Welcome to another Manga Worth Reading interview! This time we sit down and chat with Emily Drew of the New York Public Library (NYPL), the world’s third-largest library system. As a result of its size, many folks out there rely on Emily to get their manga fix! Emily is more than your average librarian, she works within the shared library technical services organization known as BookOps. They not only serve the NYPL but the Brooklyn Public Library as well. For anyone that’s ever wondered what goes into the thought process of selecting the material (most importantly, the manga) you find at your library, this interview may pique your interest!
Note: Joe interviewed Emily back in July 2020, I’m a lazy boy – Editor
First steps into manga
Hi Emily, how did you first get into manga?
This job! I really didn’t become a manga fan until a few years ago – late to the party but also just right on time. My reading tastes have always been varied (mysteries, horror, romance, NYC history, old Hollywood biographies) but I never found myself reading much manga, if at all. While working with the New York City Public Library/Department of Education partnership MyLibraryNYC, my eyes were opened to the wonderful world of manga.
What are some of your favorite titles that you have read?
Just like my reading (and really all media) tastes are pretty wide, I’ve been able to find and love all sorts of different manga. I began by reading the first volumes of all of the top circulating titles/series for both the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) systems to see what was popular – what our communities were reading.
I discovered how much I enjoy food/cooking manga with titles like Delicious in Dungeon. Slice of life manga like Laid-Back Camp was completely up my alley, even though camping is the last thing I ever want to do. I love the every-day stories of the group of friends that are interspersed with campsite recipes and cute illustrations of camping gear in the cataloges they flip through. The visual elements help extraordinarily to bring you to these stories and worlds – like many comics and highly illustrated books often do.
I’ve made it a point to read older release titles that have had an impact, such as RIN-NE by Rumiko Takahasi and Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP. A recent favorite has been the reissue of The Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezz which had a really powerful connection for me with life during this current pandemic.
I also enjoy reading yuri manga such as Hana & Hina After School by Milk Morinaga and Sweet Blue Flowers by Takaka Shimura. I love the watercolor style covers and the clean linework of the latter. That is the other thing I have come to love about manga – all of the different art styles that convey different tones and moods – it is visual literacy at its best.
And of course, Junji Ito is way up there to fill my love of horror and all things spooky. But, funny for me, the first book I read of his was Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu, which is NOT like his other work.
Since we are two very large library systems, we use an internal ticketing system in order for staff to connect with our department with title/series requests/recommendations. When I was first starting, this tool was so helpful to see what communities and staff were interested in purchasing and how that led me to the industry connections between manga source material and the increasing number of animes based on them released via Netflix and other streaming services. I’ve read a lot of great material this way and am thankful for manga and anime fans!
A life at the library
What led you to pursue a career in the library universe?
I went to film school in the late 90s-early aughts, because I always loved visual story-telling and thought I’d go on to a career writing or directing. I went on a career path of working for a small production company that specialized in health care training for the medical industry which included filming and editing training sequences and other types of media. It was there I started to work with their film library – organizing the physical and digital spaces. I moved from there to a film stock footage company which was basically a film library of public domain material. It was while working there that I started going to library school. I imagined I would work with some film-related archive or digital art space but I found a much better career 🙂
You play a big role here for the New York Public Library. Tell us about some of your tasks, and what were the circumstances that led you to joining the NYPL?
After graduating library school, I eventually found my way to the NYPL for a limited contract position on a special project that involved barcoding research library materials at the main research library. From there, I moved over to the technical services building in Logistics – getting those books and DVDs onto the sorter – and working on the public library-DOE project MyLibraryNYC. I eventually became the Collection Development Librarian for the program and when a position opened up for the branches, I went for it!
The Selection Department is broken up into 5 teams – Adult, Youth, World Languages, E-Resources, and the Ordering Team. I am on the Youth Team that selects print, non-print (DVDs, CDs, audiobooks), and (during the pandemic) digital material for ages 0-18 in English for the circulating branches collections. There is also a Collection Development Librarian on our team that works on the MyLibraryNYC program.
