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Crunching the Numbers: Library Circulation Statistics

Robin Brenner

Given the variety of sales charts folks look at to see how graphic novels are faring, from ICv2′s rundowns of the top 50 graphic novels every month to Bookscan’s sales figures, I’ve always thought it would be interesting to see how sales statistics compare to what we use in libraries: circulation statistics. 

Essentially, I ran the statistics on graphic novels for my forty-one library network. I included both the official circulation count plus the renewals (something we generally do when looking at circulation in our library) to get a total number of times a volume was read and/or checked out. These are limited to titles bought after January 1st 2007, as I wanted to look at a particular date range.

Initially I was looking at the circulating volumes (so, for example, Naruto 1 and Naruto 6 would be listed separately on the list.)  For this list, I’ve listed the series in order for the first time they appeared in the ranking, and then left out the subsequent volumes appearances, so we can all get a sense of which series and stand-alone volumes are ranking high rather than just a list dominated by individual volumes of a few series.

I’ve listed the top 30 individual volumes for all categories (kids, teens, and adults), and the top 20 series for each. I was surprised and intrigued by the titles that rose to the top of my lists — to me, the lists say a lot about what libraries buy, what’s actually going out and how much, and how much circulation, i.e. a volume being read many times by different readers, differs from sales, where they only count the person who bought the title, not the number of times it was read, lent to a friend, or passed on through word of mouth.  Not that libraries are a perfect record of these habits, but I believe they get closer than strict sales.

The kids comics here were distinguished as kids comics in that the bulk of them were shelved in the Children’s sections of the libraries I polled.

Top 30 Individual Titles for All Age Ranges
1. The Wallflower by Tomoko Hayakawa
2. Babymouse: Camp Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
3. Babymouse: Skater Girl by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
4. Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
5. Bone: Rock Jaw Master of the Eastern Border by Jeff Smith
6. Kitchen Princess by Natsumi Ando
7. The Lost Warrior created by Erin Hunter, written by Dan Jolley (Warriors series)
8. Babymouse : Puppy Love by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
9. Vampire Knight by Matsuri Hino
10. Shugo chara! by Peach-Pit
11. Bone : Old Man’s Cave by Jeff Smith
12. Redwall : The Graphic Novel by Brian Jacques, adapted by Stuart Moore
13. Tiny Tyrant by Lewis Trondheim
14. Artemis Fowl : The Graphic Novel adapted by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin
15. Houdini : The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes
16. W.I.T.C.H. Graphic Novel
17. Goosebumps : Terror Trips by Various Creators
18. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon : Ginji’s Rescue Team by Makoto Mizobuchi
19. Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days by Fumino Hayashi
20. Death Note. Vol. 9, Contact by Tsugumi Ohba
21. Naruto. Vol. 13, The Chunin Exam, concluded…! by Masashi Kishimoto
22. The Cartoon History of the Modern World by Larry Gonick
23. The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci
24. Pichi Pichi Pitch by Pink Hanamori
25. Mouse Guard : Fall 1152 by David Peterson
26. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table retold by M.C. Hall (Stone Arch)
27. The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross by Arina Tanemura
28. Bleach. vol. 17, Rosa Rubicundior, Lilio Candidior by Tite Kubo
29. Naruto. Vol. 14, Hokage vs. Hokage! by Masashi Kishimoto
30. Ultimate X-Men. Vol. 15, Magical by Robert Kirkman

