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November 16, 2009

New Jersey Awards a Library Grant for Graphic Novels


Last month, the New Jersey State Library announced a new grant that will help 14 libraries across the state establish graphic-novel collections. In what seems to be a first, the grant—$3,000 for each library, all made possible by the Florence Taylor Tischler and Nathaniel Tischler Memorial Fund—will help the libraries build their graphic collections from the ground up.

“We targeted the grant to very small public libraries with very specific criteria so they could either grow their own core graphic-novel collection or if they did already have graphic novels in their collection, they could augment them,” says David Lisa, consultant and project specialist for adult services and urban libraries at the New Jersey State Library. Lisa is a former comic-book store owner (Dave’s Comics and Collectibles in northeast Ohio) and he has been presenting on graphic-novel program development in libraries throughout New Jersey since 2001.

“Many of our librarians statewide realize, No. 1, graphic novels and comics are popular in public libraries, with demand for manga in specific age groups at public libraries being really intense,” Lisa says. “This is really a win-win not only in terms of being able to finance core collections but to offer more in-depth collection development instructions for our libraries.”

The program will specifically help smaller libraries (those with smaller funding) build one of the fastest-growing segments in libraries, all with the intent of increasing both circulation and patronage.

“You’re probably going to attract people who are devoted to the format and have automatic requests,” Lisa says. “You are also going to be able to expose a lot of your existing customers to what is the basis for a lot of popular films right now. How cool would it be to have the Watchmen trade paper or hardcover right next to the DVD release and create a section where patrons could go, ‘Oh, I get it. I’m going to check out both right now and experience the whole shebang.’ There’s lots of opportunity there for marketing.”

Kim Rinaldi, director of the Brielle Public Library, one of the libraries to receive the grant, was happy to receive the grant money to help start off a collection at her library. “I believe graphic novels will become increasingly popular and gain greater respect as more and more people are exposed to them,” she says. “They are a wonderfully artistic style of writing and are already in high demand among teenagers. As a librarian who works very hard to offer something for everyone in my community, it would be remiss of me to neglect such a popular and engaging segment of the book industry.”

The 14 libraries receiving the grants are Atlantic Highlands Public Library, Belvidere Free Public Library, Berlin Marie Fleche Library, Brielle Public Library, Delanco Public Library, Gibbsboro Public Library, Jamesburg Public Library, Manasquan Public Library, Milford Public Library, Newfield Public Library, Rumson Free Public Library, Salem Free Public Library, Wenonah Free Public Library, and Westville, Public Library.

“Brielle Public Library did not have a graphic novel collection before receiving the Tischler Grant,” Rinaldi says. “We are thrilled to now have the means to offer our community a large collection of graphic novels and hope to have it ready for the new year. The eighth grade classes at the local elementary school recently studied graphic novels and have been requesting them ever since. I am certain that they will be very popular with our young-adult patrons as well as the adults.”
Rinaldi notes that her library has already begun making its list of graphic novels to buy, including Batman and X-Men books as well as Joker.

The New Jersey State Library has already done many things to help librarians get started working in graphics. In late August, they presented a workshop to start educating librarians on what they need. They enlisted the help of several key players, including John Cunningham, vice president at DC Comics; David Inabnitt, a librarian from Brooklyn; librarian and blogger Sophie Brookover; and librarian Laverne Mann, all of whom covered topics ranging from manga to YA to how publishers can help libraries.

David explains, “It was so cool to see our librarians—some of whom had knowledge about this, some of whom didn’t—learn throughout the entire day. You could see the light bulbs going off and knew they were going to present them in their own libraries.”

Lisa is hoping that other state libraries will take a nod from New Jersey and use the program as a springboard. (He also offers to help any other state library systems who would like his advice.)