Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Manga at the Library

It's fairly obvious that manga reading can be an expensive endeavor. Unfortunately, I don't have a ton of money for manga, so much of what I read and review is borrowed from the library. I've been an avid library user since I was a kid -- while everyone was content going to the park to play, I'd inevitably end up at the library across the street!

While not everyone has a huge manga library available to them, like the one at Monash University in Australia (pictured), I thought it might be helpful to share a few of my tips, so that you can enjoy more of your local library's resources.

1. Know your library options! Be sure to check around for all of your library options. I have three available to me: my city library, my county library and my university's library (which, coincidentally, has one of the largest indie comic book and 'zine collections in the country). And don't forget to check nearby libraries to see what you need to do to get a library card. For example, people not employed or attending the university must pay an annual fee for access to its library. Luckily, my city and county libraries don't charge any additional fees outside of a one-time application fee.

2. Use inter-library loan. But, what if your library doesn't have too many graphic novels to read? If you only have one library system available to you, be sure to use inter-library loan (ILL) to borrow books from other locations in your library's network. Just be sure to see what ILL policies are for your library, as they may charge a fee for obtaining a book on your behalf.

3. Search for books the right way. Depending on how I search for manga in my city library's online catalog, I can get six pages versus 30 pages and even up to 50 pages of results! Unless you know the specific title you want, always use the advanced search function. Also, if your online catalog employs tags or specific terms for manga, use those in your search. For example, my library has several different tags, so I simply search the graphic novel genre with "Japan" as a key word.

4. Use holds, if you can. In my city and county library systems, you can request or hold a book using the online catalog and have it sent to your local branch. For example, my county library has Kitchen Princess, but it's only available at a branch at least 30 minutes away driving. Instead of making the trek, I just request it and they send it to my local branch to pick up, usually giving me a one-week window to do so.

5. Shelves can be misleading. If you're more the type to physically search shelves at your library for books, make sure you know how your library shelves them. Some libraries have them all in one spot (like my city library branch), while others shelve them according to content (say, historical fiction), like my university library. Also, become best friends with the "new titles" shelves at your local branch, as that's how you'll find the newest acquisitions. That's how I found Life Sucks.

6. Use Book Burro. I really love this Mozilla Firefox widget, Book Burro. Here's how it works: say you're searching for a book on, when you do so, Book Burro searches the online catalog of libraries around the world and lets you know where the book is available and how far away that library is. You can also specify what libraries you want Book Burro to search, too. It's a great way to find a particular title, especially if you're forced to use ILL.

7. Request, please! So, all of these tips are all well and good, but what if your library doesn't have ANY manga to speak of? Well, then, request it! Librarians are always looking for new books to share with their patrons, and graphic novels are growing in popularity each year. Many systems have an online request form that you send out and some will even notify you if they decide to purchase it. Some publishers may also be willing to offer their books to libraries at a discount, so be sure to provide a link to the publisher's website in your request.

8. Don't forget to give back, too. Now, it's so easy to just borrow, borrow, borrow from your library that you can forget to give back, too. So, the next time you have a random volume or series that you're no longer interested in, please consider donating it to your library. Even if you didn't enjoy it, that doesn't mean someone else won't! Of course, libraries always take cash donations, too.


  1. I love you for this post.

    Recently, a friend of mine was asking if my library had a manga collection and if so, what it was like? He was rather surprised when I said we easily had 50 titles throughout our system. Granted, we're unique, but it was a nice reaction to see.

  2. Great tips! One time I donated 30 volumes to my local library because I couldn't get any money for them. I can just check them out if I want to read them again!

  3. @skagirlie So glad you enlightened your friend! I'm really lucky that all of the systems in my area carry a diverse selection of graphic novels and manga. Hopefully, more libraries will follow suit!

    @Laura I have a stack of manga at home that I couldn't get rid of, too, so they're heading to the library with me later this week as a donation. And, you're right, you can check them back anytime you want, should the desire to re-read strike!

  4. Giving back to your library is always a nice thing to do. If the library doesn't shelve your book, then it will probably be available to buy at the next used book sale. (Most libraries have a sale to get rid of old/battered/unread books at least once a year.)

  5. This article is great, but as a librarian I'd like to know more about how manga readers would *like* to be able to search the library catalog. Is there anyway we can make it easier for patrons to find the manga they want. Would you prefer to search by volume #? Volume title? Series title? Author/artist? An option I haven't mentioned? Anything you can tell me about the search habits of the manga reader would be helpful. Thank you!

  6. @Anonymous Thanks for your comment! As far as what I want out of my library searches is any way that allows me to discover a series more easily. I know that my system doesn't differentiate in the title between the different volumes, making it difficult to track down what I'm looking for. Searching by author and/or title with volume number would be helpful. Also, if there was a way to search via genre (fantasy, action, romance, etc.) or demographic (shojo, shonen, josei, seinen, etc.) that would make it easier to discover like titles, too.

    Also, if there was a way to show additional titles on the shelf, that might be helpful in discovering other series by the author, or other volumes available. I've found that searching graphic novels with Japan as the country of origin has helped me find a wide variety of titles I didn't know that my system shelved. If there's a way to add a manga tag, that might be useful to those looking to read that specific subset of graphic novels. If nothing else, having a graphic novel-specific tag makes it much easier to search. While my city system employs this tag, my university and county library systems do not, making it increasingly difficult to see what the systems have.

    Please feel free to e-mail me directly to discuss further (see my "About the Blogger" at left for my address).