Putting Your Graphic Novels On Vacation Is Censorship

A trend has developed among school librarians which we need to question and firmly eradicate. It is the trend of putting the graphic novel section or popular series on “vacation” to eliminate student choice. The books targeted have a graphic component. Usually it’s Diary of a Wimpy KidDog Man, or sometimes the entire graphic novel section. The reasons given are usually either a frustration with students reading the same books repeatedly or with the “messiness” of the graphic novel section from frequent use.

In a time when school librarians are facing constant challenges from political factions, this is not what I expected to hear from my colleagues. Privileging certain types of reading or punishing students for our own struggles with management and organization hurts students. Graphic novels provide students with comfort and joy. Visual literacy is an important skill. Books with humor are not lesser than books with tough topics. You cannot wear a t-shirt that says “I Read Banned Books” one day, then hide an entire format the next.

Prohibiting the reading of graphic formats targets neurodivergent students (I invite you to read this piece from Ellen Walker for a student perspective). Studies show that students with autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and other forms of neurodivergence comprehend visual formats more completely. It also rejects student choice, and can create an unwelcoming environment in your library. To readers who prefer visual formats, you are sending the message, “You are not valued as a reader” when you eliminate their preferred format.

We are facing unprecedented challenges as a field. Why are some of our colleagues choosing to self-censor because of their own internal prejudices about literary merit or inconvenience? Have they considered what this may look like to their colleagues who are fighting to keep books on the shelf?

If You Really Are Struggling to Manage Your Graphic Novel Section

If this really is a matter of you not knowing how to handle your graphics section because the section is messy or unkempt, here is some advice:

Get students involved in the maintenance of your school library.

Seriously. They will gladly help, and if they are passionate about the format, they will enjoy doing it. I have three students alone who handle our manga section. I have a comics enthusiast who is in charge of the comics section and putting it in order. Additionally, our western graphics that circulate a ton actually rarely go onto the assigned shelf. The books go onto our long display shelves where they are snatched within ten minutes.

Brown bookshelves containing volumes of manga sorted neatly.

Our manga section after a recent re-organization to add more shelves. Students lead on this section.

To be completely honest, many graphics aren’t designed for library circulation. Children’s graphics in particular tend to be thin paperbacks with glossy covers. The colored ink in the pages of graphic novels makes them heavy, and prone to falling over. Pair that with student excitement, and there will be mess from time to time. Also, student involvement in the school library will help. It will ease your time spent cleaning. Also, in my experience, student workers tend to educate other students about keeping the space neat. I’ve heard my aides tell other students, “Oh, no, don’t put it like that!” or show them where to find things. This student ownership of the space brings a lot of joy… and works to keep sections from getting out of hand.

Low shelves displaying books facing cover side out.

Our forward facing shelves. Pictured is a student-made display of their recommended superhero comics, but the other side has our most circulated graphic novels on rotation as they come and go.

Book Vacations Are Never a Solution

The solution should never be to shut down a section. Remember that some students need those books for comfort and reliability. Also, others may need them just because they like them. It shouldn’t matter what purpose students have for reading. What matters most is that we are not actively working against student joy in reading. No matter how cute your sign is, this is a harmful practice. If you have sent books on vacation, please don’t do it again. If you have the compulsion to do it in the future, sit down with yourself and ask, seriously, where it’s coming from. Could you look a graphic novel artist or author in the eye and tell them with full conviction that their books need to be kept from the children they created those books for?

Because I don’t think I could ever do that, especially right now.

Author: Ashley Hawkins

Categories: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Intellectual Freedom

2 replies

  1. I have been guilty of this to a minor extent. Sometimes my No, David books go on vacation when a class gets too obsessed with his but. I do limit Graphic Novels to one per customer just because I don’t have enough. This keeps the Wimpy Kids and Dog Man books circulating. My problem is with the purchasing side. I buy up to X number of copies for each popular series but they are also the most “lost” books and I get frustrated spending limited resources on the same books. So sometimes I wait until something like Roderick Rules is down to only one circulating copy before I buy more. There’s just too many good books and popular series to keep up.

    Although I guess it’s a good problem to have. Thanks for the article.

  2. I totally agree! I hadn’t heard of this issue before, and I’m glad it’s being addressed. Graphic novels are a wonderful resource for kids and adults alike, and limiting access to them is not in line with the tenets of librarianship.

    Thank you for sharing this issue and also including that this is targeting neurodivergent students. Different learning styles should always be considered and I’m going to try to get more graphic novels in my library now that I know how helpful the format can be!

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