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March 8, 2011

Op-Ed: What Graphic Novels Do for My World


Denice Herrera is a librarian at the Decatur Public Library in Decatur, Texas. For the past three years, she's been in charge of the graphic novel and manga section at the library, and she recently began a comics reading club.

I started at the Decatur Public Library about three years ago, when the library’s graphic novel collection was in its infancy. Expanding this part of our collection was important to us because we had several reluctant teenage readers who seemed only to be interested in this format.

Living in a small town can make it harder for a teen who wants to read graphic novels and manga. Not only do these kids feel like they are a minority in our community, but also the nearest comic book store is approximately 45 minutes away from our little town. I have been an avid reader since childhood, but my love for graphic novels and manga took hold of me during my angst-filled teenage years. I could relate to our teenage patrons, and I wanted to help make our library a place for them to come and enjoy the things that they loved to read.
Since our collection was still relatively new to the library, and therefore the community, our library has decided to keep the graphic novel collection within an age range of 13 and up in order to build a strong collection that we could branch out from. Keeping the collection within this age range can be a little restricting with what we add, and research into upcoming and existing titles is extremely important. This is the only real problem that our collection development faces. Finding adequate age ratings is difficult, especially with the American graphic novels. Manga usually provides an age rating, but reviews are one of the best ways to get a feel for what the title is about and if it is suitable for your collection. Our goal is that once this collection has become deeply rooted in our overall collection, we will be able to expand it into other age groups.
Once it became clear that there was a large number of teens who enjoyed this format and that they didn’t really talk to each other about their reading habits, I decided to approach our children’s librarian with an idea. In order to gauge how many teens and adults were interested in our graphic novel collection, I thought we could have an art contest and a cosplay party to announce the winners. The contest was for anyone thirteen and up, but it had to be graphic novel or manga-style art. Our plan was to see how many teens would be interested in forming a graphic novel and manga club. Our turnout was much bigger than what we had expected, and we formed our club immediately.

The Decatur Public Library Otaku Club plays games, makes crafts, discusses new and upcoming graphic novels and manga, and watches anime the third Tuesday of every month. Every few months, we have some kind of mini contest that is exclusive to our club members. Our most successful one was “Sock Puppet Mini Contest.” Members made sock puppets based on their favorite graphic novel or manga character, and everyone participated and enjoyed themselves greatly. Our members have included public school attendees, home-schooled teens, and adults. Many of our club members became close friends when otherwise they never would have spoken to each other. Watching their friendships form, knowing that our club made a difference to them has been priceless.