Starting A Graphic Novel Collection
Acquiring Donations For Your Graphic Novel Collection
By Caitlin McGurk

Schulz logoAll librarians know how difficult budgeting constraints have become in today's economy: whether it effects your institution's ability to bring on new hires, or you've had to cut community programming, or use cheaper materials for book repair and preservation materials. Managing acquisitions, the type that are essential to keeping your library current and in demand to the public, can be the place where it hurts the most. As the head librarian of The Center for Cartoon Studies' Schulz Library which is 95 percent donation based, exploring the reasons for and methods by which you can cut down acquisitions costs is essential.

When The Center for Cartoon Studies opened in 2005, the school founded The Schulz Library (and therefore gained its namesake) with a donation from Jeannie Schulz, wife of the late Charles of Peanuts fame. Its original collection consisted of co-founder James Sturms' personal collection of about 2,000 books, and has since then grown to over 12,000 by the year 2011. Although the library does have an acquisitions budget, we have relied almost entirely on the generosity of book donors to gain the incredible capacity of unique titles that we house today. Many of these donations have come voluntarily out of public interest in our library, but there are a number of ways to solicit donations as well, with benefits for both the library and the donor.

Just InIf you are cultivating a graphic novel or comic book collection at your library, you have already entered into an incredibly supportive and booming community. Being a medium that has stood largely unrecognized for such a large span of its existence and has now begun to gain mass appeal and readership; the artists, writers, publishers, and fans involved in it are incredibly invested in its promotion and durability in a way that many other art forms don't have. As librarians, we are in a great position to help by cultivating the knowledge of comics and lending a sense of permanence and importance to the medium by staying up to date and involved in its growth, as well as endorsing and housing the latest materials. Relying on donations of graphic novels at The Schulz Library has been impressively easy, as all parties involved have one common goal: to get the material out there while we're in the thick of its popularity, to as many people as possible.

Our donation acquisitions strategy from publishers and artists themselves consists of one straightforward method: asking them for their material. Starting a graphic novel collection, let alone being a one of a kind graphic novel library like The Schulz Library, is enough to pique most creators' interest from the start, and it seems that nearly everyone is anxious to be involved. If you can find the contact information for the director of Academic Requests or Marketing, which isn't difficult for many small comics publishing houses, soliciting donations can be as simple as explaining your collection and requesting titles. Often times, contacting a specific artist or author with interest in their work is enough to receive multiple copies of a new work. Everyone loves libraries; especially those creating the material that is meant to fill them.

Another great way to gain the newest material out there is by having a presence at conventions. Be you a librarian or simply a fan, you are part of the comics community and can get involved with the source itself by talking to artists and publishers face to face. At most major comics conventions, The Center for Cartoon Studies will have a table for our students to exhibit and sell their work, and The Schulz Library will share some of that space for both duplicate library book sales, and to put a box out for library donations. These boxes often fill up hourly with individual artists dropping their work off, and even more is added when I or other library workers visit a publisher's corner and ask if they'd like to donate. If you are interested in housing zines and mini-comics collections, opening up donations with a box on your table is a guaranteed way to double or triple your collection in no time.

The oldest trick in the book for donations though, is simply making sure to promote the fact that your library is looking to expand its graphic novels section and open for anyone from the public to donate their collection. You can even promote an Amazon Wishlist for gifts to the library, to target specific requests. A tax receipt and Thank You letter is essential as well. At The Schulz Library, we give our donors an extra bit of pride by including their name and date of donation in the CCS book stamp, as seen below:


Particularly when graphic novelists and mini-comic artists are self publishing, being part of a library's collection is an honor which severely boosts the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with the DIY process, as most artists would be overlooked if they aren't putting working through a publishing house. For a medium whose popularity and audience is exponentially growing, an artist simply donating their material to a library rather than waiting for a potential purchase is the quickest way to get it into book clubs and reading groups, into the hands of youths who may not have comic book stores in their area, and into circulation in general.

"Library" and "community" are nearly synonymous terms, and luckily the comics community is an incredibly strong and supportive one- a conglomerative underdog with the common goal of promoting the medium. By staying current with all of the great new work that is regularly being produced, as well getting involved with the artists and publishers themselves, librarians can build a unique collection for their patrons while helping the art form flourish through advocacy and exposure.

Caitlin McGurk is head librarian at The Schulz Library at The Center for Cartoon Studies. She has worked to build and maintain the collections for Marvel Comics, The Schulz Library at The Center for Cartoon Studies, and the Bulliet Comics Collection of Columbia University. She aspires to promote the advancement of comics research by broadening their accessibility in the collections of universities and libraries worldwide. She also self publishes the zine and mini-comics series Good Morning You.