Collection Spotlight: University of Michigan

Continuing our series on library collections in comics, today we focus on the University of Michigan. We were recently able to speak to the Video Game Archivist and Reference Librarian David Carter.

How large is the comic collection at UM?

Hard to say—somewhere around 20,000 catalog entries (which includes secondary sources as well). Each entry will be for one or more volumes.

When did UM begin collecting comics? How did it happen?

There have always been comics in the library’s collection, but the creation of a distinct, purposeful comics collection began in late 2004, at the urging of the Dean of the Art School on the occasion of the hiring of Phoebe Gloeckner onto their faculty.

Are there specific categories of comics and graphic novels that this collection specializes in? Can you talk about one or two noteworthy parts of the collection or archival materials?

I will call your attention to our collection statement for comics & graphic novels at https://www.lib.umich.edu/mlibrary-collections/collection-area-comics-graphic-novels

“While the comics collection at the U-M Library will strive to be representative of all facets of comics and graphic narratives, it will focus special attention to the following areas:

  • Works that are primarily the product of an individual creator
  • Works that are by, for, and/or about populations that are historically underrepresented in the comics art form (e.g., women, LGBTQ populations, ethnic and religious minorities)
  • Works that are highly regarded in the field (e.g., highly reviewed, winners of major industry awards, etc.)
  • Works of historical significance
  • Works by local/Michigan creators
  • Mini-comics
  • Secondary materials, such as academic studies, reference works, serial publications, historical works, and biographies of cartoonists

The above list should not be taken to be exhaustive, nor is it intended to preclude the acquisition of additional works beyond those enumerated.”

In particular, we have a sizable collection of minicomics (over 1400 items), as well as a robust and growing collection of non-English language comics.

How does the library typically acquire its comics?

Most new comics are purchased from a local comics store (shout out to the great folks at Vault of Midnight!) We also purchase from overseas vendors, online stores, and at comics festivals. Donations also play a significant role, particularly in acquiring older material.

What are some of the projects scholars have conducted using the collection as a resource? What are some of the courses that have been taught using the collection as a resource?

Here are a couple of recent examples of curricular support:

Students in “History 195: The Writing of History—Gender and Nationalism” read classic Captain America stories to learn how masculinity and nationalism were portrayed to young readers during World War 2.

Students in “American Culture 311: American Culture and the Humanities—Heroes and Superheroes in U.S. Popular Culture” read comics featuring super-heroes from classics like Superman to modern heroes like Ms. Marvel.

How have students at UM benefited from the collection?

Most students are amazed to learn that the U-M Library has such an extensive comics collection (as well as a librarian charged with supporting that collection). We are able to not only support classes that use comics, but also individual research papers and projects; e.g. last year I assisted a student who wanted to write a paper about the use of Captain America as a national symbol pre- and post-9/11. 

What are the available options for accessing the collection? Are there any efforts being made to digitize the collection?

Most of the comics collection is part of the library’s circulating collection, on the shelves for users to browse and check out. Some items (e.g. the minicomics collection) are in local storage and available to view on request.

The research guide at http://guides.lib.umich.edu/comics is a good place to start exploring the collection.

(It is not part of any current digitization effort.)

Are there any upcoming events that you’d like to advertise?

Every June we work with the Ann Arbor District Library to put on A2 Inkubate, the pre-conference (for librarians, cartoonists, and educators) to the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival: https://a2caf.com/inkubate.

University of Michigan Libraries Information:
Address and Contact Info: 913 S. University Ave; Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Email: superman@umich.edu

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