by reading or to become cultured by reading or to try to understand people through reading–and not through other means or activities–because they enjoy it.  They could go to wine tastings or the art museum or to that party, but they would rather stay home and read today.

Conclusion

I suspect that most people read for a combination of the reasons above.  Still, I always feel uncomfortable when one or more of these reasons is advanced in a way that suggests that readers are superior to non-readers.  I know many non-readers who are highly intelligent, curious, empathetic, and personable.  They seem to be getting on fine!  So, in the end, I think answering the question, “Why do we read?” is very personal.  I may need to know for myself that reading is a valuable use of my time, but it does not follow that those who do not read are not making valuable uses of their time–or indeed, that they would not like to read, if only they had the time.  “Why do we read?”  Each person must answer for themselves.

Where Are the Comic Books at the Library?

Obviously, I cannot speak for every library.  Probably plenty of libraries exist where comic books can be found in abundance.  However, while my library has expanded its graphic novel collections in the children’s and teen sections, these collections still typically comprise mostly standalone titles like Roller Girl or El Deafo, or popular series like Dog-Man and Big Nate.  Comic books featuring superheroes remain few and random, even though I periodically  hear children ask for books on specific heroes.

This lack of comic books struck me suddenly the other day as really quite odd.  The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and films like Wonder Woman have made superheroes incredibly popular in recent years.  So why would not a library, dedicated to providing access to materials to the community, provide access to comic books?  Surely the public would read them!  Several possibilities come to mind.

Librarians are not sure which comics to buy.

Librarians are, of course, professionals and valuable resources for finding specific materials.  However, it has to be said that not every person is familiar with every type of material.  At my library, the workers typically have “specialties” based on what they personally like to read, so it’s not uncommon to hear a patron ask a librarian who reads MG for a YA recommendation, only to have that librarian refer them to a librarian who reads contemporary YA, who then may then pass the question on to a librarian who reads YA fantasy and sci-fi.  They know they are not always the best person to find a material, but they do know how to find another resource to get said material.

Librarians in charge of buying the MG and YA books, then, may not know what to do when buying comic books, if they don’t read comic books themselves.  After all, comic books are confusing.  It’s hard to know where to start sometimes and the ways individual comics are bundled into volumes can make the situation even more perplexing.  Faced with this, librarians may simply choose not to buy them.

Librarians rely on professional journals for purchases.

This point ties into my first.  Because librarians cannot physically read every book published each year (who can?), they often rely on reviews in publications like School Library Journal or VOYA to make their purchases.  But while such publications do include graphic novel reviews, it’s pretty rare to see reviews of the latest Marvel and DC releases .  Without these recommendations, librarians do not only lack any guidance in buying comic books but also have no reminder that maybe they should buy some.

Librarians are not sure who their comic book audience is.

My library almost exclusively shelves graphic novels in their children’s and teen’s collections.  But adults read comic books, too.  So who should be buying the latest Wonder Woman comic?  The teen department?  The adult department?  Or should the adult department buy some and the teen department some?  But how does the teen department know which comic books are considered of teen interest if professional publications aren’t reviewing them?

Since my library’s adult department has chosen not to purchase comics, what problems might arise?  Will adults choose not to borrow any comics if they feel weird walking into the young adult area?  But maybe the teen department does not want to spend limited funds on comics if they believe more adults will read them than teens.  Perhaps my library departments need to sit down and discuss a comic book buying strategy!

Librarians are hesitant to welcome certain ages into Certain spaces.

I’m going to be very honest here.  Sometimes the adult area in my library does not feel like a welcoming space for children and teens.  Is it possible that the adult department does not buy comic books because they fear teen crossover appeal?  Maybe the adult department wants every comic book in the teen section so the teens do not come wandering over.

Librarians have not really considered any need for comic books in the First place.

Geek culture is becoming more acceptable, but I think the fact that publications like School Library Journal don’t talk much about the latest DC or Marvel releases says a lot.  And so does my library’s adult programming line-up, which typically includes a large number of university-style lectures and incredibly niche (I mean, um, cultured) film showings.  Anything that would suggest an interest in popular culture is mysteriously absent.  As a result, I cannot help but wonder if the adult department does not buy comic books because the workers there are maybe a tad elitist in their purchases.  And maybe the other departments also subconsciously still think of comics as things that are bought in comic book stores–not purchased by the library.

