It’s always nice to click with someone at the reference desk over shared interests. Last semester a patron asked where she could find the graphic novel section in Wells and my face lit up. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give her the direct answer she was probably looking for since they’re split between the Browsing Collection in the West Tower and the PNs on the 9th floor of the East Tower, not to mentioned scattered across various campus and RPS libraries. I didn’t want to set her loose in the wrong direction, so I asked the perfunctory, “Did you have a specific title in mind?” But like most patrons just looking for something new to read, she asked if I had any suggestions. This girl knew her comics. I went through my short repertoire of big hitters like Maus, Persepolis, and Sandman, but she had read them all. When patrons ask for recommendations for a particular genre or form it helps to have read or at least be familiar with popular titles, but is it really our job as reference librarians?
From a historical perspective of reference services, we’ve been doing what’s called readers’ advisory from the very beginning. In 1876, Samuel Green wrote an article for Library Journal on “Personal Relations between Librarians and Readers.” According to Green, every library should be equipped with:
[O]ne of the most accomplished persons in the corps of your assistants–some cultivated woman, for instance, who heartily enjoys works of the imagination, but whose taste is educated….to consult with every person who asks for help in selecting books. This should not be her whole work; for work of this kind is best done when it has the appearance of being performed incidentally. (p. 79, emphasis in original)
While Green makes some antiquated assumptions about gender and class, the scenario he describes is not a far cry from what we experience today. When patrons ask for recommendations, we should still be able to fill their information need. His advice: be well-read and able to recommend things a patron would actually be willing to read.
Many of us are already well-read, but as Sarah pointed out in her recent blog post we as students just don’t have a lot of free time to read for pleasure. Being in grad school and working three jobs, I find myself gravitating toward shorter forms like poetry collections and graphic novels that I can read in a few hours. I’d like to think it’s come in handy for that rare occasion at the desk when someone is willing to take my recommendations. However, it’s not 1876 anymore and I won’t make assumptions of what I think everyone should read. Instead, here’s a short list of graphic novels and the type of person who might be interested in reading them.
Read Watchmen if you’re totally over superheroes and question the authority of vigilantes. (But really, who watches the watchmen?) Alan Moore may be a bit of weirdo, but this is another justifiable classic.
Read Understanding Comics if you want to get meta. Scott McCloud explains all things comics and comic theory through the medium itself.
More attuned to the real world? Read Blankets if you were an artsy/angsty teen just trying to understand your place in a small town and your long-distance relationship.
Is this world a nightmare? Read Black Hole if you like Cronenbergian body horror, overt Freudian symbolism, and are terrified of STDs. I read this in a class on comics with a guy named Charles Burns, no relation.
Read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic if you were an English major. Bonus points if you’ve read Ulysses. Alison Bechdel paved the way for queer comics with Dykes to Watch Out For, but her real success came with this eloquently crafted coming-(out)-of-age memoir.
Read Maus if you’re a history/WWII buff. Another visually moving memoir, Art Spiegelmen records his father’s survivor’s tale of the Holocaust on the page by portraying Nazis as cats and Jews as mice.
There are a lot of great comic-memoirs but this list wouldn’t be complete without Persepolis. Read this book if you were a socially aware child who grew up to speak your mind. Marjane Satrapi illustrates her childhood growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.
Read Daytripper if you like day-dreaming and magical realism. Brazilian brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá will transport you to a world you can write for yourself.
Read Ghost World if you’ve ever felt invisible, fell in love at a garage sale, or loved MTV’s Daria. Daniel Clowes’ magnum opus was also an award-winning screen adaptation.
Neil Gaiman is a self-proclaimed master storyteller, but nothing beats Sandman. Read this ten-volume series if you’ve ever seen ancient gods in your dreams or think Death is best personified by a cute goth girl.
For something a little more recent and ongoing, read The Wicked + The Divine if you see the gods as British pop stars and would give anything to be one of them.
Or read Saga if you like Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Romeo and Juliet and wonder what it would be like to have all those genres combined.
Last but not least, even though I’m still currently finishing it, read Lumberjanes if you loved being a girl scout and believe in “Friendship to the max!”
Green, Samuel S. (1876). Personal relations between librarians and readers. Library Journal 1(2/3), 74-81.