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REVIEW: Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives

Covering a wide range of library settings and issues, the essays in editor Robert Weiner's book add up to a whole that's greater than its already impressive parts.

Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives
Robert G. Weiner, editor
McFarland and Company, 2010
publisher site | WorldCat

Graphic Novels and Comics consists of 29 essays that discuss how the medium is treated in school, public, and academic libraries, as well as archives and even one state library. While academic libraries receive the most attention by far, I was surprised to find just how many aspects of working with comics seem to apply across the range of library settings, making very few essays altogether irrelevant to (for example) my work in a public library. Many at least partially take the form of "this is how we do it at my library, for better or worse", making the book an ersatz survey of practices across the profession. Even when my reaction was along the lines of "You do what with your graphic novels??", these accounts prodded me to reexamine my institution's approach, and my own assumptions as well.

Other topics addressed in this collection include the history of comics in libraries, the medium's audiences and how to serve them, nomenclature, webcomics, cataloging challenges and solutions, and collection evaluation. Every essay has something to offer any reader, not least a wealth of cited works to add to their reading list. I was particularly enamored of Richard Graham's "The Spinner Rack in the Big Red and Ivory Tower", the breadth and depth of which goes far beyond its stated subject of comics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Francisca Goldsmith's "What's in a Name", which expertly spells out the costs and benefits of the odd comics-related vocabulary we have to work with in the library.

The only negative experience I had reading this book was with the first essay, a history of comics with so many caveats about what it doesn't include as to make it barely qualify as a history, let alone the "Librarian's Guide to the History of Graphic Novels" that its title suggests. (The information it presents is accurate, but I feel that its gaps make for a problematic set of emphases and conclusions, especially if read by someone without prior knowledge of the subject, as seems to be the intent. Perhaps this is a result of lackluster historical resources at the time of its writing?) I recognize that my evaluation may be unfairly harsh, especially since uneven quality in a multi-author collection inevitable; I only mention it here because reading this first chapter was so disappointing that it kept me from picking the book back up for entire years, and I want to prevent other readers from falling into that same trap.

Robert Weiner has done an enormous service to the field by collecting the essays in this book, and every librarian who works with comics should read it. It's inspirational to see other librarians making the medium a serious priority, to learn about other institutions who want to see comics and its readers treated well, and to know that there is solid body of scholarship to draw from and build on. Any of these chapters (or groups of them) could inspire further collections of essays devoted to deepening and broadening our approach to comics librarianship, and I hope that they do!