Over the past forty years, the graphic novel has become an increasingly viable medium for literary and personal expression (Williams, 2012). This literary explosion has helped provide visually rich narratives presenting major topics ranging from the Holocaust to the personal toll of the Iranian Revolution from a first person perspective (Green & Myers, 2010, 2). Recently, themes of mental health and trauma have risen to prominence in the graphic novel field, with many writer/artists turning to this medium as a way of expressing their lived experiences. These narratives have a unique vantage point as they allow difficult and controversial themes to be expressed both visually and textually, thus eliciting a more active response from the reader and, in turn, making these narratives more accessible (Green & Myers, 2010, 2).
Wych Park Branch’s collection consists entirely of graphic novels that feature a strong thematic focus on a host of mental illness-related issues, including, but not limited, to alcoholism, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, sexual abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorders. More specifically, we are collecting works that utilize a first person narrative style in order to directly communicate the experience of mental illness and its causes to readers. Our intention in spotlighting these materials is to help educate the community about these issues and to promote identification and mental wellbeing among those dealing with these issues, a practice popularly known as bibliotherapy (Brewster, 2009, 400).
In the bibliotherapy practice, books are utilized in order to help individuals cope with the major issues that they are facing (Brewster, 2009, 400). This is accomplished through selecting works that present themes and characters that the user can identify with while also encouraging the user to seek healthy solutions for his or her issues (Brewster, 2009, 402). With this in mind, we have decided to focus our attention towards spotlighting graphic novels that devote the majority of their narratives to mental health-related themes. While there are numerous works available on the market that incorporate mental health themes into a larger narrative, we are presently choosing to de-emphasize these works in favor of works largely devoted to communicating the experience of mental illness to users. We are doing this in order to ensure that the maximum amount of information is provided to the user.
Our intention is to establish an actively growing collection, both as a way of addressing more diverse issues over time and as a way of encouraging further dialogue on these topics. As a way of spurring further collection development, we will be paying attention to several specific resources: the healthcare/comics portal Graphic Medicine and reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Review and Kirkus. In addition to community members, we are also working to maintain an active dialogue with experts on graphic novels and mental health in order to enrich our collection. We feel that these factors will allow us to provide additional levels of service as the collection grows.
For the sake of our patrons, we have decided to embrace open access to this particular collection: situating the collection in a specialized location that can be freely accessed by all members of the public (Brewster, 2009, 403). We feel that the appeal of this approach is twofold: it allows individuals dealing with these conditions to seek out these titles in an open and nonjudgmental environment and it also allows caregivers and concerned members of the community to learn about these conditions through open use of the collection (Brewster, 2009, 403). In doing so, we hope to treat the collection as both a specialized resource and a public service.
McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding Comics. New York: HarperPerennial.
Brewster, L. (2009). “Books on Prescription: Bibliotherapy in the United Kingdom.” Journal of Hospital Librarianship. Vol. 9
Green, M. J., & Myers, K.R. (2010). “Graphic Medicine: Use of Comics in Medical Education and Patient Care.” BMJ. 340 (6).
Williams, I. (2012). “A Short History of Art Comics.” Graphic Medicine. http://www.graphicmedicine.org/a-short-history-of-art-comics/
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