The Comic Pimp: Issue #7

Fri, October 24th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
James Sime, Columnist

COMICS AND LIBRARIES (PART TWO)

The Comic Pimp is going guerrilla at the public library once again!

Myself and Isotope Special Projects Director (and soon-to-be Master of Library Science in the new year) Kirsten Baldock showed last week how guerrilla comic militants like ourselves can get comics into libraries and improve selections at local branches by doing comic donations. With Kirsten's invaluable aid we looked at the inner workings of how your local public librarians deal with those oh-so precious graphic novel donations that all readers of The Comic Pimp love, and exposed the most effective method for getting your donations into your local branch's collection.

This week we're going even farther. This week we explore the uncharted guerrilla marketing territories that the comic industry can use at the public library to get great comics into new reader's hands. And this week we're going to show you some ways that you can help get library patrons reading comics that you've never even thought about before.

Don't get me wrong, donations are a great way to get comics into a library's collection but sometimes libraries aren't always as eager to get donations as you might think. Even though you were the one who put down your hard-earned dollars to pay for those glorious trade paperbacks and sexy hardcovers, your donations aren't exactly free to the library. Processing donations is a time consuming task that takes staff in order to do, and understaffed libraries may not be able to afford the time it takes to get your donation on the shelves. With state and city governments cutting back across the board during budget cuts, you can bet your local library is understaffed and they might be hard-pressed to find the time to process all the donations they receive (comic or otherwise).

You may find that your library doesn't want to accept your generous donation or wants to use your donation in a way that you aren't comfortable with (like selling it in a Friends of the Library book sale to benefit the library), but that doesn't mean that you can't help guerrilla promote comics at your local branch.

Far from it.

Let's get to work…

Check Out Comics
If you find some resistance to adding more comics to the collection, it may be that the library does not see a need for more comics since the ones the library already has don't get a lot of use. Why would they want more if nobody cares?

In libraries space is always a major concern, and every book has to earn its keep. They do that by getting used. Even if you've already read the comics your branch owns, there simply is no better way to tell your librarian that comics are a vital part of the library's collection

Help those comics off library death-row… Check Them Out!

Kirsten's Inside Scoop: Circulation Statistics Matter!
Libraries tend to keep pretty close tabs on how much a book is being used. In terms of the library, "use," means circulating or getting checked out. Comics (and other books in the teen and children's collections) often get more use than is actually recorded. Remember how you hid your comic inside of a "real" book when you were younger so that the teacher couldn't see it? Misguided parents or teachers often steer kids away from comic books, wanting their kids to read "quality" literature. So, it may be that kids are embarrassed or not allowed to take comics home. Of course, they are probably reading the comic in the library, but the library has no way to record this "use" unless the librarian happens to observe this trend.

Circulation statistics have many effects on the library. Circulation statistics determine how much money a library or a collection will get. In times when money is tight enough that libraries need to close their doors for good, circulation statistics are often used to determine which branches get put on the chopping block. So, even if the librarian notices that the comics get used a lot, but the circulation statistics don't reflect that use, they may still feel that the comics aren't earning their keep and will not put any more money into that collection. Or worse, will discard the comics to make room for books that will generate higher circulation statistics.

Of course, if you're going to check anything out from the library, return the books! Guerrilla marketing won't work and you're wasting the library's money if all the comics end up being kept by sticky-fingered or absent-minded patrons who don't return the books they check out. Don't be a dumb-ass that turns circulation boosting into just plain boosting.

Spread the Word
After five weeks of The Comic Pimp Guerrilla Marketing columns you already know how to this like a pro!

Since circulation statistics are so important to deciding what books to stock, what sections get the most attention and funding, and keeping your local branch alive, you can help your library by going guerrilla and spreading the word about their graphic novel collection.

As non-profit agencies that are always short on funds, libraries often have trouble advertising their collections and services. Let your fellow comic readers know that there are graphic novels available in the libraries and that they should use these collections. Spread the word!

Kirsten's Inside Scoop: Libraries as a Comics Sampler
Using and spreading the word about library graphic novel collections make some loyal comic fans a little nervous. Everyone has a favorite comic store that they want to support. It feels like cheating to get your comic fix anywhere else, and nobody wants to see the door of their local comic store locked and the windows boarded up. But the truth of the matter is that using the comics at your local library is unlikely to affect the business of your local comic book store.

No library, no matter what their dedication to developing a graphic novel collection, is going to have anything more than a sampling of what comics have to offer. It's like getting a free sample, reading comics from the library is more likely to whet you appetite for more comics. For example, I recently heard about a teenage girl who started reading the Sandman series because she found it at the library. She was hooked immediately and read all that the library had available as quickly as possible. When she found it too difficult to find the entire series and libraries in the area, she decided to start buying the trade paperbacks at a local comic book store, as recommended by her librarian. She also asked the librarian to recommend books that were like Sandman, many of which she ended up buy since the library did not own them.

