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ALA Conference Report

Graphic Novels Hitting Stride

Published: 06/24/2007 12:00am

The graphic novel presence at the American Library Association Annual Conference, in Washington, D.C. this year, continued to be a strong area of interest for the attending librarians with exhibits, programming, and other events focusing on this rapidly growing category.  The Washington venue was attracting a big increase in attendees over last year's Conference in New Orleans, which was the first major convention there after Katrina (see 'ALA -- Report from Big Easy').

 

Many graphic novel exhibitors were concentrated in the Graphic Novel Pavilion, which unlike the situation at Book Expo America (see 'A Hot Time at BEA'), continues to be marketed as a separate area of the floor.  In addition to Diamond and its Diamond Book Distribution clients (the Pavilion included manga publishers Viz and Tokyopop, which unlike their strategies at the BEA, exhibited separately from their book house distributors Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, respectively), DC Comics, NBM, Unshelved, and self-publishers Paul Sizer, Jane Irwin, and Jim Ottaviani also joined the Pavilion. Graphic novel booths were noticably busier than most other areas of the floor at many times. 

 

Yen Press had a very visible presence at the Hachette Booth to build interest in its upcoming launch.  First Second had a similar-sized presence at Roaring Brook, with a Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) signing on Sunday afternoon sure to draw a crowd. 

 

Publishers with graphic novel lines that specialize in the library and educational markets, such as Rosen, Lerner, Stone Arch, and new addition Abdo also dotted the floor.

 

Another graphic novel-related signing on the floor was held on Saturday at the Libraries Unlimited booth for two reference books on the graphic novel category.  Robin Brenner (Reference and Teen Librarian at Brookline Public Library) signed her just released Understanding Manga and Anime, and Michael Pawuk (Teen Services Librarian at Cuyahoga County Public Library) signed Graphic Novels:  A Genre Guide to Comic Books, Manga, and More, which was released late last year. 

 

Graphic novel expert Kat Kan was in the house, promoting the new 'Graphic Novels Core Collection:  A Selection Guide' database she's preparing for H.W. Wilson, a major publisher of library resources.  The initial list, due out this fall, will include 2,000 titles vetted by Kan and categorized on the basis of age-appropriateness, with titles, authors, genres, subjects, honors, awards, and other data points all available searchable.  The announcement from Wilson calls the growth of graphic novels 'little less than a revolution in publishing,' strong words from a company so vested in the library world. 

 

The two hour 'Teen Graphic Novels:  Maintaining Your Collection for Maximum Impact!' panel on Saturday was the primary programming event on graphic novels.  Teen librarian panelists Brenner, Pawuk, Angela Reynolds (Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia), and Todd Krueger (Baltimore County), along with moderator Anne Leon (Broward County) spoke to a packed room of 200 librarians, with over a dozen seated on the floor.

 

The range of sizes and interest in graphic novels on the panels was instructive, with the smallest graphic novel collection (Nova Scotia) only a few hundred books, and the largest (Baltimore) over 16,000 in teen graphic novel volumes alone.

 

The panelists devoted a range of 30-40% of their annual acquisition budgets for teen books to graphic novels, a percentage that had grown dramatically over the years. 

 

Among other interesting nuggets from the panel:

 

Shelving by size, with manga-sized books shelved separately from the traditional comic or album sized volumes, was a strategy used to help conserve space and keep displays neat.  Comic strip collections were generally shelved separately from graphic novels.  Fiction and non-fiction graphic novels were shelved together, and all were shelved by title, rather than by author/artist.  Light novels were generally being shelved with fiction, but there was some suspicion that shelving them with graphic novels would produce better circulation.

 

Special promotions, including Free Comic Book Day events, an action figure display, a manga drawing contest along with integrating graphic novels into other library events, were used to draw attention to the collections.

 

Anime clubs were tapped as both sources of recommendations for manga acquisitions and prime customers for manga collections. 

 

Series that shift up in age level in later volumes because of incidental nudity, or sexual or violent content, were relocated to the highest age level appropriate.  Having an adult graphic novel collection was recommended as a key way to avoid challenges to teen titles due to content. 

 

Building relationships with comic retailers, both for Free Comic Book Day promotions and as a source of expertise and harder-to-find titles for libraries, was recommended.

 

Asked by the moderator for their best moments in building their graphic novel collections, two responses illustrated both the emotional and statistical impact of adding graphic novels to libraries.  Reynolds recounted an incident in which a teen male in full goth regalia, including black fingernails, told her 'I want to kiss your feet' in appreciation for finding graphic novels at her library.  And Krueger recounted how in reviewing circulation reports after expanding his libraries' graphic novel collections, he was astounded at how many times graphic novels were circulating, asking himself 'How is this even possible?' with a three week circulation period, and finding the same pattern of heavy circulation on title after title after title.

 

With graphic novels for teens at the heart of the expansion of graphic novels in libraries, but growing numbers of titles also hitting juvenile and adult collections as well, libraries continue to grow in importance as a distribution channel for graphic novel publishers, and as a way for new fans to be exposed to the medium. 

 
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