Comment/Response: Bringing Anime to Academic Libraries

Ten or fifteen years ago, the idea that academic libraries should collect “sequential art” of any kind, whether comics, graphic novels, or manga was if not controversial, then at least cutting-edge. Since then, however, these kinds of materials have found wide acceptance in library collections, to the point that librarians are now publishing articles on the “best practices” of collecting comics in a research library (O’English, Lorena, et al., Graphic novels in academic libraries: From Maus to manga and beyond) and looking at the sizes of comics collections in major academic research libraries (Masuchika, Glenn & Boldt, Gail, Japanese manga in translation and American graphic novels: A preliminary examination of the collections in 44 academic libraries). On the other hand, up until recently, there were no similar articles on the practices of building anime collections in academic libraries.

Robbins, Laura Pope (2014). Bringing anime to academic libraries: A recommended core collection. Collection Building, 33(2), 46-52.

Abstract:

  • Purpose: This paper aims to provide reasons for developing an anime collection within academic libraries as well as providing guidance in starting such a collection.
  • Design/methodology/approach: This paper is based upon research of literature and anime-related websites, as well as familiarity gained through viewing anime.
  • Findings: Anime is a medium that can be used to explore all genres, as well as universal themes, and provide a glimpse of Japanese life. The study of film has been accepted for decades and the study of animation has grown from that but has been restricted to primarily American animation. Anime is animation specific to Japan which can inspire students and faculty to explore another culture. Libraries should provide classic anime that can support cross-cultural and interdisciplinary studies. By creating an anime collection, a library will provide their community with engaging materials that can be used for enjoyment as well as study. A list of core titles is included.
  • Originality/value: This paper reflects recent trends toward increased interest in Japanese popular culture, specifically anime, and offers academic libraries a rationale for including such materials within their collection to connect with their students and faculty. There are no articles on the topic of collecting anime in academic libraries.

Author: Prof. Robbins is a reference librarian at Dowling College. Her other publications include peer-reviewed articles on library technology and web site design, and a number of reviews of various online tools and services for The Charleston Advisor.

Thoughts and impressions:

When looking at this article, it is important to remember that it is really the first of its kind. The main goal the author is trying to achieve is to convince academic librarians that anime is worth adding to a library collection. In order to do that, she puts an emphasis on the educational role that anime can play by “[providing] insights into Japanese culture”. The examples she uses, such as depictions of spirituality and conflicts between humans and technology are basic and cursory, but again, exploring these kinds of examples in more detail is not the purpose of this particular piece. On the other hand, she makes a very strong case for the potential uses of anime to support “both cross-cultural and interdisciplinary studies” and support discussions on many different themes and topics.

The bulk of the article is a list of 25 specific anime that the author feels give a good representation of the sheer range of what is “possible” in Japanese animation, and can be used as both a stand-alone collection and as the heart of one that will grow and expand in the future. She limits her choices to feature films, although several are related to anime series, provides tips on actually acquiring the titles, and estimates the total cost of the collection to be approximately $800 (without taking into account any additional costs associated with processing, cataloging, and otherwise preparing the items for circulation). Her recommendations are based on personal experience and personal preferences, although she notes that she reviewed several major guidebooks/directories, including 500 Essential Anime Movies, The Complete Anime Guide, and The Rough Guide to Anime. The earliest film she includes is from 1968; the latest, from 2006. Each title is annotated with a short summary, describing both the film’s basic plot, the major themes and issues it addresses, and its particular importance or significance. Again, this list is recommended, not exhaustive, and is meant to be a starting point for actual practices in academic libraries.

One thing that must be said, however, is that although the author recognizes and acknowledges the prominence of anime television series, she argues that students, even those who are generally familiar with anime, may simply not be familiar with Japanese animated feature films. This is definitely a claim that needs to be backed up with further research – especially in light of Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano’s critique of English-language writing on anime in her essay Global and local materialities of anime (in Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Eva Tsai, and JungBong Choi, eds., Television, Japan and Globalization, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies). She argues there that for a variety of reasons, English-language academic analysis tends to marginalize anime television series – despite their prominence and impact. In addition, as is inevitably true of any kind of recommended list, the one that the author presents is out of date from the moment it was published, and many newer and potentially interesting films are not included.

