In The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research, Stephen Krashen (2004) quotes a study by Dorrell and Carroll (1981).
They placed comic books in a junior high school library but did not allow them to circulate; students had to come to the library to read the comics. Dorrell and Carroll then compared the circulation of non-comic book material and total library use during the 74 days the comics were in the library, and the 57 days before they were available. The presence of comics resulted in a dramatic 82 percent increase in library use (traffic) and a 30 percent increase in circulation of non-comic material.
When I arrived at Parkway Elementary as the new media specialist, I saw that there was no specific graphic novel section, but that the few comics we did have in the Non-Fiction section (Dewey # 741.5), circulated fairly heavily- almost 6% of total checkouts, which is more than every other Dewey 100s range with the exception of the whole 700s section (around 11% of total checkouts). I saw in this a unique opportunity to test if Krashen’s assessment (through Dorrell and Carroll’s study) that the introduction of comics into a library’s collection would increase overall circulation. Having previously managed a graphic novel section at a public library (which required the reading of many reviews and comics themselves) I quickly put in an order for some new, age appropriate titles to begin the introduction of a K-5 Graphic Novel collection at Parkway Elementary.
After the books arrived, I prepared a section for them near the library’s entrance and planned on the unveiling of the collection at the beginning of the second semester. With one thing or another getting in the way (mostly inclement weather) the date of the unveiling was pushed back until January 22, 2013. The day before this (a teacher workday), I ran a report of circulation statistics for all major Dewey numbers, the Fiction, and the Easy sections of my library. Then I revealed the collection to the students and prepared for circulation to skyrocket. Just the other day, on 4/26/13, I ran a second circulation statistics report and compared it with the first. Here are the results, with the percentages representing the number of circulations for a section compared to the total number of library circulations for the entire school year (up to that point):
As can be seen, the results are mildly disappointing. The circulation statistics for nearly every section stayed almost exactly the same, with a few even going down a percent. That said, the percentage of circulations for the 700-799 section went up by a whole 2.08%, and the percentage of circulations specifically for the 740-749 section- the range where comics are found- went up by 2.65%. These two statistics suggest that the introduction and promotion of a graphic novel section increased the circulation of that section, but nothing else.
There are a number of factors that could be affecting this. The primary thought in my mind is that while Dorrell and Carroll (as quoted by Krashen (2004)) did not allow their comics to circulate, I did. This could have a major impact on total circulation; it could suggest that when the graphic novels succeeded in drawing students into my library, they got what they wanted, checked it out, and left. In the library that Dorrell and Carroll studied, it could be that because the students were not allowed to check out the comics, they checked out something else instead.
Another factor affecting this could also be that, currently, the graphic novel section has really only been promoted to the classes that come into the library for fixed media time- the K-5 classes. Parkway also has a middle school (6-8) that takes advantage of the library but, as they do not come in on a regular basis, promoting the section to them was left to simply guiding them that way when I had time, which wasn’t often.
Therefore, to truly get an accurate study of the affects of graphic novels on a library’s total circulation, another sample of statistics will have to be taken next year, with a more effective promotion geared towards older students (who could be potentially more interested in graphic novels as a medium, having been exposed to pop culture more fully by that age).
Whatever the total circulation, however, the results of this brief study clearly support the current knowledge that graphic novels are popular and circulate heavily in a school library- the section itself is third behind only the Fiction and Easy sections, both of which are older, more established, and much larger in size. Therefore the rationale that comics and graphic novels belong in a library is at least supported on the circulation end.