The typical library doesn’t have 7,000 graphic novels on its shelves, but thanks to Comics Plus: Library Edition, libraries can now digitally offer more than 7,000 graphic novels, comics and manga to its patrons. The new service was launched by iVerse Media — with Brodart Co. providing distribution — and libraries are already lining up for the new service. MTV Geek spoke with iVerse Account Director Josh Elder and Brodart Co. Vice President Gretchen Herman to understand more of how the service works and how libraries can get involved.
MTV Geek: Can you explain how Comics Plus: Library Edition works?
Gretchen Herman: The Library Edition is based on the popular Comics Plus digital platform. It is an application which provides digital comics and graphic novels at a per checkout price and allows for simultaneous circulation. An icon on the library’s website links directly to the web-based application. A patron simply uses their library card ID to login, browse, and checkout titles. Upon checkout, a title is accessible for two weeks on any device via a web browser. The library determines the number of downloads allowed per patron per week. The service is user-friendly for patrons and is ideal for “patron-driven acquisitions,” because the library receives instant data on what digital titles patrons are checking out, so they’re not trying to predict what readers want. Those interested in more detail can access our FAQ here.
Josh Elder: It's a major shift from traditional e-lending since we don't require any kind of upfront purchase by the library to add a title to their catalog, nor do we put restrictions on how many patrons can read the same title at the same time.
The libraries themselves get real-time circulation reports and the ability to restrict patron access to mature content according to their own collection development guidelines. More importantly, libraries will never be charged more than what they've budgeted and they'll only have to pay for content their patrons actually check out. Any unspent funds can either be rolled over to the next billing cycle or refunded in full upon request. Comics Plus: Library Edition is as risk-free a proposition for libraries as we could possibly make it.
Geek: What was the origin of it?
Elder: I've been running the nonprofit comics literacy organization Reading With Pictures since 2009, and my work there has brought me into contact with public and school librarians all across the country. They all wanted to do more with graphic novels, but kept running into the same problems:
- Graphic novels are expensive.
- Even if libraries have the budget for graphic novels, librarians are unsure which graphic novels they should be buying.
- Assuming librarians do buy the right titles, shelf space and product shrinkage (whether through damage, loss or theft) remain huge issues.
Moving graphic novel content to the digital space with a patron-driven acquisition business model would solve all those problems in one fell swoop. So I brought the idea to the team at iVerse since I knew the Comics Plus platform would be the ideal vector for delivering this concept to libraries. iVerse agreed and now, a little over a year later, here we are!
My mother was also a school librarian, so it also kind of runs in the family.
Geek: What sorts of titles are available?
Elder: We have more than 7,000 titles from over 80 publishers catering to every age group and interest. This includes big names like “Naruto,” “Big Nate,” “Archie,” “Dragon Ball,” “Mouse Guard,” “Shrek,” “Dilbert,” “Pocket God,” “Smurfs,” “Red Sonja,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Ninjago,” “Doonesbury,” J”im Henson's Dark Crystal,” “Bleach” and many, MANY more.
Geek: How do libraries sign up for this?
Geek: What has been the response so far?
Herman: Brodart and iVerse have gotten a resounding “yes” from library customers that are interested in providing digital graphic novels and comics to their patrons.
Elder: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We officially debuted at the American Library Association's annual conference at the end of June, and the demo terminals we had set up at the Brodart booth were constantly buzzing throughout the weekend. We've only started doing official sales outreach in the last few weeks, but we've already had hundreds of libraries from all around the world – from South Africa to Singapore – approach us to learn more about the service and sign up once it went live.
So far we're exceeding all of our expectations. It's really exciting.
Geek: MTV Geek readers all know and love graphic novels, but what would you say to a librarian hesitant about providing graphic novels, whether in print or digitally?
Herman: Don’t be afraid to add some to your collection. They are intriguing in a way plain text material just isn’t. In the past they were overlooked as a reading choice; however, over the past decade, there has been a significant positive shift toward recognizing the value of graphic novels in a library setting. Graphic novels are the perfect marriage of art and story whether a patron is…
- A reluctant reader drawn to read because the art is visually appealing
- A teen aspiring to be a graphic artist
- An adult reader who has a great appreciation for art and creative writing
But don’t take my word for it; select some, promote them through your social media outlets, and let the circulation numbers speak for themselves.
Elder: Reading With Pictures exists to answer this very question. We have a whole section on our website devoted to research and rationale where we collect research studies showing how comics can lead to better retention and comprehension rates for virtually any subject relative to those for text alone.
But I also speak from personal experience because comics not only taught me how to read, they taught me to love reading. I started elementary school in the remedial reading program, but because I was constantly devouring comics I swiftly progressed into the advanced reading program. And then I started using comics as a lever to ratchet my literacy levels even further until I was reading at the college level while in the 5th grade. By the time I was in the 7th grade, I was taking college credit courses at my local community college. I went to attend Northwestern University on a National Merit Scholarship and now get to spend my days doing what I love.
In other words, "Hooked on Comics Worked for Me!" And my colleagues at iVerse and I all believe that they can do the same for everyone.