In the last five to ten years, libraries have upped their graphic novel game considerably. When I was a kid, I was lucky to find one to two Batman books and a volume of Hellboy in my (small-town Wisconsin) library’s graphic novel section. Now, libraries are my primary source of print comics – and they carry not just “mainstream” titles, but indie books, manga, and shelves upon shelves of kids’ comics.
Near the end of 2019, I reached out to the Fresno County Public Library‘s collections staff in hopes of learning how my current local library system chooses its graphic novels. I also wanted to know what books Fresno County is reading, as well as the state of graphic novel purchasing and borrowing over the last few years.
Librarian Thomas Wood, who selects Fresno County’s graphic novels and suspects his job “might actually be the best of all possible jobs,” was kind enough to answer all my questions and more. Below, Thomas will tell you where the Fresno County Library staff looks when selecting graphic novels, what books are hot in Fresno County right now, and why he’s optimistic about the state of both kids and adult comics.
Matt Reads Comics: What is the library’s process for selecting new graphic novels? Do y’all use best of lists, patron recommendations, your own taste/knowledge, a mix of all of the above?
Thomas Wood: In a word – yes!
We’d like to offer a comics collection that meets the reading needs of as much of our community as possible. Toward that end, I try to keep up with the latest releases by consulting a variety of sources on new titles. For instance, I often browse comiXology to discover new series and get a sense of what’s popular, especially when it comes to superhero titles. Fresno has a big manga readership, and I’ll check the sites of the major manga publishers like VIZ and Kodansha to find out about their upcoming offerings. General book review publications like Shelf Awareness and Publishers Weekly tend not to cover that much in the way of superheroes or manga, but they can be helpful for staying on top of notable literary or alternative comics.
Lists are also great! In this line of work, browsing as many eclectic title lists as you can is pretty much a staple, and I’ll never pass up a chance to browse a list of last week’s bestsellers, or someone’s top picks of the year, or someone else’s most anticipated books of next spring, or… you get the idea! And, “best of all time” lists are a handy reference when it comes to making sure that the Library has an adequate stock of enduringly popular older titles.
We do encourage patrons to suggest titles they’d like to borrow – it is their collection, after all! Circulation stats also help us make good purchasing decisions – if an author’s previous books were well-received by our patrons, that gives us some evidence that there’s a local readership for that creator.
Hopefully this gives a sense of how our graphic novel selection works. I look over a wide mix of sources to learn about titles, and I do my best to select books that will reflect our customers’ reading tastes, on an ongoing basis. (And because I really enjoy comics, this never quite feels like it rises to the level of actual work. It feels more like … fun. Don’t tell Library management.)
MRC: Related to the question above, do you prioritize certain categories of comics over others? For example, is a good kids comic more likely to make it to the Fresno County shelves than an adult-oriented Batman book?
TW: We do try to buy more copies of titles for which we anticipate a lot of interest. For example, we expect that many patrons will want to place holds on new volumes of Saga, My Hero Academia, or One-Punch Man (just to name a few big series), and we’ll try to order extra copies of these to meet the demand.
A lot of kids’ comics are *amazingly* popular at the moment. Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man series is just about the most popular thing since sliced bread or possibly Fortnite. And any new Big Nate, Baby-Sitters Club, or Phoebe and Her Unicorn book is going to be a massive crowd-pleaser for years after release, so we’ll commonly buy a really generous amount of copies. There is that much demand for those and many other kids’ comics.
MRC: How much of the library’s budget goes toward graphic novels? Has that number increased or decreased in the past five years (curious as to the increase/decrease vs. the library’s overall collections budget, as well)?
TW: When our current fiscal year wraps up at the end of June, I’m estimating that we’ll have spent around $60,000 on graphic novels for the year. This is a bit of an increase compared to five fiscal years ago, when we ended up spending a little over $46,000 on comics.
Our overall materials budget has stayed relatively constant during the last few years, and we’ve consciously decided to allocate a bit more of our yearly budget to graphic novels of late. The format has definitely been growing in popularity among local library-goers, and I think it makes sense to try to feed that growth by providing more of the sort of material that a good portion of the public really seems to enjoy.
MRC: Is there any data on what the library’s most read comic is (or comics are) for 2019? I’d be curious to know what Fresno County is reading …
Here are the Library’s 30 most popular books in our children’s, teen, and adult graphic novel sections, for the last three full months. Starting with the top kids’ titles!
