graphic novels, libraries, and the trap of the reluctant reader

I’ve been reading a bunch of posts and articles about graphic novels in libraries recently.

One thing that struck me about all of this is the way buying graphic novels for reluctant readers is often cited as a justification for adding manga or comics for libraries. It is understandable why this comes up so much — librarians want to encourage people to love reading, historically I think you wouldn’t be finding money for graphic novels set aside in a collection development budget, the money has to come from somewhere, and you need to justify it somehow. Most of the articles that you’d find in library journals about graphic novels tend to assume that young adults read them, and you can use graphic novels to encourage people to read.

This gets to be a bit of a problem though, as it puts reading graphic novels and manga in a space where one assumes that the people who read them are young or still acquiring fluency in reading. So debates over the content of graphic novels often read like someone saying “Please think of the children!!!!!”. I’m wondering if in the future libraries will be able to just buy these materials just because they are wildly popular, without having to rely on the reluctant reader justification. There are plenty of people who think that libraries should only collect Great Books, but you don’t often find libraries having to justify purchasing popular fiction — libraries collect materials that people want to read. That’s enough of a reason to purchase a ton of Stephen King, Jennifer Weiner, or Miwa Ueda.

I’d like to see reading graphic novels and manga spoken of more often as something to read because they can be appreciated as an art form or enjoyed as a fun read. By saying that we buy them for reluctant readers, there might be an implication that once the young reader is hooked by the pretty pictures, they will progress to more worthy literature. I think this does a disservice to manga and graphic novels in general. I’m hoping that the popularity of manga and the recent success of authors like Marjane Satrapi and Chris Ware will change things for the better.