Saturday, April 28, 2012

Comics in Education Conference Review

It was with pleasure that I volunteered to assist at the first annual (hopefully) Comics in Education Conference at Rochester Public Library.  Eighty-five librarians and educators registered and paid a very small fee to attend.  The discussions I attended included "From Script to Publisher: How Comics are Made," by Mark Siegal, a leading editor and founder of the prominent graphic novel publishing imprint First Second.   The second was "Reading the World Through Imagetexts: Helping All Readers Learn New Literacies" by a panel of educational researchers from Nazareth College.  After assisting with distributing really great boxed lunches, I attended Mark Siegal's second talk "Comics in Culture: History and Relevance."  Lastly I was present at a panel discussion titled "Evaluating Comics."  The day was completed with an opportunity to purchase select few graphic novels from the library book store accompanied by an autographing session.

I approached the event from the perspective of a fairly recent library school graduate who subs at many of the branches of Rochester Public Library and also at Teen Central within the Central Branch.  I enjoy reading graphic novels for teens and I often recommend many titles with which I am familiar to teen patrons at various branches.  I personally have broken down the stigma barrier that comics are not quality literature, but I recognize that more traditional patrons may hold that belief.  However during the conference I came to realize that I did hold a pre-conceived notion that comic readers are reluctant readers in the traditional sense.  I learned that this is not necessarily true.  In selecting comics individuals hold these resources to literary standards in the same way that any other resource is analyzed for interest and quality.  Selected resources vary widely across these measures and comic exist addressing nearly any given topic.

I also learned that the scholarly study of the comic format is taken very seriously by many colleges and universities.  These teacher training and artistic centers of culture will continue to promote the format into the next century and the use of this visual and textual combination of information is certainly likely to increase in its proliferance as scholars continue to more deeply understand its cultural relevance.  The combination of the visual and textual is certainly increasingly relevant as the information age progresses and the use of computers and the Internet influences the way young minds develop and process information.  A perhaps unintentional theme of the day I noticed was that quality comics seem to experience the gestalt effect, in which the sum of the information is greater than the sum of its parts.  In other words, comics are more than just words with pictures within cells. The complete meaning of the resource is derived from the combination of and relationship between artistically created visual images, carefully selected words placed artistically within the images, and also the cell as a unit of information that relates visually to other cells within the page.  In addition, it's important as a librarian to consider the function of the format within the rest of the collection and the placement of the physical resources in comparison to the rest of the collection.  Most librarians agreed that fiction graphic novels and comics ought to be shelved separately from the rest of the collection based on perceived user behavior.  Perhaps it would be useful to include non-fiction graphic novels interfiled with the rest of the non-fiction collection.  There was controversy over the appropriate placement of non-fiction graphic novels within public libraries.  Some librarians thought they should be filed by subject, some thought they should be housed in the art section.  Others thought they should be housed in a special collection specific to the age of the intended audience.  I found this particular discussion especially fascinating.

While much of the conference was highly informative and perhaps may have even helped to shape collective understanding of the format, I did however discover one significant aspect of the conference that may be improved in the future.  Numerous times prior to the conference I tried to find the wordpress document online so that I might share the existence of the event with interested individuals.  I was unable to find it via Google and other search engines.  The publicity of the conference was lacking.  I believe that publicity is actually extremely important to an event like this because it is relevant to the future of libraries and the use of information.  In my opinion it would have been useful for an internet publicity campaign, and also the local media should have been notified.  The conference could have easily tripled in attendance with little effort and library public relations could have been boosted by media coverage.  This would not only benefit the library but also the entire community.  If library conferences are well attended and attract many individuals from out of town, the local economy is certain to benefit in numerous ways.  I believe that Rochester Public Library is an outstanding organization with an approach to the field of information that could certainly help to shape the future of libraries and their role within the community, especially if we continue to create rich educational learning opportunities such as this event. 

Two other suggestions I would make to conference creators would be to offer print evaluation forms for each session and the conference in general.   Also, I would have liked print outs or handouts from conference presenters to assist my memory for each session.

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