Top 30 Children’s Graphic Novels | September – November 2019 | Fresno County Public Library
(Remarkably, this list also happens to reflect our 30 biggest circulating graphic novels for *any* age level for this time period. Graphic novels for kids have exploded in popularity – more thoughts on that in a minute!)
1. Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild | by Dav Pilkey
2. Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls | by Dav Pilkey
3. Dog Man Unleashed | by Dav Pilkey
4. Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas | by Dav Pilkey
5. Dog Man and Cat Kid | by Dav Pilkey
6. Dog Man | by Dav Pilkey
7. Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties | by Dav Pilkey
8. Big Nate: Hug It Out! | by Lincoln Peirce
9. Sisters | by Raina Telgemeier
10. Smile | by Raina Telgemeier
11. PopularMMOs Presents Enter the Mine | by PopularMMOs
12. The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy’s Big Day | by Gale Galligan
13. The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea | by Raina Telgemeier
14. Ghosts | by Raina Telgemeier
15. The Baby-Sitters Club: The Truth About Stacey | by Raina Telgemeier
16. The Baby-Sitters Club: Claudia and Mean Janine | by Raina Telgemeier
17. New Kid | by Jerry Craft
18. PopularMMOs Presents A Hole New World | by PopularMMOs
19. The Baby-Sitters Club: Mary Anne Saves the Day | by Raina Telgemeier
20. Wings of Fire: The Lost Heir | by Tui T. Sutherland
21. Awkward | by Svetlana Chmakova
22. Drama | by Raina Telgemeier
23. Big Nate: Payback Time! | by Lincoln Peirce
24. Crush | by Svetlana Chmakova
25. The Baby-Sitters Club: Dawn and the Impossible Three | by Gale Galligan
26. Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers | by Dav Pilkey
27. The Witch Boy | by Molly Knox Ostertag
28. Unicorn Bowling | by Dana Simpson
29. Brave | by Svetlana Chmakova
30. Making Friends | by Kristen Gudsnuk
Top 30 Teen Graphic Novels | September – November 2019 | Fresno County Public Library
1. My Hero Academia Vol. 1 | by Kohei Horikoshi
2. My Hero Academia Vol. 20 | by Kohei Horikoshi
3. My Hero Academia Vol. 2 | by Kohei Horikoshi
4. My Hero Academia Vol. 18 | by Kohei Horikoshi
5. My Hero Academia Vol. 16 | by Kohei Horikoshi
6. My Hero Academia Vol. 17 | by Kohei Horikoshi
7. My Hero Academia Vol. 21 | by Kohei Horikoshi
8. One-Punch Man Vol. 17 | by ONE
9. Pumpkinheads | by Rainbow Rowell
10. My Hero Academia Vol. 15 | by Kohei Horikoshi
11. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol. 1 | by Akira Himekawa
12. Fire Force Vol. 1 | by Atsushi Ohkubo
13. My Hero Academia: Vigilantes Vol. 1 | by Hideyuki Furuhashi
14. My Hero Academia: Vigilantes Vol. 4 | by Hideyuki Furuhashi
15. My Hero Academia Vol. 19 | by Kohei Horikoshi
16. One Piece Vol. 1 | by Eiichiro Oda
17. One-Punch Man Vol. 15 | by ONE
18. One-Punch Man Vol. 16 | by ONE
19. My Hero Academia: Vigilantes Vol. 2 | by Hideyuki Furuhashi
20. My Hero Academia: Smash!! Vol. 1 | by Hirofumi Neda
21. My Hero Academia Vol. 5 | by Kohei Horikoshi
22. One-Punch Man Vol. 1 | by ONE
23. One-Punch Man Vol. 2 | by ONE
24. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol. 5 | by Akira Himekawa
25. Dragon Ball Super Vol. 1 | by Akira Toriyama
26. Komi Can’t Communicate Vol. 2 | by Tomohito Oda
27. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me | by Mariko Tamaki
28. My Hero Academia: Vigilantes Vol. 3 | by Hideyuki Furuhashi
29. Noragami: Stray God Vol. 20 | by Adachitoka
30. Teen Titans: Raven | by Kami Garcia
Top 30 Adult Graphic Novel Checkouts | September – November 2019 | Fresno County Public Library
1. The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel | by Margaret Atwood
2. The Boys Omnibus Vol. 1 | by Garth Ennis
3. They Called Us Enemy | by George Takei
4. Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition Vol. 1 | by Yukito Kishiro
5. Infinity Wars | by Gerry Duggan
6. The Walking Dead Vol. 32: Rest in Peace | by Robert Kirkman
7. Tokyo Ghoul Vol. 1 | by Sui Ishida
8. Batman Vol. 10: Knightmares | by Tom King
9. Rick and Morty Vol. 1 | by Zac Gorman
10. The Boys Omnibus Vol. 3 | by Garth Ennis
