Updating the Graphic Novel Collection
I love graphic novels but that love doesn’t come close to how much my students love graphic novels. They adore them. I’ve seen that time and again at all the school libraries I’ve worked in. However, their engagement with the graphic novel collection always varied and that’s because the graphic novel collections in all of those libraries varied significantly. Some were tidy and small, others large and outdated and one was big, plentiful and beautiful and let me tell you the students adored it!!
So, when I took over as head of library this year, I knew one of the first things I wanted to do was show the graphic novel collection some love. Lots of love.
The importance of graphic novels
If you are already in the know about how valuable graphic novels are, feel free to skip this section. It always surprises me how many people undervalue or underestimate graphic novels. But I do get it. Especially adults. Some people grew up on a steady diet of comics but if you were not part of that crowd, understanding what a graphic novel is might be outside your experience. Graphic novels have also changed a lot and even in the last few years. The layout, colours, stories, genres, have all evolved and many graphic novels look different from what you might expect. There are also lots of rumours, myths and falsehoods that sit around comics and graphic novels. So, just to reinforce and set the record straight here are some things to know.
Graphic novels count as ‘real’ reading
Okay, aside from the fact that all reading is real reading, reading graphic novels absolutely does count as reading and really fantastic reading at that. To read a graphic novel, you have to read the text as well as decode the images. These illustrations have hundreds of clues that readers must pick up on to understand the story. Things like understanding the flow of the story and how the gutters (gaps) between the panels (where the art sits) is also something the reader must decode. Everything else about reading comprehension is the same – understanding the plot, the characters, what is implied and the message the reader takes from the story. Also, we live in a visual world. Being able to read, decode and understand images is just as important as being able to read, decode and understand text. Another plus? Graphic novels might use fewer words than a prose novel but they use a very high level of vocabulary (if you can only use a few words, got to make them count, right?) so reading graphic novels is great for expanding the vocab of readers.
Graphic novels are for all readers
I know that some people say they can’t read or struggle to read graphic novels. I used to be one of those people. Then I actually sat down to read one and I discovered that I could read a graphic novel and I loved it. I find them really quick to read but you can take as long as you want because every time you look at those images you’ll see something new. Yes, it does take a different style of reading. Just like how we read a website differently from how we would read a prose novel, reading a graphic novel uses a different form of reading. Images first and then the text? Text and then images? All of it at once? Asking my students, I get lots of different responses. There’s no wrong way to read a graphic novel. And yes, even though the images are there for you, you’ll still need to use your imagination to follow the story.
While graphic novels are excellent for struggling readers, we definitely shouldn’t restrict them to these readers or consider them “easy” texts to “start with and move on from”. Graphic novels are for all readers and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, across any genre that takes your fancy. Many are highly complex texts and contain complex themes.
Graphic novels are engaging and high quality
The range of graphic novels that you can access is vast. There are graphic novels for all reading ages and all interests, from memoirs and non fiction to classics, horror, romance, humour, mystery and so much more. There are now graphic novel versions of many of your favourite novels and movies and tv shows inspired by graphic novels. They are highly engaging, many are bright, beautifully designed and of a very high quality, just like any prose novel or non fiction text.
The interest is high
I know students love reading graphic novels and this continues from junior school into high school. If the range of new titles coming out and the fact that even department stores are stocking vast quantities of graphic novels doesn’t clue you in, let me tell you that students adore graphic novels.
And in my library, where there is interest we follow, support, promote and make the most out of that thing!!
Assessing the collection
Working in the library last year part time, looking at the collection and trying to help our Year 7 students find a graphic novel to use for their English assessment, I had a pretty good idea of what books we had in the graphic novel collection and what we were missing. We had lots of graphic versions of classics. We also have a massive manga collection and I’m not including that collection in this post or update. It will get its own update later. The collection also has a lot of the DC and Marvel superhero graphic novels. What it was missing were large quantities of the brightly coloured, newer, super popular titles.
Ready, set, buy
My first step was to purchase new graphic novels. I knew exactly the books I wanted. Everything from the graphic novel versions of The Baby-Sitters Club to Heartstopper were on my shopping list. While some of these titles, like the Baby-Sitters Club, were in our Junior Library, it was important to me that we also had copies, as they are still popular with our readers. We had so many of our students asking to go and borrow from the Junior Library, which I am okay with but it means they are then not available to the junior students and that our collection wasn’t meeting the needs of our students. My #AmazingLibraryTech and I purchased 50 new graphic novels over the term from our local bookshop and local department store. Some were not brand new titles. Many have been around for ages, but they were all new to our collection and to many of our students.
