Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An Impassioned Plea for the Inclusion of Moore & Gibbons' Graphic Novel Watchmen in the Library's "Evening Book Club."

What follows is a letter written to Library Management asking their acquiescence in allowing Watchmen to be a part of a book discussion group, after their having vetoed the title on multiple occasions.

When the aim of 'Contemporary Book Night' was discussed and altered, ultimately resulting in its being re-branded the 'Evening Book Club,' the explanation behind this shift of focus was to stir what had become a stagnant institution in order to bring more and more varied patronage to the Our Branch of the Public Library. The following aims to explain how Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons? Graphic opus Watchmen fits with this new, re-focused Evening Book Club.

1. Literary Merit

Before all other arguments, it needs to be said that Watchmen is not a 'comic book.' This bears repeating: Watchmen is not a 'comic book.' What separates graphic fiction from comic book is author intent. The intended audience for Moore and Gibbons? work is not pre-pubescents with expendable income, but rather, critically thinking adults. In this way Watchmen proves a perfect fit to our already-existing core of Book Club Members, it being an adult novel with rich texture to be revealed upon close reading and discussion.

While the core of the book is presented with pictures and captions - fitting our traditional 'comic book' paradigm - Watchmen is singular in that it expands the literacy of the graphic form. Interwoven throughout the book are chapters of text meant to further illuminate the story, to offer differing viewpoints and enrich the very art of paper-and-ink storytelling.

The literary merit of Watchmen has been heralded by various publications and critics, most notably its inclusion on TIME Magazine's 2005 list of the 100 Greatest Novels, where it sits in fraternity with titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath. TIME's sentiment has been echoed by publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, the ALA and The New York Times, among others. Watchmen also sits atop Amazon and Barnes and Noble rankings, both critically and in terms of raw sales.

2. More and Varied Patronage

The literary and critical merit of Watchmen established, it is key to examine what choosing it for our Evening Book club will do to aid in said group's goals. As previously alluded, the group's core membership has, in the past, shown extreme loyalty to the group. Numbers remained constant even when faced with a post-modern, free verse (and half upside-down) mish-mash work such as Danielewski's Only Revolutions. We will retain the core 6-8 members regardless of the title discussed.

Therefore in aiming to build upon that foundation of 6-8, Watchmen would, by all indicators, seem to be a perfect title. First is the aforementioned literary merit and, for lack of a better term, 'buzz.' As a lauded title, Watchmen comes with a built-in audience of aficionados, and by choosing it for Evening Book Club, would hopefully draw increased patronage for the group.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the substance of Watchmen, being a graphic work, should not only draw more patrons in, but draw from a more varied population. The Evening Book Club is typically populated by retirees, a population already using the Library and its resources. By choosing Watchmen we give ourselves the opportunity to draw from a different stratum of population, that being 18-42 year-olds. We know the 18-42 (especially the 18-24 subset) demographic is not likely to use our resources on a consistent basis, so by attempting to incorporate them into a book discussion we actively introduce them to Library resources beyond simple Internet use and DVDs, hopefully creating a pattern of future usage.

Third, in concert with our attempt to draw patronage from the younger demographic, a demographic more technologically apt and less likely to visit a library, we will, simulcast our Evening Book Club discussion both in Library and on-line. Using Skype's Conference Call application, we can set up a free account, and invite those registered to join the discussion from the comforts of their own home. This service is both free and readily available using the computers we currently own. While not bringing bodies in the Library, per se, simulcasting the group via Skype introduces the Library to segments of the population disinclined to use our services and promotes us as a tech friendly and available resource for the next generation of patrons.

3. Ancillary Benefits

Aside from the benefit of drawing more patronage to the Library, choosing Watchmen will help assuage another growing issue, that being of the increasingly large hold list for it. As of 6/19/09, the hold list for our two copies of Watchmen stands at 75, a number well beyond the ideal 1:3 ratio of copies to holds. As it stands, a patron would likely have to wait 2 years before receiving a copy. This number will only increase as the film version (and following it the DVD edition) of Watchmen is released.

Much as the film versions increased requests for Harry Potter and Twilight, a similar increase should be expected for Watchmen. This increase, as was for the aforementioned, will most likely be a sustained increase up through the theatrical release of the film, spiking again at the time of its DVD release and petering off months after that. This means increased demand for Watchmen will most probably continue for at least another year.

So as was done for Twilight, the ordering of a few rental copies of Watchmen for our book club will greatly help to stem the growing tide of requests for the title, resulting in better service and happier patrons. The hold list for Twilight, even with additional rental copies, grew well into three digit numbers. Extra copies of Watchmen for the Evening Book Club will help to cut growing complaints at the stem.

4. Wagering a Conclusion

What it boils down to is this: what do we risk by choosing Watchmen for Evening Book Club, and what stands to be gained by its inclusion? The potential costs would most likely be financial and social; the former in buying/renting of additional copies, the latter in patrons complaining about our inclusion of 'comic books' for book club. Holds for the title will escalate regardless, so we will likely purchase copies, making any concerns about cost moot. As for any potential head shaking by patronage over inclusion of graphic works, the audience we can lure with Watchmen outnumbers nay-sayers by a wide margin. The book already has a loyal following and the just-released film will only serve to increase these numbers further.

So in the end we risk very little to potentially reap many benefits. The cost:benefit ratio greatly favors Watchmen's inclusion. In concert with the reasons stated above: the built-in popularity and already-available PR mechanisms for the title, the availability of a more vast and diverse patron pool and reduction of a rapidly-escalating hold list, choosing Watchmen for the Evening Book Club is a prudent choice which dovetails perfectly with the mission and goals of said organization and the Public Library at large.

Thanks for your time and consideration

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