Thursday, February 27, 2014

Journey into the Realm...of Graphic Novels, by Andrew Shuping


So you want to know about graphic novels, yes? Well you’ve come to the right place. What have you learned about these fantastic items so far? What’s that? That they’re just “comic books”?? And that they’re only for children?? No! Whoever provided you with that information is wrong! Graphic novels are so much, much more. Now take a seat and we’ll begin our tale...

So back when I was working on my MLIS, I came across an article about a book, Daisy Kutter and the Last Train by Kazu Kibuishi, and how it could be used in the classroom. The article kept talking about how this type of book was called a “graphic novel,” due to the fact that it was an illustrated story. Given my background in art...color me intrigued. The bits of the story and the images shared in the article made me buy the book sight unseen from Amazon....and I was blown away. The story, the art, it all worked together in perfect harmony to create this fantastic journey that captivated me. I remember showing my family, friends, coworkers...and basically anyone else I could trying to get them as excited about the book as I was. And that’s when I discovered it...the problem with trying to get other people excited about graphic novels, is that they look at them as just big comic books or worse “picture books” for kids. It’s a problem that I’ve had to battle time and time again since then. [Editor’s Note: Me, too. Countless times.] And I’ve finally come up with a good way to talk about it.

It seems as if the biggest problem people have with graphic novels, is that they’re pictures with words, so that means it’s a kids’ book. Or it’s about superheroes, so it’s a comic and pfff there’s no way comics can be real literature. Because for some reason we keep equating pictures to a lower level of reading. I don’t know when this type of thinking became common, but frankly it’s the biggest lie that someone has ever told. Why’s that? Because the ability to read images is the oldest language in the world. Seriously. We’ve been using images with cave paintings, stained glass windows, political dissent paintings, political cartoons, road signs, door signs all to convey a story or a message. Images are our universal language. It’s why so many symbols across the globe are easy to recognize. We understand them, regardless of language, age, gender, or anything else. There’s a greater power in a single image than a thousand words. Memory, emotions, smells, touch, all of our senses are engaged with one image. For example, pull out a picture that you’ve taken. Just think about it for a minute. How many pages could you write about what that single image conveys? Where you were, who you were with, what you were feeling, what you were thinking, and on and on. That’s the power of a graphic novel.

So did I use that argument to start building the graphic novel collection at my library? It took me a while to come up with that argument, but it’s what I use know when I talk about graphic novels. Even though I knew all of those things, putting them into words was a wee bit harder. So the argument that I used went something like this:
Me: “People are reading them. And our students want them.”
Others: “So? They read lots of things, doesn’t mean that we should buy them.”
Me: “OK...well we’ve got Maus Volume One and Persepolis Volume Two. Can we at least complete those sets?”
Others: “Fine.”
Me: “Well...while we’re at it these books here recently won some big awards, like Eisner’s and National Book Awards, etc.”
Other: “Fine, give me the titles and I’ll look at it. No guarantees though!”

And that’s how the collection I built started. A small tiny crack that was already there and I built upon it and kept building. I snuck in some that were YA, because who was going to look twice at a picture book in that section?

I was able to sneak in some adaptations of Shakespeare's plays because I could say they help different reading styles. Don’t try to say “No they don’t” because they do. I remember trying to read plays and I’d get overwhelmed with the way they were laid out.
Name says: “forsoth I say!”
Other name says: “I say I thumb my nose at your forsoth and hail all hail!”
Name says: “forsoth I say!”
Other name says: “I say I thumb my nose at your forsoth and hail all hail!”
Name says: “forsoth I say!”
Other name says: “I say I thumb my nose at you!”
And it went on like that for pages and pages. It was bad enough trying to figure out some of the words used during that time period, but just seeing it laid out like brain could just barely handle it. And then I found the graphic novel adaptations and everything came to life for me. I didn’t have to worry about reading the queues written as words, I could focus on the characters and read them! I could see how they were acting and reacting and what they were saying and it all made sense. And there are countless other readers out there, yes older readers as well, for whom reading it in a graphic format makes things come alive.

The collection grew even more when a professor said, “Hey, I’m going to teach a course on graphic novels. Do you think we can order more of them?” That’s when the floodgates opened. I was able to buy the books that students had been begging for. Ones that challenged our notions of thinking, that told history in comic format, that told stories, or just entertained and helped the reader escape the day to day for a few hours. I bought graphic novels for all areas: fiction, nonfiction, biography, science, history, sociology even economics. As long as the books were rated well, I bought them and encouraged students and teachers to use them as sources, for extra knowledge, whatever to get them used.

That’s how it began for me. Every place is going to be a little bit different but there are some solid rules to get the collection started no matter what type of library you work in.

