Graphic Novels-Library Worthy?

Today I read Pat Scales’ column in the May issue of School Library Journal.’  In it, there is a letter from a librarian who says that her director has made her stop purchasing graphic novels because “the library isn’t about comic books.”

Frankly, I am completely dumbfounded by this statement.’  Silly me, I thought libraries were only about one thing- getting people involved in reading!

This issue reminds me of something Linda Braun said at her Tech session at the first YALSA conference last year in Nashville.’  She essentially said that for those kids or adults or say they never read, think about what they mean by reading.’  We read email; we read the channel guide on tv; we read our homework; we read labels on our food.’  It seems like the question really is “When/what don’t we read?”

But, my point here is that there are so many different materials that we read, and the libraries are responsible for providing those materials.’  Who are we to judge about whether it is “quality” reading material’ or not? The point is-they are reading! There are thousands of graphic novels out there that are artistic versions of classic literature that we all read.’  Is the graphic novel of The Merchant of Venice just a comic book? Or is it something more? In education research, multiple intelligences theory expresses the belief that we all learn differently.’  Perhaps we all read differently, too.’  So if it takes making it a “comic” for kids to read a classic play like The Merchant of Venice, or the book Dracula by Bram Stoker, then I am all for it.’ 

What makes them so different? Do they not have pictures like most picture books? Do they not have stories and plot lines like any fiction book? Is there a length requirement for something to be quality literature? Graphic novels are very similar to many of the books we read.’  In fact, sometimes the novels can be longer than most books we already read, with more complex issues and plot lines.

As a children’s librarian, I am not here to judge any child’s choice to read a graphic novel.’  My job is to guide them to something that they’ll enjoy reading and that will lead them to reading more and more so that they develop a genuine love of books (regardless of their format).

A library isn’t just about comic books, it’s about so much more!

About Krista McKenzie

I am a Children's Specialist at the Ruth Enlow Library in Garrett County, Maryland. I work with kids from the ages of 0 to 18 and am also a reference librarian. In addition, I am member of the YALSA Legislative Committee, and the Children's Services Division of the Maryland Library Association.
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3 Comments

  1. Francisca Goldsmith

    Graphic novels, comics, sequential art literature–these are related formats that can carry content of any degree of “literary value.” The library is about finding: oneself (sometimes through imaginative “losing” of oneself in a “good” book or a piece of music or a work of visual art), a truth (perhaps best shown through a particularly rich piece of fiction), options (including the array of possible texts to read and ways to read). Perhaps exposure to possibility–such as Raymond Briggs’ Ethel and Ernest, or Carol Lay’s The Big Skinny, or Keiko Tobe’s monumental work on autism’s affects on the family (With the Light)–would meet this director halfway….

  2. It’s funny how in the early years of reading we put so much emphasis on pictures, even giving out major awards for good illustrations. Then, at some random point we and our readers are meant to forget about having illustrations with their text and get “serious”. Does that make any sense?

  3. I find it incredible that a director could be so oblivious to the explosion of graphic novels in today’s culture. It seems as if new graphic novels are popping up every day. I think that graphic novels are and should be considered just as “worthy” as any other piece of literature. As mentioned, graphic novels often carry a complex message that is often conveyed through the use of powerful visual imagery.

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