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Diversity in the Stacks: East Asia Comics Collection

Diversity in the Stacks aims to build library collections that represent and reflect the University’s diverse population.

Language learners make up a large proportion of Penn Libraries patrons who might be interested in our foreign-language collections. However, academic monographs and document collections from the 19th century may strike many as too intimidating for reading practice. As a librarian, I wondered how Penn could encourage patrons studying other languages to make use of our collections to help them build their reading skills without the intimidation factor.

The East Asia Comics Collection began with a small donation from my personal collection. I was astonished to see series like Death note (デスノート) checked out almost immediately, which was a clear indication of the unmet need for interesting materials that language classes could use for reading practice and to further develop their skills outside the classroom.

The collection now includes both Korean manhwa (만화) and Japanese manga (漫画). The purchasing strategy has partly been based on student requests (via surveys conducted by language instructors), and resulted in our acquiring popular series such as Jūhan shuttai! (重版出来!) and Sikkaek (食客).

At the same time, our collection has been shaped by my own professional knowledge of social and publishing trends in those countries. We’ve especially focused on collecting LGBTQ+ stories from Japan as a result. The Penn Libraries was one of the first in North America to purchase the now-popular Japanese series Otōto no otto (弟の夫) by gay artist Tagame Gengoroh (田亀源五郎), which has since been translated to English as My Brother’s Husband and was serialized as a six-episode drama by Japanese broadcaster NHK in 2018. (In fact, we own many TV shows and movie versions of the comics in our collection.)

The East Asia Comics Collection continues to grow and can be found in its own area on the far west end of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center’s fifth floor. This location makes for especially easy browsing and reading: the East Asia Seminar Room, where Japanese language classes meet several times per semester for reading practice, or tadoku (多読), is only a few steps away. This area of Van Pelt is also home to the East Asia stacks, where students can find contemporary fiction in both Japanese and Korean.

All patrons should feel welcome to either read comics from the collection in the library or check them out to take home.

According to the Japanese Language Program director Tomoko Takami, many students have been inspired to challenge themselves beyond what they thought was possible because of their experiences with real-world materials at the Penn Libraries. I will continue to work with the language instructors to help students practice Japanese and Korean through engagement with — and enjoyment of — Penn’s collections.

Triptych of East Asian comic book covers (Death Note series)

Learn more about the collection on the Penn Libraries website, and about the tadokureading activities on the Japanese Language Program page. Browse our complete holdings at this Franklin Catalog link.

Below are some featured LGBTQ+ comics and related media at the Penn Libraries: