Comics, graphic novels, and manga have a place in libraries. The Young Adult Library Services Association division of the American Library Association compiles a yearly Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, and just some of the recent books on comics/graphic novels/manga that are targeted specifically at librarians include Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009), Library Collections for Teens: Manga and Graphic Novels (American Library Association, 2010), Mostly Manga: A Genre Guide to Popular Manga, Manhwa, Manhua, and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2012), and the collection Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives: Essays on Readers, Research, History and Cataloging (McFarland & Co., 2010). Examples of similar coverage in prominent journals in the library science field are the articles Graphic Novels in Academic Libraries: From Maus to Manga and Beyond (The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 2006), The Institutionalization of Japanese Comics in US Public Libraries (2000-2010) (Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 2013), and, just earlier this year, A School Librarian’s Journey through Manga Collection Development (Knowledge Quest).
One common thread that links these books and articles is that they generally either present a “high-level” overview of the idea of including manga, etc. in library collections, or actually quantify the extent to which libraries are doing so. What they generally do not discuss, with the exception of some of the chapters in Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives are the actual mechanics of this process. How does a library go about purchasing comics/manga, what are some of the different possible approaches to adding records for these kinds of titles to a library’s catalog, where should they even be physically located in the library space?
Another recent collection, The Library’s Guide to Graphic Novels (American Library Association, 2020) does specifically try to answer these kinds of questions. And one of its chapters – Building a Japanese Manga Collection for Nontraditional Patrons in an Academic Library, discusses these same kinds of mechanics as applied to manga in particular.
Of course, the first question that can come up in relation to this chapter is what do its authors even mean when they refer to a library’s “nontraditional patrons”. Presumably, the main goal of an academic library is to collect and provide access to books and other materials that would support the needs of researchers. The Japanese Manga Collection that they describe, on the other hand, is designed to support in-class reading (in the terminology used by the University of Pennsylvania Japanese Language Program, “tadoku” – “extensive reading” – where students “choose Japanese-language books appropriate to their level, then read as much as they can without a dictionary and by skipping difficult sections, grasp the overall content from the parts they can decipher on their own”. Traditionally, this approach used “graded readers” – “easy-to-read books specifically targeted at programmed grammatical and vocabulary levels”, but the authors, one of whom was the University of Pennsylvania Libraries Japanese Studies Librarian, realized that students were more interested in, and would engage with the tadoku approach more – if the books it offered would be titles they were interested in on their own – i.e. manga. Coming to this realization then led into the “mechanics-related” questions on selecting titles to purchase, actually purchasing these titles, creating correct bibliographic records, and then simply advertising the existence of the new collection to potential users.
The aim of tadoku is for students to choose Japanese-language books appropriate to their level, then read as much as they can without a dictionary and by skipping difficult sections, grasp the overall content from the parts they can decipher on their own.
Possible approaches the authors describe for selecting titles to purchase include reaching out to language instructors to solicit recommendations from students, as well as trying to become aware of manga titles that are popular “among a more general population of patrons”, using the recommendation algorithm on Amazon Japan to get a better understanding of “what is both currently popular and relevant for the growing collection”, reviewing records in Wikipedia for details about spin-offs and sequels and such, and drawing on the catalogs and other marketing materials put out by the major U.S. publishers of translated manga for a sense of “currently popular titles” and “important publishing trends”. One such trend that the authors specifically point out is “women-authored gay romance stories” and a “queer lens on manga”, leading to “a selection focus on LGBTQ titles that orient readers to gay history and culture as well as
relationships and everyday life.” Of course, all of these approaches have the potential for a selection bias and can lead to a collection that over-represents certain types or genres to the exclusion of others that are perhaps not as “trendy”, but better represent the full range of the different kinds of manga that are available to readers in Japan.
Students of Japanese as a foreign language are often inspired by their interest in popular culture, so there was naturally a demand for Japanese comics, or manga, to engage with in class for tadokuBuilding a Japanese Manga Collection, p. 145
From this, the article describes the process of locating details about two particular manga titles (My Brother’s Husband! and Jūhan Shuttai!), aimed at a librarian with no familiarity whatsoever with manga, such as both the advantages and the limitations of Wikipedia for locating details about these titles, and the challenges of using Amazon Japan to actually purchase volumes. The next section is its most intensely technical, dealing with possible ways of actually representing manga in a library catalog in a way that would make these books distinct from non-Japanese graphic novels/comics. Right now, the best such way is to use the Library of Congress Subject Headings system’s “Comic books, strips, etc.” heading, and add the Japan geographic subdivision. The authors also recommend specifically highlighting that the book is in Japanese, and whenever possible, including the actual original Japanese title (in kanji, not just transliterated) in the catalog record.
In the absence of a widely adopted library-facing thesaurus that establishes “manga” or “manhwa” as freestanding subjects – and the consequent lack of representation for established subgenres in Japan and Korea – libraries should adopt and maintain those conventions that serve their users and describe their collections best.Building a Japanese Manga Collection, p. 157
Example: Penn Libraries catalog record, 弟の夫 (My Brother’s Husband)
One more part of the article addresses the other key aspect of developing and maintaining this kind of collection – how do you actually make its existence known to library users? This involved deciding on a unique name for the collection, and a dedicated physical location, and even specifically indicating the collection on book spine labels. Nonetheless, the collection remained largely unknown to users other than Japanese language students, and to remedy this, the librarians specifically designed a marketing campaign with both print and digital signs, including signage displayed on the library’s ground floor.
The East Asia Comics Collection has been designed for direct application in language pedagogy and as active circulating resources for student enrichment, and its development represents a shift in how the Penn Libraries’ East Asian-language materials have been advertised and used.Building a Japanese Manga Collection, p. 161
A conclusion also summarizes the way the collection has actually been used, and how it fits into the library system’s broader mission of “making language learning and the library itself fun for underserved demographics” (such as students in language courses, as opposed to researchers), and even the way it is potentially open to public users who can access university library collections at specified times, as well as other college/university libraries via inter-library loan.
Overall, this chapter is a valuable profile of a unique and important library collection, and a very useful template or guide for other libraries that may wish to establish collections of this type, or simply collect manga titles in the original Japanese. Of course, the methods and approaches that its authors highlight are not comprehensive. They for example do not address the usefulness of other resources, such as the Anime News Network Encyclopedia for locating information about manga titles, using lists of awards winners to select titles for inclusion, or basing at least some of the collection on titles that have been the subject of scholarly research. Nonetheless, Building a Japanese Manga Collection is a valuable addition to the literature on manga in libraries, and to library science/librarianship literature in general, and one that, I hope, will serve as an important resource for and aid to librarians who are interested in manga!