Magazine article Information Today

On the Go with the Carolina Manga Library

Magazine article Information Today

On the Go with the Carolina Manga Library

Article excerpt

Laura Mehaffey has a really cool job. She is the founder and executive director of the Carolina Manga Library. What makes her job cool is all the traveling she does: Wisconsin. Ohio. Chicago. New York. Atlanta. Philadelphia. West Virginia. Miami. She goes to anime and comic conventions, where she uses manga and graphic novels to encourage literacy and instill a sense of community. Oh, and she takes the library with her.

You read that right. Mehaffey lives in Irmo, S.C., which is a suburb of Columbia, the state capital. The library resides in a 12-foot trailer, which has 28 shelves, a bunch of giveaways, and all of her decorations. She trundles the library all over the country, setting it up at these weekend conventions and letting cosplayers and other attendees enjoy the collection until Sunday, when she packs it all up and heads home.

If you read my previous article, "A Fanboy's Notes for Librarians" ( ml), you learned about conventions, the epicenter of fandom. You also were introduced to costume play, or cosplay, which is dress-up for adults. Through the alchemy of needlecraft, metalwork, makeup, blood, sweat, and swag, cosplayers transform themselves into the comic book, movie, TV, pop culture, or manga character they most admire.

I'd better explain manga too. You may be familiar with anime, which I called "Japanese animation" growing up. Think of it as cartoons for adults, drawn in a distinctive style. Anime was incipient in my day. Voltron, Robotech, Akira--these were the major shows, and only nerds watched them. Now there are thousands of anime shows, and people all over the world watch them proudly.

Manga are anime in book form. They are paperbacks (usually printed in black and white), and you read them right to left, back to front. Originally published in Japan, many have been translated into English. This is what Mehaffey's library is devoted to. How did she get into manga? "It was Nintendo Power's fault," she says with a laugh. (This was a gaming magazine first published in 1988 that included game strategy, tips and tricks, reviews, and previews. With a circulation of nearly 500,000 at its peak, the magazine was discontinued in 2012.) Mehaffey got into Super Mario Brothers through Nintendo Power, she remembers. "I loved the story, and I started finding out everything I could about it." Many gamers are also attracted to comics and graphic novels. When she began accompanying her mother to her job at a library in Ohio, Mehaffey found Elfquest: "I was seven years old and read book one. I should not have been reading Elfquest at seven. I did anyway. I have loved graphic novels since then." When she learned there were book versions of her first anime, Sailor Moon (mine was Fullmetal Alchemist), she added manga to her list of loves and "was set for life."

Putting Manga to Good Use

The idea for a manga library came years later, after Mehaffey graduated from the University of South Carolina with an M.L.I.S. She was working at Lexington Medical Center as a quality assurance coordinator when a friend who ran Nashicon, an anime convention in Columbia, told her, "Listen. You own about a million books. Can you run a little reading room for the convention?" Great idea, Mehaffey thought. "We brought in our books and mismatched shelves and DC Comics statues that I had, and we ran a reading room at this 3,000-person con. We had 900 people in the room in one day." This planted a seed in her mind. "I worked at Richland County Library," she says, "running their anime club for 8 years. I started it. The biggest comment I got from parents was, 'Oh my gosh, my kids love coming to this anime club because there is nobody else in their school that likes anime, but there are six people from this other school who come to this library.'"

The library appears at about 24 conventions a year.

Mehaffey liked manga, she liked kids, and she liked libraries. …

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