Pre-pandemic, I focused on selecting Children’s Nonfiction for NYPL, comics for kids and teens for NYPL, comics for teens for BPL, and non-print material for kids for both systems. Since we also pivoted to e-material for both systems during our closure, I will likely continue to focus on those areas for both print and digital, pending budget and senior management directives.
We need to stay ahead of the game with knowing what will be published in the coming months to essentially pre-order material for the circulating collection. This is done in a number of ways but here are a few tools we start off with: Our wholesale book (and non-book) vendors send us pre-populated shopping carts of upcoming publications that we review for purchasing. We attend book previews (now online) to hear more about the titles, and receive ARCs to know what is coming out that will be useful and popular for our patrons and staff. We stay on top of industry trends and publications such as School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times Best Sellers list to stay informed.
Bookops is described on its website as “a fully consolidated, shared library technical services organization that serves the Brooklyn Public Library and the New York Public Library” How exactly does it serve these two large, New York City systems, and how is it different from other library systems out there?
BPL and NYPL have completely different management and budget systems. BookOps is where the two systems have shared services – for example the Selection Department selects material for both systems. Essentially we work to manage the collection acquisition and distribution via several departments.
To get more specific, BookOps is where we select the material, the material gets shipped to and received (with a few exceptions), where the material gets cataloged and processed, where the material gets paid for, and where the material gets sorted and sent out to the branches of almost 150 locations between the two systems. Other library systems may use vendors for some or all of these processes whereas we bring a large portion of what is selected in-house.
Let’s focus on manga selection. I, and I’m sure other manga fans out there as well, have gotten my fair share of manga in my life via library rentals. What goes into the selection process for the manga that libraries buy?
Most libraries have a Collection Development Policy that outlines what goes into the selection process. An example of what that can look like is BPL’s Policy. The goal is to nurture a collection that reflects our communities and the wide range of informational needs – whether that is recreational reading, informational or scholarly reading, or any other kind of reading/listening/watching/connecting.
Some questions I try to ask and answer, specifically for new or upcoming releases are below. Keep in mind that they don’t always get yes or no answers, they are just some of the considerations we look at.
If this is volume 1 of a new series, is it something patrons will be interested in reading/asking for? If it is volume 45 of a series, is the series still popular with our community?
Is this something that has an anime adaptation coming out in 6 months? Is this something that is an adaptation of an anime?
Is this by a popular author that fans will want to read?
Is the sub-genre of manga popular with our communities?
Is this a three-in-one new edition of something we already have specific volumes for already in the collection?
Did the original version win industry awards and will be translated into an English edition?
I have tried to find all different tools and outlets to see what new manga will be published and what is on track to becoming extremely popular – or finding a series that may have been overlooked and needs a little promotion. My bookmarked websites and/or Twitter feeds include publishers, Otaku USA Magazine, Kinokuniya Book Stores, Crunchyroll, and Anime News Network. Again, this is just a small offering of numerous outlets out there to keep up with this large industry.
Something that is also tracked is printing runs and sales figures. If a publisher produces large printing runs, that is a good indicator that they expect a bestseller, or that pre-sales have been good so far. You can see what some older data from this year looks like here: Manga With Biggest 1st Printings from Kodansha, Shogakukan, Shueisha: 2019-2020, via Anime News Network. Deb Aoki has a fantastic thread on Twitter from a presentation by Dallas Middaugh at Project Anime 2019 that looks at manga publishing trends and sales.
The most invaluable piece has been working with my colleagues at both library systems, and with other library-world colleagues, to learn what they and their patrons are looking for and want to read. I can’t stress enough how much I have learned from colleagues, and their passion for connecting manga to readers is inspiring. I want staff and patrons to feel they are finding the titles they want and discovering something new at the same time.
