Yesterday’s “professional day” of programming at New York Comic Con saw a healthy turnout and engaged audiences at the three afternoon panels sponsored by the ALA.
The inspiringly titled “Library as Mythic Oracle” connected the Hero archetype in its broadest sense both to present-day pop culture figures (especially superheroes), and, intriguingly, to the role of librarians in society. Indeed, regarding this latter point, Megan Kociolek (“Libraries are mystical places”) and Michael Maziekien’s individual presentations were sufficiently thoughtful that they conceivably could have been combined to form a single satisfying session on the topic. (And, as an aside, I particularly liked how Maziekien touched on the often problematic representation of librarians in pop culture.)
Similarly, Tyler Rousseau and Craig Anderson’s talks on the evolution of heroes would also have made for a rewarding two-person presentation. Indeed, the issues raised by audience members in the Q&A suggested the richness of the topic and all the directions such a presentation might have gone. For example: what does cultural/literary analysis teach us not only about the heroic balance/dichotomy between brain vs. brawn (Anderson’s focus) or the simply-drawn vs. the complex/ambiguous (Rousseau’s), but about the valuation of “street smarts” vs. “book smarts”? Connections that were made about the role of intellect, cunning, and physicality in characters ranging from Odysseus and Sherlock Holmes to Batman and Bruce Banner suggest the insights to be gleaned from this line of inquiry.
“The Possibilities of a Cape and Mask: Superhero Programming in Public Libraries” covered a tremendous amount of ground and yet managed to be efficient, clear, and organized throughout. The first part of the session—Emily Weisenstein and Joe Gasparro tag-teamed the entire presentation—provided a rationale for showcasing superheroes in libraries (e.g., they can be culturally inclusive, appeal to readers of all ages, etc.). The second half then addressed specific programming ideas such as clubs, library-based comic cons, helping youth create their own comics, and community involvement (e.g. having the local police chief address an audience of kid “superheroes”). Since the two presenters had clearly implemented most of these ideas themselves, it was exciting to see what two committed and creative librarians could accomplish while working in relatively small systems and with what seem to be limited resources.
Although at times the content of “Foolproof Graphic Novel Collection Development” overlapped a bit with that of the previous panel, it certainly added enough new and vital information to make it more than worthwhile in its own right. For example, David Lisa also presented a commonsense rationale for the place of comics in libraries, but he expanded the conversation to go beyond superheroes and address graphic novels generally. He followed up with a helpful, step-by-step guide for coming up with a collection development plan. Laverne Mann presented an engaging and nicely illustrated talk on the display-and-promotion aspects of GN’s before going on to a well-informed, up-to-date, and detailed rundown of transmedia and digital comics (even if some of the publishers’ titles aren’t currently available in many libraries). Finally, Stephen Hrubes leveraged his own extensive experience as a comics retailer to provide many highly practical tips for librarians interested in partnering with their local comics shop. This is a topic I’ve seen discussed in passing for years now, and of course many of us actually have firsthand familiarity with such partnerships, but Hrubes’s presentation was still hugely enlightening. For example, he took the time to break down the reasons a retailer might see a library as a competitor—and how librarians can take steps to counter this perception.
Which brings me to some final, contrarian-flavored thoughts: I’ve always been a big fan of these sorts of sessions, and in fact have spoken to librarian gatherings on similar topics… but I’m also starting to wonder whether the role of libraries as quasi-marketers of media (i.e., this extends beyond graphic narratives)—because that’s what we’re talking about when we discuss leveraging movie tie-ins or collaborating with retailers, publishers, and creators—has been discussed to the degree it deserves.