David Serchay is a youth services librarian for the Broward County Library System in Florida and a lifelong comic book reader. He is also the author of The Librarian’s Guide to Graphic Novels for Children and Tweens, a comprehensive collection development resource that has received favorable reviews from Booklist and VOYA, as well as a starred review from School Library Journal. Serchay was gracious enough to answer some questions for BookShelf about his approach to the book and the benefits to having graphic novels in libraries.
BookShelf: What were your goals in writing The Librarian's Guide to Graphic Novels for Children and Tweens? How would you like to see librarians using this book?
David Serchay: My goals were to help spread the idea that graphic novels are good and that they belong in libraries. Comics and graphic novels had received the undeserved stigma of “junk literature,” and while perceptions have changed, there is still the old stereotype to overcome. I’ve been reading comics almost all of my life. When I became a librarian I brought my love of comics with me and I’m glad to pass that on. I would like to see librarians use the book to develop new graphic novel collections or expand upon what they already have, especially in the case of school media centers. I would also like the media specialist to share with the teachers the educational aspects of graphic novels.
BookShelf: What to your mind are some of the best reasons for why libraries should include graphic novels?
David Serchay: Well there are a number of reasons. Their popularity is a factor since that translates into high circulation figures, something that can sway even the most reluctant administrators. In terms of schools, graphic novels have been shown to help with reluctant readers and improve vocabulary. There is also a growing amount of “graphic non-fiction” aimed at younger ages. And of course there’s the fact that there are a lot of good books out there.
BookShelf: The Librarian's Guide is divided into three sections: “Exploring and Understanding Graphic Novels”; “Building a Graphic Novel Collection” and “Managing, Promoting and Maintaining a Graphic Novel Collection”. Why did you choose to break it down this way, and how do you approach each section?
David Serchay: The first section is background, explaining to those unfamiliar with comics and graphic novels what they are, how they are made, what genres are out there, etc. The second part covers how to get them into the library including why to get them, how to get them, and how much is out there. The final part is basically “now that you have them, what do you do with them,” which covers not only the various cataloging and shelving options but also ways to use the collection for programming and/or for educational use.
BookShelf: You have been advocating for the inclusion of graphic novels in libraries for a long time. What are some of the obstacles you have faced, and what have you learned along the way?
David Serchay: I haven’t really encountered any obstacles. My library system (Broward County) has been very accommodating when it comes to purchasing graphic novels. First they allowed me to order several for my branch. Then graphic novels began to appear on the selection list handed out to the branches, and when the library moved to a more centralized selection process, a graphic novel committee was formed to order graphic novels for the system. Over the past few years, we have added thousands of titles (and tens of thousand of copies) aimed at children, tweens, teens, and adults. They have also allowed me to conduct classes that provided interested librarians with more about the subject. The only problems that I have encountered have been minor ones involving cataloging and processing and those were quickly resolved. We have also been fortunate not to have any problems with the patrons other than two minor incidents which were easily taken care of. When I hear of the problems that others have had in creating a graphic novel collection or problems that they have had with their collection, I feel very fortunate. I think that it is wonderful that the library world in general have embraced graphic novels the way that they have over the past 10 years.
BookShelf: You state that graphic novels need to be understood as a format, not a genre. With that in mind, what criteria did you use to put together the list of recommended titles?
David Serchay: The most important thing was that they were age appropriate, and in some cases some hard decisions had to be made whether or not to include them. I wanted to have a varied amount of genres, as when people think of comics books they mainly think of superhero titles, or if not that something like Archie. I wanted to show that all of the genres that are in the fiction section of the library can also be found in graphic novels. I also wanted to show the extent of the non-fiction graphic novels as well as how many different publishers were out there, from the major comic companies to the publishers of other material who also put out graphic novels. My list is not meant to be comprehensive, nor does a title’s omission mean that it is a bad book. Everything on there is a title that I reviewed or at least had some familiarity with the title or the series that it was a part of. These were books that I owned, that were sent to me by the publisher for review, or which I got from my own library system or through interlibrary loan.
BookShelf: You mention in the preface that you are a lifelong comic book reader. How does maintaining your own comic book collection both inform and differ from the concerns of developing a library collection?
David Serchay: One of the first “comics and libraries” items that I had written was an article for Serials Review called “Comic Book Collectors: The Serials Librarian of the Home.” In it, I showed the similarity between the librarian who works in serials and a comic book collector, in terms of purchasing, storing, cataloging, preservation and other areas. The same similarities apply to those who get trades, manga, and original graphic novels for the library. Comic collectors have to deal with rising prices, storage issues (I have over 70 longboxes in a relatively small room), and finding ways to keep track of their collection. Also, in reading the individual comics and reading websites and things like Previews to find more about what’s coming out, I have a better idea which trade collections will be popular with the library’s patrons and how many copies should be ordered for the library system.
BookShelf: I've heard rumors of an upcoming Librarian’s Guide to Graphic Novels for Adults. What can you tell me about this project?
David Serchay: Adults is a companion book to Tweens. I proposed it while I was working on the first book, since I realized the only way I could talk about Sandman, Blankets, most of Eisner’s works, etc was to briefly mention their significance along with the line “but these are not appropriate for a children’s collection.” While the first book is for librarians who work with, or order for, children or for school media specialists, the second is aimed for those who work with, or order for, adults. One of the last stereotypes that comics have is that they are just for kids. The goal of the new book is to show that not only do adults read comics and graphic novels, but there are also books that are specifically written for them. There are some similarities in content between the two books, since, for example, a discussion on cataloging will give the same information no matter who it is aimed at, but there are new things as well. One major difference is a chapter in Adult on “Comics and Graphic Novels in Academia” in which I discuss the use of graphic novels in Universities and elsewhere in the academic world. I am in the end stages of writing it, and it should be out later this year.
Click here to read a selection from The Librarian's Guide to Graphic Novels for Children and Tweens by David Serchay, excerpted with permission of Neal-Schuman Publishers.
For more free preview pages, visit www.neal-schuman.com/gnct.
Copyright 2008 by Neal-Schuman Publishers. All rights reserved