I also wanted to make sure that we were purchasing novels with characters that were representative of our student population and the global population and covered a range of genres and interest areas. While romance and relationship titles are very popular, we also purchased graphic novels that were fantasy, mystery, adventure, animal stories, and memoir.
A display to showcase
With so many new titles hitting the shelves, we wanted to showcase our collection. We created a graphic novel display. It was great, as many of the students were borrowing piles of these books and it was a lot easier to just reshelve onto the display. The display was never the same two days in a row, as many would be borrowed, leaving an empty display, which we’d replace with all the newly catalogued or newly returned items. With a few decorations from old, weeded graphic novels, it was an easy and bright display.
Out with the old
Then, it was time to take a closer look at what was already on the shelf. As part of my collection management plan for the term, I was weeding each fiction section, which includes the graphic novels. Our graphic novels are in their own collection, sit on their own separate shelf and are arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name. I went over the collection, culling for condition (no one wants to borrow a book with pages that are stuck together or is covered in mold). I also looked at which titles hadn’t been borrowed for the past six years. This gives me a good look at what really hasn’t been touched. While there were many titles that fit into this age bracket, I don’t automatically weed books that haven’t been borrowed for that many years. I ended up keeping quite a few, especially the classics. I’ll cull more heavily when we have more funds to update this area but I had another plan in mind and I wanted to keep a lot of what we had and give them a new lease on life.
A new layout and new signage
Since I was weeding my other fiction areas I had a bit of room for moving the collections around. By moving the adventure collection, I had a spare bay of shelves. I wanted to spread the graphic novels out, make them more visible and give us more space for forward facing display.
Here’s what it looked like before the change.
And here are the two sides after the move.
Now, do keep in mind that none of our new titles are currently on these shelves – they were all either on loan or on our display shelf, but there is plenty of room for them.
We moved all the superhero (and Star Wars, just because) to the empty side. They are currently grouped by DC, Marvel and superhero (Batman are all together). Yes, it’s not ideal for when we need to reshelve, but it’s certainly easier for students to find and there is lots of room for forward facing display.
On the other side, we retained the A-Z layout (for now). I have moved all the classics to the bottom shelf so they are all together. We are also working on adding genre stickers to each of the books. Once we have done that we might then shelve by genre. In any case, it will be a lot easier for students to find a graphic novel to suit their tastes, especially those that are harder to find when we don’t have as many. Mystery graphic novels, for example. It will also show us more clearly what we have lots of and what genres we need more of.
Just by having these books spread out and forward facing, students started to browse and borrow, which was great to see our older titles getting some interest and being borrowed.
I created the signs in Canva and our school printed them super large. My #AmzingLibraryTech laminated them and we stood them up using metal book ends and blue tak. So far, they have stayed put. The signs are super eye-catching and I love the double looks people are giving the shelves now. It’s also a lot easier for our students to find the graphic novel section. All the books that are forward facing are also leaning against book ends.
New spine labels
Along with the new layout and new signage, we are adding genre stickers to each of our graphic novels. They are the same genre stickers that we are using for our other fiction collections. We have also added a blue graphic novel sticker to the books, replacing the red dots that had been used previously.
The buzz around our graphic novels has been incredible this term. The shelves look better, the signage is eye catching, the forward facing displays are getting books noticed, and our students are loving the new titles we are adding. We have students coming in to borrow stacks of graphic novels and then borrowing more the next day. We have students coming in before school to read graphic novels. They are fighting over them in their English class library sessions (fighting is okay in the library so long as it’s over books). We have students coming in to borrow graphic novels because they saw their siblings reading some from the library and came to see what was so good about what they were borrowing.
Our loan statistics also reflect this interest. Our graphic novel loans in Term 1 of 2021 were 191, and in Term 1 of 2022 our loans for graphic novels were 496. That’s more than double. Also, taking into account that we had three weeks of remote learning this year, so three weeks that students couldn’t borrow. These stats are still pretty low, so we have a long way to go. But it’s a really promising start.
We’ll continue to purchase new graphic novels for our collections. Honestly, it’s going to be hard to keep up with our readers but we will certainly try. I also can’t wait to see the collection with all its genre stickers and how this might impact borrowing, browsing and our final layout. Overall, I am so impressed that it was so easy to support our readers and their interests and so easy to drive improved loans and buzz around this collection. Now, on to the next collection.