How Being an Epic Nerd Has Made Me a Better School Librarian

I must start by saying that I am a huge nerd. I’ve watched/read every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; I dressed up as Princess Leia on Hoth for Halloween; I’ve attended multiple Comic Cons; and I even possess a picture with the late, great Stan Lee. I share all of this not to brag, but because I honestly believe that it has made me a better school librarian.

The idea of the nerd has changed drastically over the decades, shifting from a harsh insult for the awkward outcast into a badge of pride worn by nerds in many subject areas and exalted by authors like John and Hank Green, who declared that being a nerd is great because nerds “are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it.” While many teens prefer to play the bored, too-good-for-it-all routine, there are far more who harbor great passions for everything from comic books to botany to art, and the list could go on. The school library should be the perfect place for them to find a space where they feel free to explore those passions and a school librarian who gets just as excited as they are.

My own nerdiness has many outlets, but my love of comics has been a massive asset as I have worked to transform my school library. Since taking over three years ago, I have built up the comic book, graphic novel, and manga collection. It has grown from having only a few titles to now boasting over 900, with more requests daily. As the collection grew, I pulled them from Dewey and created their own section, the “Comic Corner,” and it is the most popular checkout I see. Indeed, in the time I have been there, book checkouts have grown by over 1,000%–going from fewer than 500 during the entire 2014-2015 school year to over 3,000 in this year’s first semester! Over half of those checkouts have come from my comic collection.

My circulation stats for the last 4 years. I began in the library in 2015.

Some early pictures of my “Comic Corner.”

While there are many factors that have gone in to this kind of growth, the most important has been promotion. I wear nerdy clothing as often as possible, and as soon as someone shows an interest, I make sure to refer them to the comic. I put up posters from various conventions, pass out coloring pages from popular manga, and have even had nerd-centered maker activities. If I see something nerdy on them (clothing, keychain, backpack, notebook, etc.), I talk it up, and if I don’t know it, I ask questions. When students see that I am excited about something they love, they want to talk about it and a connection is created. They now have a reason to be invested in the school library, and I have been able to establish some trust with them based on a mutual interest, even if it’s something I don’t know a lot about. Being interested and genuinely overly enthusiastic about whatever they like has been the best way I’ve found to promote reading on my campus.

Here’s a typical interaction:

Student: (normal bored teenaged tone) “Cool Captain America t-shirt.”

Me: (overly enthusiastic) “Thanks! I LOVE Captain America — Winter Soldier has to be my favorite movie of him.”

Student: (semi-bored teen tone) “Yeah, it’s pretty good.”

Me: (still overly enthusiastic) “Did you know that there’s actually a comic of that? It’s SO good! It’s right over here — let me show you where it is! You should check it out.”

Student: (slightly dubious but willing) “Ok, cool.”

It works. It really does. Be a nerd! Be excited about things; share what you love! Your enthusiasm will be infectious and word will spread. Enthusiasm and excitement, mixed in with your already amazing librarian skills, are a sure-fire way to get more students into your library and reading.

As part of AASL’s Induction Program, I was included in a discussion with Judi Moreillon where she explained the collaborative opportunity inherent to any reading program or incentive. I have since begun to reach out to my colleagues on campus, searching for fellow nerds to help promote the collection. I found a large number of teachers, clerks, support staff, and secretaries who share my interests! I’ve spoken with people now that I hardly knew before, and have made connections all over campus. My next step, supported again by my work through the Induction Program, is to use the collective skills of my fellow nerds and implement wider-spread and farther-reaching reading programs that will benefit the entire campus.

Tips for how to be a better comic nerd:

  • Read! Comic books, graphic novels, and manga are all quick reads. Spend a little time getting to know characters, back stories, and plot arcs. A little can go a long way. You don’t have to read a character’s entire series to enjoy it. Pick a character, do a little research, and have fun!
  • Watch! A big part of the comic world is portrayed in pop culture, so watch some anime, catch up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and view as many movie adaptations that are out there as you can handle. There are some truly great films and TV shows to be excited about!
  • Follow! Learn more about popular trends through social media resources. Follow authors and publishers on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Find out if there are any comic conventions near you, because there probably are. If there aren’t, attend virtual conventions, or view old convention panels on YouTube. Reach out to your local comic book store. People in the industry LOVE talking to librarians and are a great resource!

Green, John. (2009, July 19). “Harry Potter Nerds Win at Life.” YouTube, 19 July 2009. Retrieved from youtu.be/rMweXVWB918.

Author: Emily Ratica

Emily Ratica is the Teacher Librarian for Arroyo Valley High School in San Bernardino, CA. She is a member of AASL’s first cohort of the Induction Program. Emily spends her time with her husband and 4 children, binging Doctor Who, playing board games, reading comics and/or Harry Potter, and debating the merits and drawbacks of various superhero powers. You can find her at comic and gaming conventions, or on Twitter @emratica.



Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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3 replies

  1. Emily, I loved your enthusiasm and you have the data to back up that nerdy approach: it works!! How refreshing!

    Christie Kaaland

  2. Great to see your generous approach to the special section in the SL.
    Absolutely, you are so right here… you have to establish that fron yourself, in league with the students. Much because they are living the life, and at least for my self I have for long time been on the bench or at best places on the terrace.
    Its about trust and dedication.
    And to believe in the tool you are acting as a bridge been the schools platform and the students.
    Take a lot of time and effort, but as you show here it works!

    By the way, my nerd arenas are The Lord of the Rings and Chalres Dickens.
    The Manga set was established in my school library through the media group filled with nerd students. They showed me the way.

    Keep up the good work and enjoy!

    /Fredrik Ernerot, chairman School Library West, Sweden.

  3. Great article, Emily, and I love your enthusiasm. I have also been building my graphic novel section, but at a fraction of the size of yours. I see that there are many more opportunities as you’ve described.

    One problem I have is that my school uses Accelerated Reader. I’m not complaining about it as, when used correctly, I see it has a lot of merit and I like that kids can see their growth as a reader first hand. But, the issue I see is that the graphic novels I’ve found so far have very low reading levels. They’re perfect for me to use for my struggling or resistant readers, but for those kids who’re such hi-level readers, I have yet to find anything higher than a 3rd grade reading level. I have to admit I haven’t searched much, but do you know if there are graphic novels with richer use of language?

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