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Find more Notes from the Field
If Matthew Noe’s introduction to Graphic Medicine piqued your interest, but you’re not sure how to get started at your own library, Brittany Netherton, Knowledge and Learning Services Librarian at Darien Library in Darien, CT, has some fantastic advice. In the interview below, Brittany discusses how she challenged her library’s collection development policy to create a graphic medicine collection that suited the needs of her community.
HUNTER: Describe your library’s collection development policy and what component you pushed back against in advocating for changes.
NETHERTON: Our collection development policy can be found here: https://www.darienlibrary.org/collection-development-policy. One thing that’s not written in the collection development policy, but still influences collection development, is part of our patron request and Interlibrary Loan guidelines. If an item is less than one year old, we will consider purchasing it for a patron, but if it’s more than one year old, we ILL rather than purchase. That’s the part I had to address in advocating for intentionally creating a graphic medicine collection. Of course traditional collection development includes the ability to purchase older books as replacements or for section development, so it’s a fairly common thing to buy an older book to fill a gap or replace a grubby copy, but the books I was asking to buy weren’t replacements and weren’t, traditionally speaking, filling gaps for the sake of giving a well-used collection depth. I was advocating for the purchase of years-old books that nobody had requested before, for the purpose of building a collection that I saw value and importance in. I’m fortunate in that I don’t think I can really say that I pushed back as much as I just said to my department head, “I know this goes against the typical policy, BUT here’s why I think this is a valuable investment . . . ” She was on board and supportive immediately.
HUNTER: What was the motivation behind advocating for those changes?
NETHERTON: I saw a few things before me that made me feel like building a graphic medicine collection, changing the location of the adult graphic novel collection as a whole, and doing more display work might increase our circulation:
HUNTER: How have you promoted the collection in your library?
NETHERTON: In November of 2017, we executed an operational plan that moved all of the adult graphic novels to a new, larger space at the center of our Second Level Research Library. This allowed for the expansion created by the building of the graphic medicine collection, and gave me more space to display the books cover-out. At the same time, the Library dedicated prime display space on our First Level, by the entrance, to highlight graphic memoirs, many of which were graphic medicine titles. I specifically chose “Graphic Memoirs” as the signage rather than “Graphic Medicine” because of existing community interest in memoirs. I knew that by including the word ‘memoirs,’ I’d automatically get more attention on the display, and limit confusion from people who might wonder what graphic medicine was. The display stayed up from October 31, 2017 through January 5, 2018 and helped create a 31% increase in circulation and renewals for the adult graphic novels collection during that time period.
HUNTER: What sort of feedback have you gotten from your patrons?
NETHERTON: We’ve noticed an increase in usage from patrons, and have overheard patrons recommending graphic novels to one another. I would like to build a rapport with patrons who utilize the collection, so I could get feedback directly from them, but haven’t figured out how best to do that.
HUNTER: How are you tracking the impact of the changes you’ve made?
NETHERTON: We keep circulation and renewal statistics each month, and I periodically run reports to see which titles are circulating most in print and digitally. I use that to inform my purchasing so I can give patrons more of what they like.
HUNTER: What advice would you give to librarians hoping to develop a graphic novel collection who are getting pushback from their administration based on their existing collection development policies?
NETHERTON: First and foremost, know your community. Are the policies in place supporting what your community wants and needs? Or do you want this exception because you know that what you’re suggesting is filling an unmet need for the community (even if they don’t realize it)? If the latter, I suggest doing some research before you make your case. In the context of what you’re hoping to develop: look at which graphic novels are considered “the best” for a given topic, are popular in surrounding libraries, are circulating well on your digital platforms, or are making the news. Just last year we saw graphic novels being nominated for awards they’d never been nominated for previously—that’s a huge asset to you in advocating for them. If the graphic novels you’re wanting to purchase tie into your strategic plan, programs, and initiatives, or any long-term goals for the library, make that known. And even if you can only get approval for a small amount of money, dive in with it. Take that money, buy a few core titles, and get to work promoting them. Keep track of your efforts and the statistics as they circulate. This is all evidence you can use in the future to advocate for something larger. Everything I’ve done here has been rooted in evidence and implied need, but I’m also working from a place of passion and curiosity, conducting small experiments along the way, and using everything I discover to inform my next steps.
HUNTER: What’s been your biggest takeaway from the process of creating the graphic medicine collection at your library?
NETHERTON: That I am incredibly fortunate to work with this group of people. They astound me daily in their support, effervescence, and excitement. It’s one thing to suggest a direction and have support from administration. It’s another entirely to have colleagues from various departments get excited to see a project come to fruition and express interest in helping push it further. I have some fun inter-departmental projects coming up this year involving this graphic medicine collection, and I am so excited!
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