It is also often the case that something you read at the library, you find that you would rather own. Who hasn't had a library book that they didn't want to give back?

The possibilities for promoting comics at your local library are infinite. Word of mouth works great but don't be afraid to propose an article about the section to your local paper. It is simplicity itself to apply one of the many guerrilla marketing techniques I've been talking about over the past five weeks to spread the word about the section at your local branch. Think big; think small, and think outside of the box. Any kind of promotion you do for the libraries is in all likelihood more promotion than any other kind of promotion they already have. As always, make sure to run any proposed promotion past your librarian first.

Also, all smart comic shop owners know that libraries are one of the best resources for turning new readers into regulars at their store and these retailers will encourage you to do some comic industry guerrilla marketing at and for the local library. Although your favorite comic retailer won't mind you helping to stock and promote your local library's collection, you can always sweeten the deal by mentioning the store to the librarian. Libraries aren't allowed to do any kind of advertising whatsoever, but it never hurts to know where more comics can be found (wink wink)!

Hell, I'd buy you a beer for doing such righteous work! As long as you were over the legal drinking age, that is.

Advertise the Collection to the Library Patrons
Getting existing comic fans to use the library's collection is a great way to boost the circulation statistics for the graphic novel collection, but we all know that the ultimate goal of all this guerrilla marketing work is to increase comic readership with non-readers. Now you can't rightfully go into the library and tell everyone there to start reading comics… Or can you?

Obviously you're not going to start shoving graphic novels in people's faces, that's going to get you kicked out of the library and maybe even thrown in jail. But thank the stars above that we have access to Kirsten's knowledge, because she's going to drop some serious science on you and show that there are subtle ways of shoving graphic novels in the people's faces that won't make your librarian hate you. Or get you hauled off in a paddy wagon

Creating Displays
Most libraries don't have professional artists on staff to make displays. The likelihood that your local branch has a librarian or library aide with some sense of graphic design and the time to make grandiose displays to feature books is slim. They're librarians not graphic artists! And they're struggling to keep the library's doors open, the computers running, and the collection perpetually useful to patrons.

One way to advertise the library's graphic novel collection to non-comic readers who go to the library is through the use of displays. Who better than comic readers to give comics the brilliant celebration they deserve?

Comic readers tend to be resourceful, innovative people who love to spread the glorious gospel about the artform. Professional or otherwise, our industry is filled to over-flowing with artists, graphic designers, and creative individuals. Why not devote some of the multitude of skills that years of comic reading have taught you?

Why not help your librarian create displays for graphic novels?

Kirsten's Inside Scoop: Front-Facing Books Have More Fun
Everyone who has been to a bookstore knows that facing the front of the book out rather than the spine increases interest in that book. Bookstore use up a lot of space shelving books face out rather than spine out. Libraries, typically, have space constraint issues and, therefore, tend to shelve books spine out. However, in an effort to boost circulation, libraries tend to have an area where they display books.

Creating books displays is often not part of any one staff member's job description. Consequently, at some libraries the displays rarely change.

If you find from conversing with your librarian that donations would not be welcome, or if you are not able to offer donations, you might want to see if the librarian would be willing to let you make a display featuring the graphic novels the library has to offer.

Keep in mind that libraries usually have display policies. These usually have more to do with preventing displays from promoting a particular political stance, or advertising a business or political candidate. The library is part of a government agency and cannot take a political stance on any topic. Of course, the display needs to be appropriate for the age group for which it is intended.

Lend Your Expertise

Another way that you can help librarians put graphic novels in the library is to lend them your knowledge of comics. Remember that a librarian cannot possibly read every book that is released, so most books that are added to the collection are ones that are recommended by library or book review magazines or a library patron. Undoubtedly you've read more comics than your librarian has, use your unique expertise to make your library's graphic novel collection better, and your librarian's job easier.

Rest assured everyone who is reading this column is an expert in the comic reading field. You wouldn't be here if you weren't.

Do the comic industry proud!

Kirsten's Inside Scoop: Book Reviews and Other Collection Development Resources
Comics don't show up in these publications very often, although VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), a magazine for Young Adult Librarians, is an exception. As a consequence, even librarians who want to add graphic novels to the library are often clueless as to what ones to add.

If you find out that this is the situation with your librarian, you could ask if your librarian would like you to create a list of essential graphic novels. In compiling such a list, remember to write a few sentences describing what the comic is about and an age range recommendation.

If your librarian doesn't want help or doesn't want to add graphic novels to your library, you can always help librarians across the country. There are a couple websites available now that review graphic novels for librarians who are interested in adding graphic novels to the library. The most well-known is called "No Flying, No Tights." If you were interested in promoting graphic novels to librarians, you could create a website that reviews graphic novels. You might want to read some of the reviews on "No Flying, No Tights" to get a sense for what kind of information librarians, rather than comic fans, are looking for.