11. Watchmen | by Alan Moore
12. Batman: Detective Comics #1000 Deluxe Edition | by various
13. Justice League Odyssey Vol. 1: The Ghost Sector | by Joshua Williamson
14. The Batman Who Laughs | by Scott Snyder
15. The Boys Omnibus Vol. 2 | by Garth Ennis
16. Batman: Damned | by Brian Azzarello
17. Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1 – Mythology | by Peter J. Tomasi
18. Dark Nights: Metal – The Deluxe Edition | by Scott Snyder
19. Saga Book Three | by Brian K. Vaughan
20. Saga Book One | by Brian K. Vaughan
21. Stranger Things: The Other Side | by Jody Houser
22. Tokyo Ghoul:re Vol. 1 | by Sui Ishida
23. Venom: The War of the Realms | by Cullen Bunn and Frank Tieri
24. Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku Vol. 2 | by Fujita
25. Crisis on Infinite Earths | by Marv Wolfman
26. Rick and Morty Presents Vol. 1 | by various
27. Rick and Morty Vol. 4 | by Kyle Starks
28. Tokyo Ghoul Vol. 2 | by Sui Ishida
29. Uzumaki Deluxe Edition | by Junji Ito
30. Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku Vol. 3 | by Fujita
(Editor’s Note: The author attribution for these lists was provided by Fresno County Public Library. While Thomas says most books are listed with all their authors [not just one] within the library’s system, he chose to condense the list for easier posting here. He also says that the library gets its author listings from its vendors, and those vendors’ listings aren’t always consistent. Some list all authors, while others list only some.)
MRC: Relatedly, I’d also be curious to know if the demand for comics is up or down overall in the last three to five years or so. And if those numbers have moved, I wonder if you have any insight into what might have raised or lowered demand.
TW: Fresnans are borrowing more comics than ever, I’m happy to report.
I think part of this is due to a recent renaissance in youth-oriented comics. Our younger patrons are simply clamoring for graphic novels that were written and drawn specifically for them, and publishers are catering to that demand by providing a wide variety of great youth comics options (if you glance at The New York Times’ bestselling graphic novels for any given week, there’s a good chance that kids’ titles will take up most of the slots). I don’t think it’s any wonder that these are circulating so well – they’re engaging, they teach visual literacy, they’re a wonderful gateway for reluctant readers (the combo of art and text makes it easy to slide into the story), and there’s a wealth (scratch that – a *growing* wealth) of great graphic books that really speak to kids.
And our patrons’ demand for adult-oriented comics has been climbing, too. In the last five years, circulation for our adult graphic novel collection has gone up by a cool 33%. I really believe that comics for grown-ups are as good (and certainly as varied) as they’ve ever been, and I like to think that this quality at least partly accounts for the rise in demand that we’ve been seeing at the Library. Maybe the popularity of recent superhero films and TV shows is helping create interest in the print source material (demand for Watchmen has always been steady, but holds on our print and eBook copies really went up after folks started watching the Watchmen show). Whatever the exact factors behind this, it’s clear that adult graphic novel checkouts are at an all-time high in Fresno. That’s a very good thing!
I’d like to thank Thomas, Senior Library Assistant Heather Bartell, and the rest of the Fresno County Public Library collections staff for connecting with me and answering my questions. I found the answers (especially the circulation data, with Dog Man and My Hero Academia just dominating their respective categories) very insightful.
And I’m glad to see that it’s not just my gut feeling – graphic novels really are picking up steam at Fresno County Public Library. It’s encouraging to see that more readers than ever are finding all sorts of comics, for free, at their local library, and that the growth in both options and readership shows no signs of stopping.