PopCon2015: An Analysis of Event Themes in Presentations

Speakers at the day’s event sought to shed the negative beliefs and stereotypes of graphic novels and comics and establishing a greater presence in libraries and library services. Adamant in presentations, beliefs in the power of visuals and visual literacy as tools for increased engagement with the library. An independent comic artist and writer panel, a St. John’s University Librarian and Instructor, and a panel of public and academic librarians addressed these issues in their presentations.

Led by a University of Massachusetts at Amherst English Language Arts Graduate Student and web comic creator Alex Chautin, the panel discussed questions dealing with fostering community among artists through library cooperation and the categorization of independently published materials in libraries.  The independent artists panel approached the different perspectives of artistic approaches to creating, publishing and marketing independent work, particularly in libraries where many collection development policies have no place for the inclusion of such works into a library’s collection.

This particular panel addressed the audience of librarians with fervor to extend outreach and support of local artists in the community, repeating that comic artists and writers are generally shy and very introverted and unlikely to be a lone catalyst for change. There is an unfulfilled need to build relationships between artists and libraries. The panel addressed issues with current library categorization, inclusion and display of comics, offering opinions on how to include self published work into collection development policies, shelving discrepancies and including how-to instructional reference based more closely on an independent artists’ needs.

Another big issue raised by this panel was creating more programming and access related to comic creation. The panel suggested how-to classes for creative adults because, “adults don’t want to sit at a table with seven-year-olds”, with greater instruction on Photoshop and Tablet publishing applications commonly used by comic artists.

Artists continue to struggle for the general acceptance of comics as a literary genre, arguing the legitimacy of graphic novels and visual storytelling. This panel addressed some specific needs to create a broader sense of the inclusion of such artistic work in the library, with the future goal of extending collections to include the indie works the panel members are most known for.

The presentation by Caroline Fuchs, an Associate Professor and Outreach Librarian at St. John’s University, addressed one way to incorporate graphic novels into library reading group services in light of discussing social justice issues. Speaking from successful experiences, Fuchs advocated for the use of graphic novels as a means to stimulate both the left and right sides of participants brains, creating a highly engaging and enriching session in contrast to the anti-literacy stigma garnered around reading graphic novels.

Fuchs engaged the audience with an interactive presentation utilizing tactics to discuss social justice issues using a sample selection of graphic novels, supplying each audience member a select reading list and sample questions to utilize a similar approach at his or her own institution reading group. Tip toeing cautiously around sensitive issues; Fuchs acknowledges the sensitivity of discussing social justice issues and the need to define boundaries in the discussion of opinions. An example of how well graphic novels can be a source of literacy and enlightened discussion of sensitive subjects.

Another panel further addressed a different topic of stigmas and stereotypes surrounding the image of librarians. Examining existing stereotypes and prevalent self identification as such among librarians considered self-obsessed, librarians from Queens Public Library, Farmingdale Public Library, Suffolk County Community College and another area university discussed the representation of librarians in media and its effects on our real-life image.

A rather disappointing panel, this group merely perpetuated and commended the current representation of librarians in and by the media, applauding the pop culture detachment from the “bun-head librarian” as the sole representation of professionals in the field. Only Susan Wood, of Suffolk County Community College really explored the multifaceted and complex image of a librarian that she believes is commoditized for entertainment. She also explored our own concern and seeming self-obsession with our image as a result of being aware that librarianship is a marginalized profession, and those in the field are constantly needed to explain the work that we do. Of great question virtually ignored by the rest of the panel, Wood posed the question, is there a professional versus woman stereotype? How much of an impact do cultural and societal ideologies from race and class play a role in librarianship and the image of a librarian?

To maintain relevance with the comic book theme, one panelist provided a unique interpretation of librarians in comics and graphic novels. She divulged the representation of the librarian in one of two ways: either the librarian is a front or cover behind which someone masks their super identity, or the hero acts as the librarian doing good for the community at all times.

Overall, these particular sessions ignited thoughts about how to utilize this medium, of which I am hardly familiar, not as some strange and irrelevant media but to engage innovation and stimulation within the library community. Be sure that my next trip to the library will include seeing what the librarians are wearing, where do they keep the graphic novels and comics, and what one from the reading list will I choose to sample and perhaps borrow?

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