Introduction to Library Research (LIBR 1100) is a one-hour, for-credit information literacy course taught by Texas Tech University librarians, which has been offered for over ten years. The primary goal of the course is to prepare and expose students to various methods of doing research that benefit them throughout their college studies and on to graduate school as well as in the working world. At the end of the course, students will not only search for information specific to their majors but also be exposed to a wide variety of search techniques on a wide variety of topics. LIBR 1100 is taught primarily by the librarians in the Research, Instruction, and Outreach Department (RIO). In their article “Information Literacy in University Library User Education,” Kuan-nien Chen and Pei-chun Lin (2011) wrote that “Because of their particular expertise, librarians should constantly be prepared to play a leading role in information literacy programs” (405). Although it is technically a freshman-level course, occasionally non-freshmen, and even the rare graduate student, will enroll. The course serves as an elective for most students, although those students in Pre-law take the course as part of their required curriculum. All students are graded and receive academic credit for taking this course. The LIBR 1100 class not only emphasizes research but also proper citation, plagiarism avoidance and the Information cycle. The classes meet for one hour each week during fall and spring semesters. Class sizes are capped at 30 students so that each student will have their own computer in the Libraries’ computer lab.
End of the semester student evaluations often comment that the students found the content dry and boring. Librarians teaching the class find it very difficult to engage students in the material and make it interesting for them. After teaching the class, it occurred to us that perhaps one method to enhance the content would be to use animation and sequential art (a fancy word for comics). In the summer of 2010 we created a mini-graphic novel with artist Kevin Jones to supplement the content of the course. This article is the result of their findings concerning its usage.
Content of Library 1100 Introduction to Library Research
The following is a brief summary of some of the content taught in Library 1100. The course is designed to take students through all the different kinds and uses of information. There is a standard curriculum that all librarians teaching the course follow, although how they teach it is up to them. The class begins with a brief overview of the various libraries that serve Texas Tech University, including the Preston Smith Medical Library, the Law Library, and Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, which contains primary source documents pertaining to Texas and West Texas, as well as material related to Texas Tech University. Texas Tech also houses the Vietnam Center and Archive. Students in the course are then introduced to the concept of the Information Cycle, which explains how a single piece of groundbreaking news goes from being posted immediately on the Internet as a news item or on a social network like Facebook or Twitter, to newspapers, then to magazines and then, six months to a year later, in a scholarly journal where it is analyzed by academics. Often it can then take a year or more for the information to appear in a monograph. Library faculty feel that it is important students know when and where information will be found, so students’ time doing research will be used wisely.
Some of the more important concepts taught in the LIBR 1100 class include explaining to students that it is imperative to evaluate information and develop a habit of being skeptical of information sources from the very beginning of their research project. Some, but not all of the librarians find it useful to use the CRAAP test to illustrate why it is vital that students think critically about the information (Meriam 2010). The CRAAP test, developed by the Meriam Library at California State University, stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. More information about the CRAAP test can be found at (http://www.csuchico.edu/lins/handouts/eval_websites.pdf). One website we use to illustrate this is All About Explorers, which shows that not everything found on the Internet is the gospel truth and that, in fact, there is often information posted online maliciously. While All About Explorers was designed by teachers (August 2006-2012) to teach students to think critically about Internet sources, students often get a kick out of seeing the All About Explorers website, particularly the entry on Christopher Columbus.
Other concepts taught include citing resources correctly and the pitfalls of plagiarism, advanced searching techniques, ethical use of information, and how to navigate the research process. In addition, students are taught to understand the different formats in which information can be found, such as scholarly journals, popular magazines, newspapers, monographs and e-books, government documents, and online resources. The goal of LIBR 1100 is truly to introduce students to the resources available to them when conducting research.
Personal Librarian Concept
A few years ago Texas Tech University Libraries began the “Your Personal Librarian” program, the brainchild of the Research, Information & Outreach Department Head, Laura Heinz. When Ms. Heinz took over the department, one of the changes she implemented was to take the subject librarians off of the reference desk (Heinz & Weiner 2011). Two general reference librarians were subsequently hired and would refer in-depth reference questions to the appropriate personal (subject) librarian. Each major, or in some cases an individual college, department, or institute on campus has a personal librarian designated to serve both the student and faculty population. This model has met with great success. Often, undergraduate students are excited to find that they have their own personal librarian to assist them with research. Faculty and staff on campus are equally thankful.
Sequential Art and Education
Using sequential art to teach educational concepts is not a new notion. As Tilley (2013) observed, studies analyzing the comic book reading habits of students in elementary and secondary educational settings date to the 1940s. For example, academic publications like the Journal of Educational Sociology (Bender 1944) and the Journal of Experimental Education (Witty 1941) included works focused on the role comics played in students’ lives and literacies. As early as 1950, graduate work was already looking at the educational uses of comics (Williams 1950). While this is not uncommon today, in 1950 it was unique and quite the anomaly for someone to write a thesis or dissertation on comics even though academics studied comics for their educational and sociological impact from the 1940s onward. Although he viewed comics with a certain amount of “suspicion,” British author George Pumphrey (1955) published Children’s Comics: a Guide for Parents and Teachers (Weiner & Gibson 2011,110). This showed there was interest in how comics were affecting youth and education worldwide early on.