As I mentioned earlier, we have a system in place for staff and patron requests to reach us. Sometimes I get multiple requests for the same series or title that is unfortunately out-of-print. The first one that comes to mind for that is Wandering Son published by Fantagraphics. They only have volumes 6-8 in print and I’ve emailed a few times once asking if they are going for a reprint because of reader demands. I don’t remember why it is out of print – maybe licensing rights – but as far as I know they don’t have plans right now. I remember seeing that we had a copy or two in our research library which means you’d have to read it there instead of taking it home. I can mention the research library copy and ILL (InterLibrary Loan) but it is always a little sad when books are out-of-print that would be great to have in the circulating collection that so many people have requested.
Do you ever get any sort of advanced copy to read before making a decision on a title?
I use Netgalley to see some advance copies – Yen Press, Viz, and Kodansha offer some titles and Diamond Book Distributors have Tokyo Pop titles. Some publishers offer the first chapter on their website for a peek inside so I have a folder on my browser labeled ‘Manga Publishers’ so I can see what’s new, what’s reissued, what they are promoting, etc. I follow publishers on Twitter for announcements about what they licensed for English translation to make a mental note that.
What are some of the relationships like that you have with particular manga publishing companies?
This is one thing I have been trying to build on the last few years when attending conventions, both library-focused (ALA) and fan-focused (AnimeNYC). This is something that takes time to develop from both fronts, I can’t imagine seeing the sheer number of people that they do at these conventions.
Being involved with the Graphic Novels & Comics Round Table (where I currently serve as the ALA Councilor 2020-2023) and NYCC @ NYPL has connected me with comics and manga publishers and I hope that those relationships continue to thrive. Something I have been able to do, and continue to try to do, is connect with artists and comic writers through library events and by following them on Twitter and other social media platforms. This is who is behind the great work and libraries need to support their work and careers, otherwise there would be no comics to read.
Digital manga library
With digital book borrowing being a lifesaver here in the coronavirus era, are there any challenges for library systems to make digitally-released manga more available to library patrons?
I can’t speak for other library systems, only our own, and what I have experienced. We use vendors to supply licenses to e-books, e-audiobooks, and e-videos. If a publisher digitally releases titles only on their website or a specific commercial platform, the library may not be able to get properly licensed copies.
We are/were so focused on print material, there was literally one person who purchased e-content and managed databases for both library systems. The work she has done is phenomenal and unfathomable. During the last few months, we’ve all been able to take a walk in her shoes and see what is happening in the ebook world and how that industry is shaped. Some challenges library systems may face are the file format e-books are available in and incompatibility issues. There are some technical issues we have been coming across with having highly illustrated, intricate, detailed works presented digitally but I am certain this is not a lasting problem.
I would love to see more comics and manga publishers connect with the library market and see how it works from our side, as opposed to direct market needs.
In closing, what is something you’d like to say not only to manga readers out there, but also to any educators who may be reading this today?
To manga readers in our community – send in your requests! We can’t purchase everything because of budgets, availability, etc., but we are there to build a community collection and look into what is possible. To manga readers and educators in any community – reach out to your local library and let them know what you’d like to read. Find a manga or anime book club at your branch or school. Here are some upcoming virtual manga events happening at the NYPL and at BPL.
I would also like to say to people who are interested in manga but don’t know where to start, my colleague Amanda Pagan wrote a fantastic Beginner’s Guide, that is such a great in-depth look and will hopefully get you started on your manga journey!
Emily Drew (she/her) is a Youth Materials Selector for the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library systems, which serves close to 150 library branches and four out of the five boroughs of NYC. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film) from Purchase College, SUNY, and an MLIS from Pratt Institute. She is Co-Creator of New York Comic Con at the New York Public Library (NYCC @ NYPL) and is the current ALA Councilor for the Graphic Novels & Comics Round Table (American Library Association). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org