  1. Every book has it’s reader. I know that sounds trite, but seriously we buy books that many of us would rather never see, but our readers like them. The same holds true for graphic novels. Readers like them, why not buy them?
  1. Just because the book is written in pictures, doesn’t mean it takes less skill to read it. In fact there are studies that prove that it takes more effort to read and process an image, because you’re focusing on so many different factors all at once. The position of the character, their facial expressions, what happens in the gutter spaces (those white spaces between panels) and more. There are entire books written about reading comics. Go check out Scott McCloud’s books to learn more.
  1. Partner with people. Whether you’re in a school, university, community, whatever, get other people that want graphic novels to start talking about them - especially to each other. Get them to pester others at the library or start a petition to get a collection started. Members of your community are the best resources that you have.
  1. Two guidelines that work together:
    1. Start small. Once you get permission, don’t try to buy everything out there unless you were told you could do so (and if that happens, you’re very lucky.) Find out how much you can spend and make a priority list of what you want first.
    2. Have a policy. It doesn’t have to be a long one, maybe just a couple of paragraphs, but it helps you start building the collection. One of the things on my initial list: no long running comic series and no manga. This annoys some of my patrons, but I’m limited by cost and space. I can buy stand alone comics: All-Star Superman, the Killing Joke, etc. and I’ll buy short run manga series: Buddha for example, but otherwise we have to wait.
  1. Sell the collection as a way to support education. Tie it into what’s going on in the community. Big movement to study other cultures in the schools or community, or people of diverse backgrounds? Buy books like: American Born Chinese, A Home for Mr. Easter, Kampung Boy and more. Need books in the sciences? Books like Primates, Genius, Laika, Feynman, and others fit in nicely.

Those are the basics of what I can offer. Yes there will still be people that claim that graphic novels “aren’t real books” because they have pictures. If they do so kindly point them towards March Book 1 by John Lewis, the last living member of the big six that helped plan the march in Washington with Martin Luther King, Jr. He is the first politician to tell his story in graphic novel format, and was a leader in the civil rights movement. Have they naysayers look at the words and the images and the story they create. Sure they could read about what it was like for Mr. Lewis and others to have water thrown on them, smoke blown in their faces, to be cursed at and shoved, all while not losing their tempers. It’s another thing to see it depicted in pictures. That’s the power that a graphic novel brings.

Andrew Shuping is currently the Interlibrary Loan & Public Services Librarian at Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon, GA. He has been involved in libraries for over nine years and collecting graphic novels for over seven years. This is his second post for LtaYL; his first was The ILLbrarian is In. Andrew can be found at and goes by the user name ashuping where ever he can, such as on Twitter: @ashuping.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On Fangirling and Chilling

I've been sitting on the idea of this post for a while because I don't want anyone to be insulted, but I keep coming back to the idea so here it is: my thoughts on fangirling/fanboying out in the library world.

I'm closing in on the eleventh anniversary of my MLIS, and because I become more opinionated the longer I'm in this profession, I spout off from time to time. (And by "spout off" I mean "put some thought and even some research into my ideas, write about it, let it sit for a bit, edit it, and then publish it on my blog.) Because of this and a few conference presentations, despite my protestations otherwise, people are starting to pay attention to me. Not that people scream and chase me when they run into me, even at conferences, but there have been minor moments of fangirl/fanboy floppy happy freak outs. I try to calm people down, because really I'm no big deal - put my pants on one leg at a time and all that - but also because it's a little disconcerting. I supposed I could start making people kiss my imaginary ring, but that seems a bit excessive.

I decided finally to write this post because I've felt those fangirl feels. Sweet Baby Buddha knows I've been nervous meeting a couple of my librarian heroes. A couple of friends were made responsible for keeping me from freaking and fangirling at a recent conference, because I wanted to keep cool and to treat my heroes like people - because that's what they are.

The point is that I'm trying to scale back my own floppy happy freak outs because I have now been on the receiving end of them. I love that people appreciate my work. Hearing "I came to your presentation because I love your blog" put a grin on my face that lasted for over an hour. But people telling me I'm famous? Oh my, no. I might have achieved some notoriety with this blog, among a subset of librarians, but that's not famous. I'm really just this weird, thoughtful, occasionally introverted, wisecracking person.

Let me be clear: it's not that I'll get all snobby if you get floppy happy freak outty when you meet me, it's just I'd rather someone say, "Hey, wanna go for a beer? Coffee? Can I chill with you after this panel?" And because we should be the change we wish to see in the world, that's what I'm going to do from now on. Inside I might be all

But outside I'll be more like

The thing is, I know I enjoy learning that people love my blog, but I'm happier still when it's a chill conversation. I've learned that if I act normal sauce, people are more likely to talk to me. And so I'm passing my learning onto you.

