Comics On A Budget With Your Local Library

by Gary Catig

In today’s comics climate, there is a large number of different series that encompass a variety of genres. It’s so difficult to keep up with everything and if you do, it can burn a serious hole in your wallet. Sometimes, people have to prioritize the titles they follow and neglect others. Fortunately, libraries are a valuable resource than can help ease the financial burden of reading comics and graphic novels and allow people to stay relatively up to date with their events. Since September is Library Card Sign Up Month, here is a guide on how your local public library can help satisfy your comic needs.
The most basic way to find comics is to visit the closest library and see what physical copies you can find. They’ll mostly be in trade or omnibus form and can be categorized in different sections including adult, teen/YA and children. The drawback of reading trades is the wait time for an arc to finish, but sometimes you can find individual floppy issues if you’re lucky and these can be more current. If a library does carry single issues, the pickings are slim though and are usually big titles like Batman, Superman, or Star Wars.

If the closest library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, that branch may be part of a larger network. You can check the computer catalog to search the entire system and see if the book is located at a different branch. If that’s the case, you can still place a hold and have it delivered to your library for your convenience. Most of the time it’s free but when the comics are delivered, you’ll have a week or two to pick it up or else it will be shipped back.
Additionally, your branch may have reciprocity agreements with other cities and counties which allows interlibrary loans. This can increase the selection pool if you’re having trouble finding a particular title.  There are some drawbacks using this approach. First, there cannot be any holds for your book by people in the other area because they have priority. Also, the fines are higher with a cost sometimes of $1 per day late or $100 for a lost book.
You can also read electronic versions of your favorite comic books. They have apps like Overdrive, which serve as a digital library. There are numerous titles to select from and you can download the copy to your desired e-reader. Disadvantages include a wait time if other people have put in requests ahead of you, and the selection varies from library to library.

Another useful app is Hoopla. They have a good collection from all the major publishers and even receive new, current additions every Wednesday as if it were NCBD. There is no wait involved so you can download immediately, but there is a limit to how many downloads you have per month. From the two apps discussed, I prefer this one for the instant gratification and most up to date comics from trades to single issues.
After exhausting all the previous methods and still not finding what you want, you can always request your library to purchase it. However, the success rate can differ depending on the library system. When I used the New Orleans Public Library, they purchased over 90% of the books I suggested. On the other hand, when I moved to San Diego, they only bought one book I recommended until I stopped trying.
Libraries are an underutilized but invaluable resource in fulfilling a comic fix on a budget. All the ways described above are free with a card but it’s best to consult your local librarian to gain a better understanding of your specific options.
On a final note, if you’re a creator or publisher looking at ways to increase sales, libraries may be a good option. There are over 119,000 libraries in the United States alone and they are inclined to purchase more than one copy, especially if it’s critically acclaimed. For example, there are close to 300 copies of March Volume 1 within the San Diego Public Library, although these numbers might be skewed because of its recent One Book selection.

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