Sporadic Sequential
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Guest Blogger: Robin E. Brenner

In response to my question about whether graphic novels in libraries have faced any internal opposition from librarians themselves in a manner similar to Anne Carroll Moore's crusade to keep Stuart Little off library shelves, Robin E. Brenner stopped by in the comments and offered this information, which is so good I'm reproducing it as its own post:
I don't know that there are any librarians who have taken up the cause of fighting adding graphic novels to a collection. I would love to say it never happens. Unfortunately, though, in my experience, I've actually seen more resistance to adding and selecting graphic novels from library staff than I ever have from the public. There are directors of libraries who feel fairly adamantly that graphic novels are not worthwhile additions to a library collection, and there are staff who see one that shocks or confuses them (often flipping through it completely out of context) and then complain about the title or format's appropriateness.

In the end, though, I don't think this is all that different from the public's reaction -- most of these opponents simply have never run into graphic novels before and have never had anyone who embraces them, like me, sit down and explain what they are (tales told in a different format) and what they are not (automatically porn.) As with any sort of obstacle or challenge, the best defense is education, and that is why my fellow advocates and I conduct workshops across the country demystifying graphic novels for librarians and teachers so they can explain and defend them to their own staff as well as the public.

All of that being said, challenges to graphic novels made by a member of the public, and especially when politicians get involved, make a much better news story. Everyone hears about that when it happens. Also, because more and more graphic novels are being added to collections, there are just more of them for people to notice, and therefore the possibilities of challenges rises.

Because of the nature of the profession, librarianship is almost automatically a liberal profession, given the strong ideal of freedom of information, freedom of speech, and freedom to read. Obviously that doesn't mean individually librarians fall into any one mode of thought in terms of liberal or conservative. When it comes to graphic novels, especially as they are full of images, they provoke a much stronger reaction than similar events described in prose. I can think of numerous times over the years where a library staff person might be fine with graphic novels in general but then will see one that pushes their particular alarm buttons. Some just look aghast and send the book on its way, while others will complain that its part of the collection. Every library should have in place a way to deal with such challenges, both internal and external, but not all do (as we all saw with the incident in Missouri). Internal challenges are just not as public, unless one of the parties involved makes it public, and most are handled quickly without any formal procedures (as, indeed, are many informal challenges from members of the public.)

You'll find that librarians think about bias and prejudice a lot when it comes to collection development, both in terms of limiting what we buy unintentionally in worrying about challenges and in terms of collecting broadly to reflect the needs of the community, not just any one individual's needs or tastes. While a librarian can definitely make a case for placement of graphic novels in a collection, it's a much harder argument to convince other librarians that they shouldn't have a particular format at all. The main challenge is getting folks to realize it is a format that tells any kind of story, not just the stereotypical grim superhero tale or fan-service filled manga.
Thanks for the thoughtful response, Robin. What you've outlined certainly makes sense: I know there are graphic novels that I bristle at, so it makes sense that librarians would have negative reactions to specific works that push their particular buttons. I just couldn't recall reading any news stories where librarians were shown voicing concerns about the content of a graphic novel; it's always a hysterical parent who is raising the objections while a librarian is defending the work. You're probably right that internal conflicts simply don't leak to the press and even if they did those scenarios aren't as "sexy" as when outraged parents or politicians get involved. Still, it's heartening to hear that education seems to work in most cases. Thanks again for the info!

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