(Thanks to Jake Berg for the idea of using that Wayne's World clip.)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I’m with the Board: On Becoming a Trustee, by Amanda Viana

"Slightly Different Perspective"

On the first day of my first class in my MLIS program I learned something about myself: Im a bit of an oddball librarian. As we went around the room introducing ourselves everyone had a unique story; some were recent college grads, others had built careers in several different industries before coming to librarianship, one person had just retired from a long career before deciding to become a librarian. But I was the only person in the room who said that being a librarian was my childhood dream.

I started in libraries as an almost daily patron. As a pre-teen I volunteered to help the childrens librarian at my local library with the summer reading program, and in high school I was hired as a part-time page. I stayed on all through college and after graduation I took a position as a full-time paraprofessional working the circulation and reference departments. For two years I immersed myself in the library experience: I worked in different departments, went to workshops, took webinars, experimented, asked questions, and soaked up as much experience as I could get. By the time I entered library school I had seen the library world from many different perspectives. Public librarianship was everything I wanted in a career.

In library school I was exposed to even more viewpoints. I surprised myself by falling in love with information literacy instruction. I toyed with the idea of becoming a YA librarian; I even ran the librarys first YA summer reading program as my Professional Field Experience (University of Rhode Island’s version of an internship). In classes we were constantly looking at things from different perspectives. Learning to serve teens, seniors, recent immigrants, minority populations—all required examining  the library in a different way. It was a sort of constant secret shopping, but one perspective we never explored was that of a member of a librarys governing body.

On the list of things I thought Id add to my resume “local politician” was way down on the list (probably somewhere between international hip hop phenomena and princess). Which is why I was surprised to find myself, this time last year, pulling nomination papers to run for the board of library trustees at my local library. By this time I had graduated from library school and was working as an information services librarian in another town. I missed my local library and looking for a way to be of service. When I found out one the board members had decided not to run for re-election I approached the director to ask if she thought it was feasible for me to run. She was positive and supportive, as were family and friends, so I took the plunge.

I really did not know what I was getting into. I only knew one other librarian who had served on a board (one of my amazing professors from URI) and quite frankly had never thought of the board of trustees as a place for a young librarian. I got my paperwork and commenced soliciting fifty signatures from registered voters. It was hard for me; even though I work in a service profession, Im a natural introvert, but it was important to me, so I approached people in the pharmacy, local coffee shop, even the bowling alley. Each time I said, “My name is Amanda Viana and Id like to run for the Board of Library Trustees, would you please sign my nomination papers?” it reaffirmed my decision to run. By March I was relieved to find out that I was running unopposed; in May I giddily snapped a forbidden picture of the ballot with my name on it.

The board of library trustees is charged with guiding the library and making decisions that support the librarys mission. They make big decisions that affect the way the library functions and can have a huge impact on the staff. As a librarian, Ive accepted these decisions with various levels of enthusiasm but Ive never truly understood how the process works. Before becoming a trustee I never attended a board meeting; I had never even read the meeting minutes and I dont think that I was a rarity among young librarians.

My months on the board have taught me how information is presented, how different opinions are expressed, the types of priorities a governing body can have, and how matters are debated. This knowledge has helped me understand better how to approach the Board of Trustees at the library where I work. It has also given me a brand new perspective on library administration. And I like to believe that I have been a positive addition as a trustee. I bring with me all those other perspectives I learned in library school, as well as that of a library employee. I like to think my viewpoint is unique and fresh, and that sometimes I can change the way others think about the library. Recently the board was able to speak directly with a town selectman about the library budget, staffing, and priorities. I was able to advocate for the library in a whole new way. I had the perspective of a librarian and the authority of a member of the governing board.

Every young librarian should take the time to explore their librarys governing body. This doesnt have to mean becoming a member. It can be as simple as reading their bylaws, reviewing meeting minutes, or even attending a meeting. Discovering the mission and the priorities of the librarys governing body can help you better fulfill the librarys mission. Giving input can help board members better understand what its like to work for the institution. Being a library trustee has given me an invaluable perspective on libraries and its one of the best things Ive done for my career.

Amanda Viana is the Information Services Librarian and Assistant Director at the Norton Public Library in Massachusetts. She is also a member of the Board of Library Trustees at the Somerset Public Library and the Head Editor of INALJ Massachusetts. She has over ten years of experience in public libraries and graduated with her MLIS and Certificate in Information Literacy Instruction from the University of Rhode Island in 2011. In her free time she enjoys knitting, reading, and Netflix bingeing. You can find her on Twitter @NrdyLkARockstar.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Day We Fight Back


First thing I have to say is: if you're not pissed off at the NSA, then you're not paying attention.

