Are the shelves at your local library looking more colorful these days? Chalk it up to all the comic books — and the librarians who love them.
In the quest to attract young readers, librarians are increasingly stocking up on the latest comic books and graphic novels. This week, they mingled with comic enthusiasts at Comic-Con, a massive popular arts convention in San Diego, poring over manga, or Japanese comics, and attending panels specifically aimed at librarians who want to reach younger audiences.
Many of them are themselves younger — part of a new generation of librarians who grew up loving comic books. To them, adding manga titles to library shelves seems like a no-brainer.
David Serchay, a Florida librarian, received funding from the Broward County Friends of the Library to attend Comic-Con. He says libraries are paying attention to manga because the numbers are clear: adding comic-book titles to the shelves puts circulation stats "through the roof."
The librarians at Comic-Con report that the manga shelves at their libraries are often nearly empty because the comics get checked out so quickly. Many manga storylines have multiple volumes, so kids come back to the library to keep up with the plot. Librarians select manga titles with staying power that they hope will attract new readers of different ages.
Unlike American comics, which appeal largely to boys, Eva Volin a librarian in Alameda, Calif., says that manga does a much better job of appealing to both boys and girls.
"Most manga focuses on character development and growth, along with the action and humor," Volin says. "It pulls me in as a female reader [more] than a typical superhero comic."
Volin views 2002 as a turning point, when libraries began to take notice of manga. At that year's American Library Association Conference in Atlanta, there were panels on comics, and that same year Teen Read Week focused on graphic novels.
Those events helped usher in changes in attitudes about how to get a new generation of people into the library.
Volin recalls an encounter with a young girl who was at the library trying to check out some manga with her mother.
When Volin voiced appreciation for the manga series, the little girl turned to her mom and said, "Look mom, even old people read it."
Beth Accomando reports for member station KPBS in San Diego.