The Classics Illustrated series, also dating to the 1940s, used comics to introduce readers to the world’s great literature and helped teach them to read; the series had educational comics related to science and history as well (Jones 2011). One of their most unique imprints, started in 1958, was The World Around Us which featured everything from the story of ghosts, the FBI, famous teenagers, to the Vikings and the Air Force (World Around Us 2014). The government and the military have used the sequential art format since the 1940s to teach concepts and ideas (Graham 2011; Fitzgerald, 2009). Companies even got into the act of using cartoon figures to educate the public. One example includes Reddy Kilowatt, created in 1926, and used by electric power companies to show that use of electricity was a “safe and useful utility” (ReddyKilowatt.org 2013). The character starred in his own comic, The Mighty Atom starring Reddy Kilowatt: The Story of Electricity from Amber to Atoms, published in 1959 and “distributed as an educational service by P.G. and E., Pacific Gas and Electric Company”(4). Kilowatt often appeared in other comics, but one of the most notable was the The Wizard of Light: The Story of Edison (1956) published by Educational Comics. The 1960s also saw the publication of more socially conscious educational comics in the form of the Golden Legacy (1966) series that featured “illustrated biographies… of important historical African American men and women” (Weiner & Syma 2013, 3; Fitzgerald 2011). Energy continued to be a popular theme for educational comics as the Consumers Power Company authored Electric Safety from A to Zap in 1972. One little-known company, Davco, who produced sequential art books complete with teachers’ manuals during the mid-late 1970s, also produced a line of volumes “dramatized in all-pictorial presentations” featuring figures like John Adams (1976) and Abraham Lincoln (1976) (Weiner & Syma 2013, 3). Larry Gonick is perhaps the most well-known and “prolific writer of educational comics” (Scott 2013, 70). His various Cartoon History and Guide series published throughout the 1980s to the present day have become staples that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages on such topics as the history of the world and genetics.
In the 1980s and 1990s, publishers Writers and Readers and Totem Books released a series of For Beginners and Introducing books that took serious subjects like Darwin, Foucault, DNA, Wilhelm Reich, the Holocaust, Quantum Theory, and Socialism (among many others) and published compact graphic guides in sequential art format. The publishers have merged and continue to reprint and update these guides to this day under the Icon imprint; the volumes have been renamed and updated as the Introducing Graphic Guides series (Icon Books Ltd 2014).
Major comic publishers like Marvel even got into the act of creating educational comics and books using their characters. They published the easy reader Spidey Super Stories in conjunction with the PBS children’s show The Electric Company (where Spider-Man was a frequent guest). Spidey Super Stories was designed to teach students basic vocabulary and was published from 1974-1982 for 57 issues. In 1976, a weird exercise how-to book was released using Marvel characters: Stan Lee Presents the Mighty Marvel Strength and Fitness Book (Picardo). In an effort to teach about the dangers of talking to and trusting strangers in a public situation alone, the company released Be X-Tra Safe with the X-Men (Mariano 1996). Marvel also released comics related to drug education featuring Captain America talking about the dangers of abusing drugs (David 1992). These are just a few examples from Marvel.
In an effort to get children interested in history, science and engineering companies like Capstone Press have their own imprint of short educational graphic novels. The topics range from the 1871 Chicago fire and engineering skateboards to biographies of important historical figures like Mother Jones and Ernest Shackelton (2011). Other companies like SmarterComics, geared more towards adults, publish classic texts such as Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince and modern classics such as Tom Hopkins’ Think and Grow Rich and Karen Berman and Joe Knight’s Financial Intelligence in sequential art format. SmarterComics’ rationale is threefold:
The visual power of comics combined with text helps you to:
- Save time, as your brain understands ideas much faster
- Remember longer, as the ideas are visually illustrated
- Have fun while getting smarter. (FAQ 2011)
This brief survey of some of the comics produced since the 1940s to convey serious content shows there is a long historical precedent for comics being used as educational tools.
Graphic Novel Text Books
Part of the inspiration of creating a graphic novel component for Library 1100 came from a former colleague at Texas Tech, Dr. Jeremy Short, who co-authored a business management textbook in a sequential art format in the Atlas Black series (Short 2009-2010). Short and his colleagues (2013) argue that the goal of graphic novel textbooks is “to create books that share the strengths of college textbooks, but avoid textbooks’ weakness” because they tended to “be dry and boring, when viewed from the perspective of the typical college student” (201). In a study looking at the use of the graphic novel textbook compared with a traditional textbook, Short found using the graphic novel was a more effective way of teaching. Most of the students retrained more content and came out of the class having a greater educational experience (Short 2013; Price 2013). He concluded that “… the graphic novel format provides a potentially powerful tool for learning and education.” He goes on to say that despite its usefulness and power as an instructional tool, the use of graphic novels is “underutilized for business and professional communication” (Short 2013, 299). (Other examples of textbooks in the sequential art format include a freshman seminar guide, University Life: A College Survival Story and Super Powered Word Study, a text to improve vocabulary (Payne 2011; Carter & Evensen 2011).
