America’s librarians are streaming into Chicago at this very moment, adding a bibliophilic gust to the already windy city. Not too many people outside of the secret magical world of libraries, book publishers, and BISAC categorizers knows about the American Library Association’s Annual Conference (affectionately known as ALA), but it’s a sight to behold.
Do you love books? Do you love reading them, talking about them, getting angry at them, falling in love with them, shelving them, sharing them, and piling them up on your bedside table so you can’t see your alarm clock anymore? If so, ALA is your Disney World; not just a celebration of all things book-related, but a theme park of books, a volcanic surge of creativity applied to the question of how we can get more people reading, all in one gigantic room. Why is that exactly? Because libraries, and the librarians who run them, are awesome. Here are some reasons why:
Libraries Buy Books
While many people have a vague idea of libraries as big charitable organizations where books flow freely like rivers, libraries purchase those books that they circulate to the rest of us for free, and they don’t just buy one or two copies to keep in stock for 80 years. Like a bookstore, a library has to keep up with demand, and that means they have to stock dozens of copies of a big bestseller to keep their customers happy. This means that . . .
Libraries Buy LOTS Of Books
At Papercutz, our sales to schools and libraries are roughly equal to all of our sales in bookstores (yes, that includes Amazon!). I think that’s mainly because . . .
Librarians Don’t Discriminate
We here at Papercutz are exceptionally proud of the fact that we only publish graphic novels for kids — we don’t publish storybooks, chapter books, or books for adults, because we love comics and we love how they help kids learn how to read. Yet there are lots of prejudices out there against graphic novels. Many people think that graphic novels are somehow not “real” books, which is spectacularly false, of course, but librarians already know this. Librarians just want people to read, and in pursuing that goal they will buy, advocate, champion, and shout from the rooftops about the books they think their customers (patrons!) are enjoying. This is why librarians come to us for books; the kids they know like them and have asked for more. And why are all these kids there to begin with? Because . . .
Libraries Are Where It’s At
The other day I was looking for a kid who lives in our building. Most of the neighbors agreed she was most likely in the library, and indeed she was. Libraries aren’t just places to get free books; they’re palaces of enriching brain activity. There are computers where kids can check their twitters and tumblers, read webcomics, do research for their homework, and keep in touch with friends. They have authors come in to give talks, they screen movies, they host art exhibitions, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, they’ll bring in some cartoonists to teach you how to draw comics. And what do librarians do with this audience at their disposal?
Librarians Sell Books
By “sell” I don’t mean exchanging books for money. I mean they get to know their customers, their particular likes and dislikes, and they recommend books. Librarians excel at talking about books and they excel at being friendly. They combine these two skills into a single powerhouse of literary awareness. No librarian I know is content to sit behind a desk telling people to shush. They’re out there paying attention, listening, and talking; they’re telling people to mess up the shelves (there’s actually a sign encouraging this behavior in my library). They’re telling people to use the library, and to read the books.
To put all of this much more simply, we book publishers couldn’t exist without libraries. If libraries disappeared tomorrow, we would lose one of the most important methods we have for telling the world what we’re up to, which authors we’re excited about, which new stories we think you’ll go nuts for. And more importantly, without this national engine of book support, we might collectively pay less attention to books, and if we did that, we wouldn’t be as smart, and our country would be much less interesting at parties.
In anticipation of ALA this year, we decided to put together this special poster just for the show:
We were thinking about which Papercutz characters would most likely be found in a library, and realized pretty quickly that Nancy Drew, the smartest girl I know, would be there late at night, long after every other patron had gone home, with stacks of books around her, totally unaware of the hours that had passed. Nancy needs the knowledge that comes from books to solve mysteries because that’s the only way to make deductions from the facts she observes. Someone like her needs a place where she can learn about science, medicine, history, geology, current events, and everything else there is to know without straying too far. And I like thinking that she’d read up on some of her detective heroes while she’s at it. This image from the stupendous Stan Goldberg perfectly captures everything we love about libraries.
Needless to say, we just can’t wait to get out to Chicago tomorrow and start hanging out with America’s librarians. We’ll be at Booth #2550 with stuff to give away all weekend, and we’ll be flying home on Monday full of inspiration for our next year of book-making.
See you there!