Libraries need more funding.

I can’t know how every library divides their funding, but comic book collections are not necessarily cheap and it is possible that librarians fear to buy too many in case that means less money for other purchases.  They may be doubly hesitant about this because comic book runs can go on for some time, so buying the first volume means they could be committed to buying ten more volumes down the road.  This, then, of course, raises the related problem of space: should the graphic novel section be full of a few really long series, or should it have a lot of standalone titles for more variety?

Conclusion

Even though my library has an incredibly limited number of comic books, I believe that there is public demand for more.  And, since libraries are meant to serve the community, I would love to see my library provide access to comic books for those members of the community who want them.  Of course, purchase requests can be made.  But a long-term solution, where librarians buy comics as a matter of course, is much preferable.

Look for my upcoming post on why I think adding more comic books would be beneficial to the library!

10 Ways to Promote Literacy in the New Year

  1. Use your local library by checking out materials and attending programs.  Increased stats means they can ask for more funding.  More funding means more materials and programs.
  2. Donate books to the library, a women’s shelter, a local prison, a school, or a local literacy group.
  3. Start a Little Free Library or a book swap at work or school.  Or simply donate to one.
  4. Write to your representatives asking for increased funding for libraries.
  5. Have a special skill?  Offer to lead a program such as Spanish story time or a signing story time at your local library or another organization that promotes early childhood literacy.
  6. See what types of volunteers local organizations are looking for.  You might be able to shelf read at the library, sort through books for book sales, or help bring books to hospital patients.
  7. Ask if your library would be interested in starting a “pay it forward” campaign to help patrons pay off library fines and regain access to materials and services.
  8. If you have the money, buy books from authors you love.  When publishers have more money, they can take more risks on publishing different types of books.
  9. Spread positive feelings about literacy by being encouraging about someone’s reading or writing skills, even if you don’t personally like what they’re reading or think their writing could improve.
  10. Share your love of reading with others.  Be enthusiastic about your latest finds!  You may just inspire someone to try something new.

What are some others ways can we promote literacy?

How I Would Make The Hobbit Films

Make a Whimsical Children’s Film

The Hobbit is a children’s book.  It’s a little silly.  Not everything that happens seems to make sense with what we know of Middle-earth from The Lord of the Rings.  And that’s okay!  The Hobbit has its own magical charm.  Forcing it into a genre it does not belong to will never make a compelling story.

Add More Singing

Tolkien’s world is full of singing and having a medium with sound is the perfect way to showcase that.  I am not a fan of the book’s Rivendell song, but I would add some singing to the Rivendell scenes, and maybe some more song as the Dwarves travel to the Lonely Mountain.

Keep the Focus on the Titular Hobbit

I am not fully opposed to Jackson’s decision to add in the scenes at Dol Guldur.  It could have actually been really interesting to see what Gandalf was doing when he left the group.  However, The Hobbit is really Bilbo’s story.  He’s not meant to know what Gandalf is doing because it’s outside the scope of his adventure, which is about as much as he can handle.  I would keep the focus on our titular Hobbit and his character growth, because Bilbo is the true heart of the story, not the great and the powerful.  The point of The Hobbit is that Bilbo, a homely “nobody” is important.  His desire for good food, good friends, and a comfortable home, is what makes the world beautiful.  And it’s worth celebrating.

Cut the Battle Scene

In keeping with the above point, I would follow the book and have the battle fade away when Bilbo loses consciousness.  Bilbo is not a warrior and The Hobbit is not a war book.  Glamorizing battles goes against the entire point of the book, which celebrates Bilbo’s unselfishness and his desire for peace–in contrast with Thorin’s destructive greed and pride.  Cutting off the battle scene might be startling and upsetting to audiences accustomed to big budget fantasy films with plenty of swordplay–but a really good story often subverts audience expectations to make them think.

Split It into Two Films

There was never enough content for three films, even with Jackson’s additions.  I would split the films in Mirkwood, when Bilbo confronts the spiders and suddenly finds his courage.  It makes for a natural break in the story and could provide a good cliffhanger as audiences wait to see him enter the halls of Mirkwood.

How would you film The Hobbit?

The Value of Reading Slowly

value of reading slowly

Book blogging can easily change a person’s reading habits. The need to read all the new releases, the desire to fulfill one’s Goodreads Challenge, and the fear of looking inadequate next to the bloggers who post about reading 200 or 300 books a year can all make bloggers feel they need to read more and faster.  The well-read blogger is the blogger who reads the most, right?  However, reading more and faster is not necessarily better.  Indeed, I argue that the real value of reading comes from reading slowly.

The potential pitfalls of reading too quickly are obvious.  Speed reading to keep up with new releases or with other bloggers sometimes leads to a temptation to skip or skim scenes.  The landscape descriptions, the poetry excerpts, the boring fight scenes, or that neverending conversation are all things a reader might pass over in an attempt to finish a book faster.  However, really speedy readers might actually be skimming large chunks of a book–maybe even the whole book.  This is particularly easy to do with plot-driven narratives such as those found in YA, where the prose may not be the highlight of the book but simply a vehicle to carry the story, or where it is not particularly necessary for a reader to have read everything to get the general gist of the plot.

However, reading quickly and even skimming can mean that readers are missing integral parts of the story–and they will likely never know it.  On the most obvious level, this means that someone could refer to moments that do not actually occur in the text, or they  could misread the text because they missed a character’s motivations or somehow otherwise skipped over an important moment.  But sometimes reading quickly can allow a reader to get the general idea of the book–but they are still missing out on the nuances.  And those nuances are, arguably, what makes a book special.

For me, a book really comes alive in the details.  It’s L. M. Montgomery’s vivid descriptions of the Canadian landscape and her realistic depictions of small town gossip.  It’s Tolkien’s cross-references, his play with words, his attention to walking distances and moon phases.  It’s Shakespeare’s language or Catherynne M. Valente’s prose.  It’s all the tiny moments that come together to make a believable world, one where the reader enters in whole-heartedly and stays to savor it.  It’s all things that make a story more than just a collection of events that happened.

These are the types of details that make a book worth rereading, because one is not reading solely for the sake of “finding out what happens.”  It’s not about discovering who lives and who dies, or waiting to see enemies turn into lovers.  It’s about immersing one’s self in another’s creation and getting to know the world, the characters, and the language on an intimate level.  It’s like talking to a friend.  You already know them, but there is always more to discover.

I try to resist the pressures of book blogging because I never want to lose my love for reading.  I never want to feel stressed by it or to find that I have rushed through a book so quickly, I barely remember what happened.  I may not read as many books as some.  But I have nurtured some valuable friendships with the books I love.

Negative Reviews Are the Highest Form of Respect

negative reviews are a sign of respect

Many reviewers choose not to write negative reviews out of respect for authors.  Often they wish to acknowledge the effort it takes to write a book by focusing only on the positive.  Additionally, they may feel that that writing a negative review is mean.  A negative review, however, does not have to written in a mean spirit, nor does it mean that the effort of an author is overlooked.  Rather, a negative review is the highest form of respect because it engages with the text honestly and assumes that the author, if reading any reviews, does so because they are serious enough about their craft to want to improve.

Most reviewers who offer negative critiques probably do so because they are writing for readers–not authors.  By the time the book is published, the author is not going to be making any changes (usually), so critiques of how the plot was slow, the premise nonsensical, or the characterization poor are not meant to be taken as suggested areas of revision.  Rather, they are meant to help readers make an informed decision about how to spend their money or their time.  In this way, negative reviews show respect for readers.

However, some authors do read reviews (even if they are generally advised not to) and, in this case, a negative review is a sign of respect to them.  A negative review is not a mean review–it does not attack the author personally, but rather points out areas in the book that could be improved.  Serious writers want to know this.  They understand that receiving only positive reviews, while gratifying, does little to help them continue to hone their craft.  Negative reviews, however, provide opportunities for growth.  Negative reviews, in this sense, are not negative at all.

A negative review is not a personal indictment.  One negative review, or even a series of them, does not mean that a person is a terrible writer and will always remain so.  Rather, a negative review is a gesture towards a possible future, one that can be created with time and effort.  Criticism is not inherently bad or hurtful.  Given with charity, criticism is a helping hand.