Top 20 Circulating Titles for Kids (Ages 0-12)
1. Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
2. Bone series by Jeff Smith
3. Warriors series created by Erin Hunter, written by Dan Jolley
4. Redwall : The Graphic Novel by Brian Jacques, adapted by Stuart Moore
5. Tiny Tyrant by Lewis Trondheim
6. Artemis Fowl : The Graphic Novel adapted by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin
7. Houdini the Handcuff King by Jason Lutes
8. W.I.T.C.H. series
9. Goosebumps series based on the novels by R.L. Stine
10. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series by Makoto Mizobuchi
11. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Peterson
12. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table retold by M.C. Hall (Stone Arch)
13. King Arthur: Excalibur Unsheathed: An English Legend story by Jeff Limke (Graphic Universe)
14. Marvel Adventures/Age series from Marvel Comics
15. The Baby Sitter’s Club series (by Ann M. Martin) a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeir
16. Hardy Boys, Undercover Brothers series by Scott Lobdell
17. Hannah Montana by Various Creators
18. Nancy Drew, Girl Detective series by Stefan Petrucha
19. Point Blank: The Graphic Novel adapted by Antony Johnston
20. Avatar the Last Airbender series by Various Creators

Top 20 Circulating Titles for Teens (Ages 13-18)
1. The Wallflower series by Tomoko Hayakawa
2. Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
3. Kitchen Princess series by Natsumi Ando
4. Vampire Knight series by Matsuri Hino
5. Shugo Chara! series by Peach-Pit
6. Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days series by Fumino Hayashi
7. Death Note series by Tsugumi Ohba
8. Naruto series by Masashi Kishimoto
9. Cartoon History… series by Larrry Gonick
10. The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci
11. Pichi Pichi Pitch series by Pink Hanamori
12. Gentleman’s Alliance Cross series by Arina Tanemura
13. Bleach series by Tite Kubo
14. Ultimate X-Men series by Various Creators
15. Astonishing X-Men series by Various Creators
16. The Professor’s Daughter by Joann Sfar & Emmanuel Guibert
17. Batman series by Various Creators
18. Simpsons series by Various Creators
19. Laika by Nick Abadzis
20. Civil War series by Various Creators (Marvel Comics)

Top 20 Circulating Titles for Adults (Ages 18+)
1. Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine
3. Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan
4. Fables series by Bill Willingham
5. Y: The Last Man series by Brian K. Vaughan
6. Alice in Sunderland by Brian Tolland
7. Jack of Fables series by Bill Willingham
8. Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
9. Tanpenshu series by Hiroki Endo
10. With the Light: Raiding an Autistic Child series by Keiko Tobe
11. 28 Days Later: The Aftermath by Steve Niles
12. Apollo’s Song by Osamu Tezuka
13. Shooting War by Anthony Lappé
14. Ex Machina series by Brian K. Vaughan
15. Loveless series by Brian Azzarello
16. Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse by Ben Templesmith
17. Stop Forgetting to Remember : the Autobiography of Walter Kurtz by Peter Kuper
18. Cairo
by G. Willow Wilson
19. Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor by various creators
20. Essex County: Tales from the Farm by Jeff Lemire

A few notes on just these lists:
- Graphic novels for younger readers certainly dominate the top 30 volumes, with about half for kids and half for teens.  This certainly shows how much the under-18 crowd is hungering for graphic novels of all kinds!  The first adult title in terms of circulation by volume, Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine, appeared at 34, and it was the only adult title in the top 50.  I’m guessing this is an indication of how much libraries are not yet serving their adult fans as much as they might be.
- The teens list is half manga, half western titles including a good showing of titles outside the superhero vein.  I find it exciting that there’s more of a balance — that manga does not totally dominate the list, in terms of series, and gives me personally hope that there’s room for all kinds of comics for these readers.

I do think that library statistics are a different measure of comics readers than sales numbers.  Sales are a great measure of comics buyers, but to me, not so much the readers, not anymore.  Given how many people I know who get their comics from libraries, from family, from friends, and don’t tend to buy them at all, I think library statistics can broaden the picture of what fans and publishers consider when measuring the success or failure of a title.

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Robin Brenner About Robin Brenner

Robin Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. When not tackling programs and reading advice at work, she writes features and reviews for publications including VOYA, Early Word, Library Journal, and Knowledge Quest. She has served on various awards committees, from the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards to the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards. She is the editor-in-chief of the graphic novel review website No Flying No Tights.

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