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December 1, 2010

Op-Ed: How to Build a Dynamic Comic Social Hour

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Ryan Donovan is a senior librarian at the New York Public Library. He's reviewed youth fiction and graphic novel titles for Booklist and School Library Journal. He also presented on a panel entitled Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga for Adults at the New York Comic-Con 2010. A longtime comic fan, he often writes about comic books on his personal blog, Ryan, the Librarian.

In order to keep the momentum of Summer Reading going strong at my library, I wanted to do something for teenage library patrons that was reading-friendly. I had previously hosted movie nights and computer time for young adults, but none of these activities especially highlighted our collection or the great literature the library had to offer. My library was located in the southern Bronx; many of the younger patrons were really into reading manga titles. When my library offered a chance for me to become trained as a book discussion leader, I saw this as an opportunity to parlay this training into something I could put into practical terms at my library. I could get my kids reading and discussing books. I just had to make the program reflect the type of books that they liked to read: manga and graphic novels.

From October 2009 to July 2010, I designed and implemented a graphic-novel discussion group at my library. Using an existing pool of book discussion titles, I was able to schedule all eight of the graphic novel titles that were available from the library for me to use at that time. During the specific months of February 2010 and July 2010, the non-graphic novel titles Push by Sapphire and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath became the month’s official title. Book discussion groups were typically offered as an adult program within our library system; by using graphic novel titles, I was able to make it a monthly program that was suitable for both teenagers and adults. As my branch’s young-adult librarian, the audience for my program tended to slant more for patrons from 12 to 18 years of age.
 
October 2009 was the first month the group met. We discussed the title Maus by Art Speigelman. There were a little over a dozen teens present; none of them had actually read Maus prior to the discussion. The group was restructured to be more informal after this first meeting. The group became more about what types of mangas and graphic novels they were currently reading, what’s good, and what they would suggest. Teens recommended titles to other teens. I always had an “official” title that was to be discussed, but it was rare if ever that the young adults had actually read that title prior to the meeting. It became more of a dynamic comic social hour, a word-of-mouth recommendation service about graphic novels.

The groups always met the first Monday of the month at 4:30 p.m. Discussions generally lasted one hour. I always requested 10 copies of each title for members to check out. These were the titles selected.

October: Maus
November: Persepolis (Part 1)
December: Persepolis (Part 2)
January: American Widow
February: Push (non-graphic novel)
March: Birth of a Nation: A Comic Novel
April: Exit Wounds
May: Nevermore: Graphic Adaptation
June: Epileptic
July: The Bell Jar (non-graphic novel)

This informal style worked; I always had 10–12 young adults every time I ran the program. When the city budget resulted in several library hour cuts, I was moved to a different location before the March 2010 group took place. I know several members of the group continued to go even after I left. I think such a setup for an informal graphic novel discussion group could potentially work in many other libraries, especially using more current and dynamic titles.