Okay, here’s my dirty little librarian secret: I don’t read much manga. Which isn’t something to be ashamed of (we shouldn’t feel guilty about our reading preferences, right?), except for the fact that I run my library’s teen manga group. Oh, and it’s our most successful monthly program for teens, with an average attendance of 20-25 kids per month. The teens who attend are pretty much totally obsessed with manga and anime (and anything Japanese!) and they want more out of our meetings than simply watching anime. So what’s a librarian who doesn’t read tons* of manga to do?
The large number of participants makes it impossible for the group to function as a book club, so we focus a lot on activities. Many of the teens have been coming for forever (the group started in September 2007) and don’t want to do activities that we did even a year ago**, so I’m always trying turn non-manga games and activities into manga based ones. Recently we’ve played a manga and anime version of Scattergories with a list of categories I created (female character, anime series, something Bleach related, etc.). The teens got super creative and had a ton of fun! We’ve also done some live performance art. I took a picture of Naruto, a line from the one of the books, and had the teens create a fan fiction type skit based on that line. We’ve also started watching anime episodes, provided by Operation Anime. Some of the titles I pick are new to them and some are series they’ve watched a million times, but they get into it either way.
It’s important for me to give the teens some amount of agency within the group and the library. They are the manga experts, so the library’s manga collection grows through their suggestions and book talks, which they give to the other members. I ask them for input regarding all aspects of the group: what activities they want to do at the next month’s meeting, what anime they are interested in watching, what they want the group to be called. The teens also take part in sharing snacks. What would a YA program be without food? We have some members whose wonderful parents bake cookies for the group or buy Pocky and Japanese gummy candy for the teens to share (which they like a lot more than the cheaper chips and cookies that I always put out!). I also have one of the older teens act as a co-leader of the group to help with the games and to keep the meetings running smoothly. Including the teens in the structuring and operation of the meetings allows them to become more invested in the group and helps create a fun, participatory setting.
Having a teen manga group at my library is awesome. It’s an excellent avenue for teens to foster friendships with others who have similar reading tastes. It gets teens talking about the books they’ve been reading and allows them to make new literary discoveries. It demonstrates to our teen patrons that their reading materials are of value, regardless of how unconventional those materials may be. And hey, my teens don’t even care that I’m not a huge manga reader. Their obsession is enough for all of us!
* I should note that I do read the first volume(s) of our popular manga series (Naruto, Death Note, etc.) so that I can get a general sense of the characters and plot. If I didn’t, my teens would tear me apart!
** Exceptions to this are our bi-annual cosplay parties and manga swaps. Which is good, because teens totally rule at cosplay.