Welcome to Breaking Out, a series of posts exploring the process of creating a standalone graphic novel collection in the public library. (Apologies for the delay in picking the series back up!)
Today, Part 1: Who do you think you are?
You may already have had several conversations about moving your comics collection, whether formal or informal, and many of you may have been working on this challenge in your minds without external input. But before you go much further, take a step back and have a good look at yourselves. Whether you're working in a team or on your own you'll thank yourself later for getting a better understanding of who you are and what that identity brings to the table. While this may be a good idea for any project, comics brings a peculiar kind of baggage (more on which later) that makes this self-reflection even more vital.
So who are you? I bet you'll find that more than one apply...
Non-reader? You may feel a bit out of your depth,
but you have at least two valuable perspectives to offer right away: that of a library user
with little to no assumptions or specific expectations, and that of the librarian without a personal investment in the project. You may have to fight an instinct to "do it the way we've always done it", but you'll be excellent at challenging the assumptions of those with more experience. Take advantage of the opportunity to introduce yourself to the medium, and don't hesitate to ask "why" when the more experienced team members are talking over your head.
Lifelong comics reader? You probably have insight that's hard to come by among folks who are new to the medium, and that is very helpful in the process. Keep in mind, though, that your understanding of comics may be so natural that it all feels like common sense, which can be very hard to explain to someone who doesn't share your background. Keep a close watch of your assumptions (especially those assumptions that feel like objective truth!), and be sensitive to teammates who do not share them, but also watch for opportunities to speak up when you see misunderstanding or confusion.
Fan? Your passion for the medium can't be simulated, and this can be a great motivator for everyone on the project. The intensity of your specific interests (e.g. superheroes, manga, indie/art comics) is a boon to promoting comics in the library, but in this context it may narrow your focus a bit, so check in with other folks on your committee occasionally to make sure you're tempering the specificity and keeping your eye on the bigger picture. Don't forget, though, that your experience of comics may be the closest to that of the comics-oriented library patron, and be sure to point out (gently) when you'd feel under-served by a given idea.
Academic? You probably have some fascinating views on the subject (and, frankly, I'd love to hear them!), but you may find that most of your knowledge is out of the scope of the conversation. Resist discussions that are likely to leave others in the dust, and instead use the extensive information that you've accrued to keep the solutions cohesive from the broad perspective that your research has afforded you. Your understanding may make you exactly the right person to break down misconceptions and explain why the comics world is this way or that, as long as it's relevant to finding the right solution to the problem at hand.
I'm sure there are many other ways to break down the "types" that will be involved in putting comics in their right place, not to mention the usual personalities that are involved in any team project. Of course, if you're working alone, you'll only have yourself to deal with, though you'll find lots of information by talking with folks (both readers and owners) at comic shops, bookshops that sell comics, and of course other libraries. Gathering thoughts from them will provide you with a makeshift team that will no doubt be happy to bounce ideas off each other and brainstorm all day.