If you do decide to create a comic review website or just to write reviews, you might want to join a library-related listserv to let librarians know about your reviews or website. Probably the best listserv for this is the "Graphic Novels in Libraries" listserv (sign up at http://www.angelfire.com/comics/gnlib/list.html). Another good listserv is "Children's and Young Adult Services in Public Libraries" (sign up at http://www.pallasinc.com/pubyac/subscrib.htm). I know that the "Graphic Novels in Libraries" listserv is very open to comic industry folks that are not involved in libraries. The "Children's and Young Adult Services in Public Libraries" listserv has less non-library folks, but you might sign up briefly to make an announcement about your review website. If you develop a good working relationship with your librarians, they might recommend other listservs or other resources where you might announce the availability of your reviews.

Be a Friend of your Library
Public Libraries often have a "Friends of the Library" group that helps raise money to support the library. Libraries are non-profit organizations and cannot directly raise funds themselves, so they need all the "friends" they can get!

That's a damn good idea… but here at The Comic Pimp we always go one better than just a good idea.

How about writing up a grant proposal to help your library get graphic novels added to their collection?

Kirsten's Inside Scoop: Grant us Comic Books
Grant-awarding agencies usually like to support programs rather than Collection Development. It just looks better on their list of accomplishments to say that they supported a program that help clear up blight in an inner city neighborhood than to say that they helped the library buy books. Collection Development is supposed to be part of the Library Budget and grant awarding agencies tend to shy away from causes that are already supposed to funded by other sources, like the city or county.

Starting up a new collection sounds much better to grant awarding agencies. So, if your library doesn't have a graphic novel collection, you could write a grant to start a collection to fill this need. Your librarian can help you find out about grant awarding agencies in your area.

Library Programs
Grant awarding agencies (the folks with fat stacks of cash for non-profits like libraries) prefer giving grants to support programs rather than to help the library with Collection Development, so you might want to consider running and organizing a comic-related program to go with that grant proposal. Or at least running one of these programs to get comics into the hands of new readers.

Running comic-related library programming is one of the greatest guerrilla tactics you can use to convert new readers, particularly those youngsters that the comic industry is always talking about as unreachable. Library programming is simply an amazingly under-tapped market for comic industry out-reach, and is perfect for those who are interested in showing kids what the industry has to offer. The next generation of comic readers is not unreachable; they just aren't being reached.

It's time to change all that.

It's time to stop talking about what could be done, and start doing. Comic creators, publishers, enthusiasts, and retailers alike can all take advantage of this opportunity to get books into hands of pre-teens and teenage kids with interesting and creative library programming. It's not difficult to set up this kind of programming, and if you don't want to help your librarian write a grant proposal many forward-thinking retailers will help you and the library fund a project like this.

Remember that libraries and most likely the grant awarding agencies that help fund them tend to consider comics being for kids or teens, so you might want to tailor your program for those age demographics. However, if the program is free for the library and it's patrons, you may also get some takers on an adult program. Library programs, like donations to the library, do create extra work for the librarians and a bright comic guerrilla will find out if their librarian would be interested in hosting a program before doing too much work setting it up.

Kirsten's Inside Scoop: Library Program Possibilities
Most library programs are for kids. "Switchblade Honey" artist Brandon McKinney does programs at Bay Area libraries in which he teaches kids to draw cartoon characters or design their own superheroes. If you are an artist or know a local one, you might consider doing such a program.

Recently, a local library also did a "Create Your Own Zine" program for teens. Why not set up a program for creating mini-comics, or self-publishing if those topics are something that you know about?

Also comic fans always want to know more about how to break into the industry. This would be another good idea for a program that you could present in the library. There are also often book clubs for adults and children associated with the library. The leader of an existing group usually picks out the books in advance, making it hard to propose adding a graphic novel to the proposed reading list at the last minute. You might want to start up a new reading group that you would lead that only reads graphic novels. This could be for adults, teens, or kids, but you'd want to try to use graphic novels that the readers could get from the library and that are appropriate for the age group.

The possibilities are endless.

I couldn't have said it better myself!

While some library systems might have great selections of graphic novels (like the one here in San Francisco) many, many others do not. Applying some of these library-friendly techniques to help promote the artform we all love is an excellent way to get comics into the hands of people who might otherwise not find them.

That's what guerrilla marketing is all about, and that's exactly what we're going to do.

The comic industry has talked enough. Now it is time for some serious action. Our assembled armies of comics militants will convert the faithless with clever and effective guerrilla marketing. We will show non-comic readers that comics do, in fact, still exist and that they are a fantastic entertainment artform. And we're going to do it in the street-level, pit-fighting manner that emphasizes everything that is hip, stylish and innovative about comics.

It's time to go guerrilla.

Are you willing to get out of your easy chair and make a difference?

I am.

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