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Published on January 26th, 2015 | by Thomas Maluck

Carolina Manga Library Spreads Love of Literacy, Comics

The Carolina Manga Library is a travelling library specializing in graphic novels and light novels with over 2,000 Japanese manga, some in the original Japanese and close to 1,000 graphic novels in the collection. The Library and its founders, including Head Librarian Laura Mehaffey make appearances at anime and comic conventions throughout the country. I recently had a chance to talk with their staff via e-mail about the library.

10888869_839794989418337_531113133775699444_n1) When did you start the Carolina Manga Library, and why?

The Carolina Manga Library was founded in April of 2013. Our Head Librarian had been invited to set up her personal graphic novel collection at the Nashicon convention in her hometown of Columbia, SC. Over the course of the weekend the idea was formed to take the collection on the road and turn it into a way of promoting literacy to reluctant or slow readers.

Laura banded together a group of other librarians and artists and the Carolina Manga Library was born. With almost no capital to begin with, the organization started out slowly, attending a few local conventions and events and slowly broadening their literacy programming events. Some of these events included: The Great Manga Trade where readers can come in and trade their books away to other readers, and an hour-long booktalk entitled Great Graphic Novels You Should Be Reading, during which Laura recommends graphic novels titles of all types to new readers, broken down by genre.

A year and a half later and the organization has been an invited guest at over a dozen shows (as far away as Florida and Ohio) and the collection has grown from 500 manga to over 3,000 manga, American graphic novels, webcomics, and newspaper comic strips.1510831_812272858837217_7541690208311118096_n

 

2) What kind of reading material do you provide? What have been the most popular/requested titles?

We specialize in graphic novels and light novels (prose books based on a graphic property). Currently there are about 2000 Japanese manga, some in the original Japanese, in the collection. These range all genres and age groups, although we do not stock erotic novels. Titles from this have been from up-and-coming series like Attack on Titan to obscure, out of print titles like One Pound Gospel.

The most frequently requested titles vary between the shows that we attend. One constantly requested series is the action legend Berserk. We only own half of the series, and we are constantly trying to track down the later books to complete our collection. We pride ourselves on having as many complete series as possible in our collection. If a set of books is not owned completely by us, we strive to purchase the first volumes of new series so that new readers can jump onto a new series at any time. Currently the set of books that we own with the most volumes is Oh My Goddess, which has 46 books in the series currently. We are slowly growing our collection of staples like Bleach and Naruto, both frequently requested.

The American graphic novels collection is being grown every day as we visit used book stores and library book sales. We have close to 1,000 graphic novels with staples like Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and fan-favorites like the entire run of The Sandman and Elfquest.

 

3) Where have you visited so far (conventions, libraries, other)? How many participants do you see at a convention, on average?

We have been guests at shows in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Ohio. We have attended Nashicon, Banzaicon, Marucon, Supahpop, and Roundcon in Columbia, SC. We are also yearly guests at Ichibancon, TriadCon, and Hoshicon in North Carolina. In 2014 we were invited to Matsuricon in Columbus, Ohio. We will be returning to Columbus, Ohio in late January for Ohayocon. We have also been yearly guests at Nerdacon in Columbus, Georgia. We are currently negotiating a show in Florida in May. We have also worked closely with our local library, Richland Library, and their anime club, The Teen Otaku association.

Typically at a three-day convention we will see about 1,000 people in our library. The ages range from toddlers to retired comic book veterans.

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4) What kinds of reactions do you get at cons? (Including weirdest, happiest, requests…)

The reactions of readers when they walk into our library are overwhelmingly positive. The staff often jokes that if we had a dime for every time someone walked in and gasped or squealed in pleasure, we would never have to fundraise again. Nothing gives our librarians more pleasure than to see a guest walk in and spy their favorite series and let out a delighted cry.

We’ve had some real hardcore fans over the years surprise us. By far the weirdest reaction was over an out-of-print action series. At a show in North Carolina we had a fan force his way into our closed library while we were having dinner and demand to know if we had the series and refused to leave until he had looked through the series.

One of the happiest reactions we have had was when someone discovered the romance manga Red River. The guest had taken the Head Librarian’s Challenge, a fun game that Laura uses to suggest new titles to readers. The guest was looking for a romance series he had never read before. He was very well-read when it came to romance so Laura suggested this out-of-print series from the early 2000s. The guest reluctantly tried the first volume. Half an hour later, he took the rest of the series off the shelf and sat there for the entire day reading the series. He left only to visit the restroom. Upon leaving, he told Laura that it was the best thing he had ever read and that reading that series during the show had rekindled his love of both manga and reading.

 

5) How do you see Carolina Manga Library growing/developing over the next few years?

In the next few years we hope to take our weekend business into the full-time world. We are striving to achieve enough funding to hire on two full-time employees. This would enable us to attend more shows. Right now, since our entire staff is volunteers, we can only attend one show a month to allow for our staff to get time off from their day jobs. Our goal is to be attending a show every other weekend and to branch out to school visits and library visits. We also are striving to raise enough funds for our own vehicle, trailer, and storage unit.

In the future, we foresee opening up permanent facilities which would work as normal libraries do. People will be able to check out books to enjoy at home. With permanent facilities we will be able to expand our services to include more literacy-improvement endeavors like classes and special clubs.10641083_790885800975923_4679292443220587311_n

 

6) What kinds of partnerships are you interested in from public libraries? What is the best way for them to contact the Carolina Manga Library?

 

Public libraries can help us considerably with book donations.  As graphic novels are weeded out from collection for any reasons, those books can be donated to our library instead of being added to book sales.  Additionally, libraries can be a great resource for finding new trends in graphic novel circulation.  Public libraries may hear about a new book series before we can. By coming into public libraries to talk about our own special collection we can also make new relationships with potential donors and new supporters of our library.

 

Likewise, we can provide programming for public libraries.  We are very experienced in giving detailed group book talks on graphic novels and educating parents on how graphic novels can be useful for any age of reader.  Many libraries are not lucky enough to have graphic novel specialists, but all of our librarians specialize in both American graphic novels and Japanese manga.

 

The best way to get in contact with the Carolina Manga Library is to email our Head Librarian at headlibrarian@carolinamangalibrary.com

 

If you would like to know more about CML after this interview, feel free to visit them here or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.


About the Author

Thomas Maluck is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. After graduating with his MLIS in 2010 from the University of South Carolina, he knew he wanted to go into either virtual services or teen services, and found a happy medium engaging teens via technology and the endless ride that is pop culture. He has presented at various fan-culture and professional conventions about graphic novels, manga, and teen services, including the American Library Association's Annual and Midwinter conferences, DragonCon, NashiCon, and New York Comic Con. He served on YALSA's Great Graphic Novels For Teens committee for its 2014 and 2015 lists, and has published articles in Library Trends, Public Libraries, and The Hub. He currently reviews for No Flying, No Tights and regularly blogs comic recommendations on Richland Library's website here.



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