Suggestions for further research:

One question that can be asked is whether an anime collection that is designed to support a paricular purpose would be different from the titles that the author recommends. For example, if the purpose of the collection is to support faculty research and publishing, presumably, its focus would be on titles that are of interest to anime scholars. This, in turn, would call for further research to determine what these titles actually are. It’s certainly not incorrect to assume that the majority of English-language scholarship on anime focuses on the works of only a few directors – primarily Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Oshii, and the late Satoshi Kon. But at the same time, even a cursory look at recent scholarship on anime shows that there is more to anime studies than those three. For example, the 2012 volume of Mechademia: (the 2013 volume is dedicated entirely to examining the works of Osamu Tezuka) includes articles on Metropolis, Gankutsuo, and Serial Experiments Lain. One of the chapters in 2011’s Mangatopia: Essays on Manga and Anime in the Modern World examines the anime series Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. And just this year to date, authors have published book chapters and articles on Revolutionary Girl Utena, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Dragon Ball, and Space Battleship Yamato. Even further research could look at whether particular anime are covered primarily in journal articles or book chapters, whether authors based in different fields or departments have certain anime they prefer to write about, or even whether American, Canadian, British, and other English-language authors all write about the same anime, or whether particular “national” differences exist.

Similarly, if the collection is meant primarily to support classroom teaching, the same kind of analysis could examine the anime titles do professors feature in their classes. Here too, it may turn out that there are significant differences between the titles that a professor teaching a general survey class on contemporary Japanese culture would select as opposed to those picked for a specific, focused class on Japanese animation.

Finally, the collection can also be meant primarily for students’ (and faculty members’) personal, “recreational” watching. And even here, certain questions come up. When selecting manga to include in a library collection, librarians have access to a wide range of standard tools for collection development. They can turn to guidebooks, such as Graphic Novels: A Genre Guide to Comic Books, Manga, and More best-seller lists such as the one in the New York Times (at the height of the popularity of manga in the U.S. in the mid-2000’s, manga volumes were a consistent presence on USA Today’s weekly list of the country’s top 150 best-selling books, with a volume of Fruits Basket reaching as high as #15, but none have placed on the list in the past several years), and lists of nominees for comics industry awards. The annual Eisner awards specifically include a Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia category (established after manga dominated the Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material slot throughout the 2000’s, and in fact, at first, known simply as Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Japan). This category guarantees that every year, several manga will receive an Eisner nomination, and it’s not uncommon for one or more titles to also receive nominations in other categories, competing against American comics. In 2010, A Drifting Life even took the Best Reality-based Work Eisner! And the Young Adult Library Services Association has been consistently featuring manga titles on their annual Great Graphic Novels for Teens and Top 10 Great Graphic Novels for Teens lists.

When searching for guidance on selecting anime for a recreational collection, these kinds of tools are largely absent. Books like 500 Anime Movies: The Essential Guide, Anime Classics Zettai!: Top 100 Must-See Japanese Animation Masterpieces or The Rough Guide to Anime are necessarily too broad. Finding sales figures or best-seller lists for anime is essentially impossible. And Japanese animation, whether films or television series, is largely ignored at American awards such as ASIFA-Hollywood’s Annie Awards (“for accomplishments in animation”) and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Emmys.

Summary: Overall, this is a genuinely useful article, that identifies a very particular information need and fills a particular information gap. Again, it is meant to be practical, not critical, but it is my sincere hope that it will serve as a useful guide for any academic librarians who are working to establish an anime collection, both in giving specific suggestions on how to go about developing one, and simply in presenting the idea that an anime collection has a place in an academic library.

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