Second: I'm sick of feeling like I live in a dystopian novel come to life.

Third: I'm doing something about it. That's what that big banner is about down there. Want more info? Well, here's an excerpt of the press release from the people behind The Day We Fight Back:
"A broad coalition of activist groups, companies, and online platforms will hold a worldwide day of activism in opposition to the NSA's mass spying regime on February 11th. Dubbed 'The Day We Fight Back', the day of activism was announced on the eve of the anniversary of the tragic passing of activist and technologist Aaron Swartz. The protest is both in his honor and in celebration of the victory over the Stop Online Piracy Act two years ago this month, which he helped spur."
Fourth, and last: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Don't take my word about the abuses of the NSA, do your own research. 90% of my readership are librarians, and you all know (or should know) that we are on the front lines of this fight. So call or email your legislators. Educate people about what's going on.

The thing is, you CAN fight city hall if there are enough people banded together. In the oft quoted words of Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What a Difference a Year Makes: My First Year as a Library Director


My one year anniversary as a library director has now come and gone (this past weekend), so of course I'm feeling reflective. This first thing I want to say is so clich├ęd I'm almost embarrassed to mention it, but it doesn't feel like a year. In any given moment I can feel like I've been here barely two weeks and then in the next moment it feels like I've been here twenty years. I've made progress, but honestly, I don't think I have a good handle on the experiences I've had since I first started this job.

I do know I'll never be done learning how to do this job, whatever I might have thought coming into the position. However, I've come to realize that I do know what I'm doing a lot of the time. Nevertheless, taking stock of the last year feels like taking stock of a roller coaster while still on the ride. But I'm going to try, anyway. The long-ish list below isn't in any kind of order, but it represents some of the biggest lessons and experiences - both good and bad - that I had over the last year.

  1. I had to fire someone. The situation was clear cut and I had given the individual more chances to fix the situation than anyone who I asked for advice would have given. I did the right things at every step, including consulting Human Resources and my boss. I documented everything and always spoke with this person in private when the issue came up. Doing it right didn't matter, in some ways. When it finally came time to tell this person s/he no longer had a job, it was hard.
  2. I put my foot in my mouth. I know we all have a propensity for saying the wrong thing on occasion. Only thing is, when you're the boss - even at a small library like mine - what you say carries a lot more weight, both positively and negatively. When this happened, I put my big girl pants on and apologized to the other person involved, and the experience taught me to be a lot more circumspect in the way I say things at work. (Yes, I'm admitting to making a mistake. Hard to do this, but since the point of my blog is to start de-mystifying the profession, I've got to show the bad bits on occasion).
  3. I started with the intention to change as little as possible for the first 3-6 months, and I'm sooooooo glad I managed to stick to that for the most part. There were some issues that needed to be addressed immediately, but those were clear-cut and impacted the safety and security of the library building, staff, and patrons. Other than safety issues, I needed that time to get to know the community I'm serving (something I'm still doing, for what it's worth).
  4. Despite taking that time to observe, I felt overwhelmed so many times during my first year that I lost count.  I know now that this is par for the course for new managers, especially new library directors, but that knowledge wouldn't have helped me much the midst of the bad moments. I worked 60+ hour weeks during my first six months, and still felt like I wasn't making any progress. I wanted to prove that they hired the right person, to prove their trust in me. I'm still trying to let go of interviewing for the job I already have (phrasing I got from my College Library Directors' Mentor Program mentor), and I've cut back to 45-50 hour weeks. The work will never be completely done, and maintaining a work-life balance helps me be more productive during the hours I am at work. I manage the stress better now, but it's not gone.
  5. Another thing that helps with my stress is the group of allies I've gained. The work of making connections came early and often, but it's also continuing and never ending - especially when it comes to faculty and other mid-level administrators like me. I've bought coffee for quite a few people, taken others out to lunch, and sent gigs of emails with important links and helpful information. It's working, too. The therapy dog event I ran was done in concert with an ally's department. I'm about to submit a grant that I'm co-writing with a professor. Another professor put some money for the library in a grant he submitted recently. I got to steal ideas wholesale from our academic resource center, using their methods to professionalize our student workers. My ally in the admissions department is going to help me get some data. And so on.
  6. The biggest thing I can tell you from my first year of being a library director is something I actually already knew: you will not survive any job without your friends/mentors (peer mentors, friends from different kinds of libraries, etc.). I have a group of people who believe in me, who hold my hand and assure me that I am sane, who make me laugh, and who inspire me. Sometimes the relationships are more sustained, other times they consist of a tweet or a blog comment. Every bit helps.