Graphic Novels in Curriculum and Instruction Collections

By Downey, Elizabeth M. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Graphic Novels in Curriculum and Instruction Collections

Downey, Elizabeth M., Reference & User Services Quarterly

Graphic novel collection and use has become a popular topic in the library community; most of the literature has focused on collecting in school and public libraries. The number of academic libraries that carry graphic novels has increased, but those collections and the few articles addressing graphic novels in academic librarianship have focused on serving the recreational reader or the pop culture historian. Meanwhile, the education community has begun to embrace graphic novels as a way to reach reluctant readers; engage visual learners; and improve comprehension and interpretation of themes, literary devices, and social issues, among other topics. As graphic novels are increasingly used in the classroom, students majoring in elementary and secondary education should have access to these materials as they prepare for their future careers. Making graphic novels a specific part of the curriculum and instruction collection supports the academic library's mission to meet the research and training needs of the faculty, staff, and students.


While there has been a much greater focus on graphic novels in the library literature over the last decade, most coverage has been limited to school media centers and public libraries. Published research about graphic novel collections in academic libraries has been limited to investigating the genre as either recreational reading for busy college students or as part of the cultural and historical record. There is still resistance to the genre in some circles; combining text and images is considered fine for children's books, but children are expected to "grow out of it" and start reading "real books." (1) The experienced graphic novel enthusiast will use both text and image in their reading, cognition, and translation of the work, but those unfamiliar with the format and how it is read will more likely skim the novel, focus more on the images themselves than the context of those images, and misinterpret the intent of the artist and author. This leads to complaints about portrayals of violence, sex, misogyny, antiauthoritarianism, and other controversial or sensitive topics, as well as concern about underage patrons' access to such. (2) There also is the assumption that graphic novels are too "easy," or that pictures detract from what the authors could have expressed in words alone. (3)

However, graphic novels today are being used increasingly by educators to engage reluctant readers, reach out to visual learners, and illustrate social and cultural themes and topics. Districts are now seeing the benefits of these tools: The New York City Department of Education began promoting and supporting graphic novel use in their classrooms in spring 2008 by training hundreds of the city's school media specialists. The in-service sessions focused on selection, lesson plans, and graphic novels as a tool to draw students to the library. (4) Part of the academic library's mission is to provide materials and resources for future educators. Academic libraries should carry graphic novels in their collections for pleasure reading by students and faculty, to serve as examples of modern art and graphic design, and for historical value; but they also should be included in subject-specific curriculum and instruction collections for education majors preparing for practicum and developing lesson plans.


A review of the library and information science literature indicates that not much has been published in regards to graphic novels in academic libraries outside of the occasional book review or highlight of a special collection. There are a few notable exceptions: O'English, Matthews, and Lindsay provide an overview that covers several subtopics and issues, including graphic novels as literature, their increasing popularity in libraries, endorsement of the format as pleasure reading for students and faculty, collection development, cataloging and classification, and promotion and outreach in academia. …

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