Do academic libraries include comics broadly defined, including graphic novels and manga, in their collections? The basic idea that they can – and should – is long past being controversial to any extent. In 2006, the co-authors of Graphic novels in academic libraries: From Maus to manga and beyond were able to highlight both the benefits of including graphic novels in academic library collections and some of the conceptual/theoretical and practical challenges of doing so, from convincing faculty, staff, and students of the appropriateness and value of such a collection to simply deciding how to best approach cataloging a graphic novel. 2010’s Japanese manga in translation and American graphic novels: A preliminary examination in 44 academic libraries presented an actual survey of how specifically academic libraries collect graphic novels/manga, or rather, which particular titles they collect.
And now, Japanese manga in translation and American graphic novels: A re-examination of the collections in 36 academic libraries ten years later updates that survey’s results.
Ten years ago, this journal published an article comparing the collection rates of Japanese manga in English translation and American graphic novels (“American” defined as graphic novels published in North America and originally written in English) in 44 American academic libraries in 2007 and 2008 (Masuchika & Boldt, 2010). The results showed that American graphic novels were being added to American academic libraries at a faster pace than translated Japanese manga. With the growing popularity of both manga and graphic novels, it was time to revisit this phenomenon and see if any changes had occurred in collection rates within the last ten years. This study revealed that while graphic novels were being added at a significantly faster pace, manga showed no increase in the rates they were being added ten years ago.
Glenn Masuchika is an Information Literary Librarian at Penn State University Libraries, where his responsibilities include serving as an “advisor to selectors in the field of graphic novels and comics”. In addition to the original Japanese manga in translation and American graphic novels paper, he is also the author of Japanese cartoons, virtual child pornography, academic libraries, and the law (Reference & User Services Quarterly, 2015), and, earlier this year, Considerations for collecting anime for academic libraries (Collection & Curation).
The approach the author of the survey uses is fairly straightforward – it is based on developing a “checklist” of graphic novels and manga, and searching for the titles on the list in the library catalogs of a selection of major academic library systems. But, in any given year, there are now easily several hundred graphic novels and manga published in the U.S. – so actually selecting the titles to search for becomes key. Here, the author decides to focus only on titles included on various Best Of lists (such as Amazon’s, Booklist’s and Entertainment Weekly’s for graphic novels, and Anime News Network’s, ICv2.com’s and Comicbeat.com’s for manga, and select only those titles that appeared on at least 3 lists of graphic novels and at least 2 for manga. Equally key is the second part of the survey design – the academic libraries whose holdings would be searched. Here, a key factor, as in the original 2010 study, would be “major groupings based on geographical locations” – as with 12 major Midwestern universities, 12 in the Western states, and beyond that, 12 with prominent Asian, Asian American, and Japanese Studies programs, to see whether it would be possible to determine any relationship between the existence of these programs, and the libraries’ collection development practices. The graphic novels Best Of lists generated a total of 14 unique titles; the manga ones accounted for 17. Specifically looking at the manga lists, almost every one of the 17 titles (except one) is available in the collection of at least 1 academic library of the 36. 21 libraries (58%) held copies of My Brother’s Husband volume 1, 12 (33.33%) of My Solo Exchange Diary volume 1, and 8 (22.22%) of Promised Neverland volume 1. However, most of the others were only held in a couple of libraries. This compares to figures like 29 of the 36 libraries (80.55%) owning copies of the graphic novel My Favorite Thing is Monsters, and 26 (72.22%) with Berlin, Hey, Kiddo!, Sabrina, and The Best We Could Do. More libraries had copies of the least frequently held graphic novel (Upgrade Soul), than almost any manga, except the highest-ranking one.
One immediate thought that comes to mind when evaluating this paper has to do with the basic appropriateness of the checklist method to select the specific graphic novels/manga to search for. Yes, using external “Best of Lists” to generate the title lists is a possible approach, but it is not the only one. Another way could be to focus on award-winning titles, such as those nominated for the Eisner Awards, or selected for inclusion on the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, or on best-sellers appearing on the monthly NPD Bookscan lists. Similarly, how representative the 36 universities in the study are of other types, especially smaller liberal arts colleges and non-flagship public ones is very much a valid question to ask too.
The actual results of the “re-examination” also imply some thoughts. In general, the author argues that the very nature of most manga as multi-volume series makes them challenging to collect – once a library makes a decision to begin purchasing a particular title, it is presumably committed to spending money and staff time on purchasing an unknown future number of volumes of that title – and this may not be an comfortable commitment to ever justify. He also notes that at least in the research that he based the paper on, it was difficult to come up with any kind of real consensus on the “best” or “most important” manga for a library to buy. However, as I noted above, one way to address this challenge is by turning to award nomination announcements and sales figures, in addition to the various Best Of lists. Another possibility – raised but not elaborated on – is a general “bias” against manga in academic library collections, as either simply not suitable, or as an insufficient substitute for the original Japanese versions.
Regardless, it is evident that many of the the libraries in the study are more “welcoming” to some particular manga – My Brother’s Husband and My Solo Exchange Diary than they are to others. What is it about these specific ones that makes them so attractive? I would argue that in addition to their overall quality, they are also easiest to present as graphic novels that just happen to be Japanese, or even as Japanese fiction that just happens to be illustrated, and so, may not even need to be perceived as manga. This, in turn, can have implications for the kinds of Japanese comics that are even available to American students and scholars who are looking for some examples to turn to. Just as Jaqueline Berndt has pointed out that when looking at Japanese animation, “[N]on-Japanese scholars tend to assume that [Hayao Miyazaki’s] movies are typical of anime as a whole because of their mere presence in Japan”, could this lead to an expectation that most Japanese comics are in fact “like” My Brother’s Husband and My Solo Exchange Diary? In fact, Lucy Fraser and Masafumi Monden raise a related issue in The maiden switch: New possibilities for understanding Japanese shojo manga (girls’ comics) when they note that manga scholars seem to prioritize “texts that enact more explicit gender subversion, such as stories that feature same-sex male love and cross-dressed fighting girls”, rather than “stories with early adolescent heroines in light, romantic, and fairytale-like narratives”. Could “ease of access” play a role in the kinds of manga that scholars are considering?
Suggestions for Further Research:
In any case, this study provides both a valuable “snapshot in time” at how a number of major U.S. academic libraries approach both graphic novels and manga, and points the way to some additional ways to explore this topic. One particular way could be to analyze the extent to which these academic libraries support the needs of scholars by providing access to graphic novels/manga that are the subjects of recent leading scholarship in the field. For example, just some of the specific manga titles that scholars addressed in work published last year include Attack on Titan, Barefoot Gen, Black Butler, Cat-Eyed Boy, Golden Kamuy, Natsuko’s Sake, Sakuran, The Phoenix, Usagi Drop, and Uzumaki. A related approach could review library holdings based on graphic novels/manga that appear on class reading lists – especially those in dedicated Comics Studies programs such as the MA that the University of East Anglia will begin offering this fall, the minor at San Francisco State University, and the certificate program at Portland State.
Once again, in of itself, this article does a very good job of demonstrating the actual scope of the presence that both graphic novels and manga have in academic library collections. And, beyond that, it also serves as a very effective foundation for further, more elaborate research that will make a major contribution to comics studies, manga studies – and library science!