A few words on manga in libraries

Before I really get things rolling on this blog, I feel that it’s important to discuss the role of manga in libraries and how to properly address the challenges associated with the medium. There is no question that challenges are frequently raised over manga in particular, both from the content angle and the so-very-antiquated “comics don’t belong in the library” viewpoint (I kid, I kid- I obviously don’t ascribe to this opinion, but I do respect that others in my field do; different people have different opinions and justifications stemming from their education and personal experiences and I can totally understand that).

I think being a young adult librarian gives me a unique perspective on the topic. I personally work in a large, integrated library system that recieved quite a bit of publicity a few years back for a challenge raised over the content of a particular manga that was located in the young adult collection. Specifically, a parent objected to “nudity”- the manga in question contained what I would refer to as “ken and barbie” style nudity (no nipples or other defining features, just an outline) during a transformation scene. It made it to the media and things kind of went nutty. The final decision was to move any manga rated for older teens (manga is typically classified as 13+ and 16+ in the teen age ranges) to the adult collection.

As a librarian, I of course object to any kind of censorship. And I mean that very literally- I don’t care what a book is on, information is information and it should be made available. No one person is so wise as to be able to determine what is “fit” and “unfit” for general consumption; morals and values vary from person to person in even the most homogenous of areas (which frankly just don’t exist in New Jersey). Similarly, I am against a broad classification of materials into a certain age group for any reason other than lexile level of the content- this kind of censorship certainly falls into that sort of classification. I believe it falls squarely on the parent to monitor what their child is reading and determine what is or is not appropriate, and by moving materials to the adult collection that are clearly of teen interest and appeal we are imposing a sort of morality on all of the teens in the system.

Of course, that’s kind of party-line talk for a librarian, and there is no doubt that I prefer this sort of classification to not purchasing the materials at all. Although it is classfied in the adult section, it is still available and my teens can still request it- provided that they know it exists. That is my biggest problem with this sort of a set-up- unless the teen knows to look for a specific title, they will never, ever find the material. I have a huge manga rack in my YA section, but the 16+ manga is just mixed in with general adult fiction. This is true for the majority of the libraries in my system- off the top of my head I believe that only one has an “adult graphic novels” section, and that is the largest of our branches. Certainly, this does wonders to keep the lesbian orgy scene from Ghost in the Shell (a brilliant piece of psychology and philosophy tainted by Masamune’s pervy side) out of the hands of 12 year olds, but also keeps Reiko Momochi’s brilliant Confidential Confessions (a wonderful set of stories about troubled teens and their personal realizations that pales in comparison to the widely available YA book Chloe Doe when it comes to vulgarity) out of the hands of troubled young teens who could really benefit from the moral of the stories.

I think the bottom line is that manga still suffers from the stigma associated with comic books. People still don’t see the value in the visual medium and are more put off by what they consider to be perverted drawings than something truly horrifying being described in text alone. What amuses me most is that most manga is toned down from it’s original Japanese counterpart in terms of detail/nudity. The Japanese simply don’t have the nudity taboo that America still clings to so desperately. Unfortunately, this means that a really valuable piece of Japanese literature ends up classified as adult because a parent looks at it and goes “OMG, boobies!”.

(on a side note, I recently completed a manga booklist for my system and-no joke- I used the “boobie” factor when determining whether it would be middle school/high school or strictly high school level. And that’s exactly what I told my supervisor, too!)


3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    LG said,

    Here, here.

    I’ll also add that attempts to censor materials can have the opposite effect that those who’d like the stuff censored would hope for. I’m not just talking about the whole “if they don’t want me to read it, then I REALLY want to read” effect. It sounds like maybe your library actually keeps teens out of the adult collection – they have to request items they want that are shelved there? (my assumption is based on this, so correct me if I’m wrong) – but there are plenty of libraries that don’t do this (maybe they can’t, maybe they won’t) that still split their anime/manga up in different areas. I’ve seen places where manga was shelved in as many as 3 different sections, Juvenile, YA, and Adult.

    When I was maybe 14 years old, I started venturing out of the YA section because I felt they were keeping all the really good stuff out of that section. In addition to reading stuff that I think could reasonably have been shelved in the YA section, I browsed the Adult sections shelves and read stuff that horrified my mother when she found out what I’d been reading years later (we laughed about it, but I’m kind of glad that she never knew what I’d been reading back then, or there are lots of books I might have had to read years later, if ever).

    When you mentioned “Ken and Barbie” style nudity, a bunch of titles popped into my head – Love Hina, Ranma ½ (although maybe he/she has nipples, I can’t remember), etc. If nudity determines whether something would end up in an adult section or a teen section, the teen section would be pretty skimpy – so much anime and manga uses nudity for laughs.

    • 2

      My library doesn’t keep teens out of the adult section, but we interfile our adult manga with general fiction. Basically, the second it heads into adult it is lost because you’ll never know it’s there (this just happened with Real *sigh*). I’ve thought of putting a sign on the YA manga rack listing what’s in adult, but it will probably get me in trouble. We have Sorcerer Hunters, Sgt Frog, GITS, Real, Love Hina and way more, all shelved in adult and just stuck in oblivion.

  2. 3

    […] mentioned previously that our system has a pretty set manga cataloging system- all ages is J, 13+ is YA, 16+ is adult. We […]

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