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?
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!