Graphic Novels and Libraries
Since comics first became big business in the 1930s, comics or graphic novels have had a sordid history and relationship with librarians. Although libraries occasionally collected a comic or two, generally speaking librarians and libraries stayed away from comics, viewing them as nothing more than the worst kind of literary trash (Nyberg 2002). However, by the 1980s, librarians slowly began to see some value in collecting comics and graphic novels. Library publications like School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal were publishing articles and reviews related to comics and graphic novels. By the 1990s and 2000s, it became a standard practice for libraries to collect graphic novels (Nyberg 2010). Many librarians are now active proponents of comics and graphic novels as tools for literacy, education, and community outreach. Major library publications like Library Journal, Booklist and Publishers Weekly carry columns and reviews of the latest trends and titles in the graphic novel and sequential art world.
There are a number of works that look at how libraries are using and collecting graphic novels and comics (Cornog and Perper 2009, Weiner 2010, Karp 2011, Miller 2005). What is even more interesting is that there are librarians who are creating unique tutorials about their library in sequential art format. For example, Bowling Green State University librarian Gwen Evans worked with a group of student artists to create “imaginative story… offering information about the library in an entertaining but informative way” (Evans 2010, 87). They created a graphic novel called The Library After Dark that highlights all the unique special collections, archives, curriculum resource centers, rare books, and other materials found in the BGSU library. The story revolved around students being trapped in the library after hours and encountering unique creatures such as a ghost archivist and a Minotaur. (Zabarsky 2009) Moreover, a couple of librarians at McPherson College created the comic Library of the Living Dead. The basic premise is teaching library resources of McPherson College using the zombie apocalypse as the catalyst for learning how to use resources within the library. The goal was “to create a fun and unique resource at low cost” (the authors “consulted the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards prior to and during the creation of the resource”) (Upson and Hall 2011, 392). The comic, which is both in print and online, has received over one million hits or views for the web version (Hall and Upson 2011). Libraries like the one from RMIT University in Australia are also using animation and video games to teach basic concepts about the workings of their particular libraries (2013). These examples show that sequential art can be used successfully to illustrate how to use library resources from specific libraries.
Library 1100: Creation of the Graphic Novel
While the purpose of this article is not to give a full historical account of educational and library-related comics, the above examples illustrate that there is precedent for using comics in the classroom and for library instruction. After the authors discussed the possibilities of using sequential art and animation to supplement the content of LIBR 1100, they had to try and find an artist who would illustrate the content to use. Texas Tech University Libraries has its own separate Communications & Marketing Department, which at that time employed an animator/artist on staff. We proposed “borrowing” their animator, Kevin Jones, to illustrate what became our mini-information literacy graphic novel. Jones spent considerable time in the summer of 2010 working our scripts into sequential art form.
Content of the Graphic Novel
We asked Mr. Jones to be as creative as possible with the scripts we gave him. There are three main characters in our book: Student X, Awesome Librarian, and Professor Pop. Michael Jackson was used as the focus for Student X’s research project. The content emphasized includes:
- How to find books, magazines, and journals in the Texas Tech Library System and the Information Cycle
- Citing resources (See Appendix A)
- The research process (see Appendix A)
- The difference between scholarly articles and popular magazines, and finding scholarly articles using databases and Texas Tech’s personal librarian concept
- Using online sources/databases, public vs. invisible Web (See Appendix A)
We wanted to start off with this content which we felt was the most basic and fundamental to the course (Information cycle/citing resources). With Kevin Jones illustrating, a “mini-graphic novel” was created, which is not a replacement for the content/curriculum that is already in place, but rather a supplement. As this project is still in its infancy, only certain sections of the course content were chosen to be used for the “mini-graphic novel.” The hope is to someday put together a complete informational literacy graphic novel. In addition to providing students with a paper copy of the “mini-graphic novel,” relevant sections were also incorporated into the PowerPoint lecture presentations.
For LIBR 1100 we used a website called Xtranormal. This site has since shut down; however, it was very successful in our course. Xtranormal was simple to use and offered some free characters. Movie shorts were created by choosing characters and simply typing in text. Extra characters could be purchased for a cost. Using Xtranormal, several movie shorts were created to supplement the PowerPoints in Blackboard and class lectures as well as the graphic novel. Characters differed in each movie, and the text was kept simple and short. The animation was somewhat stilted at times which was one complaint some students had about the Xtranormal movie shorts.
When discussing teaching the use of the Internet and online resources, another related teaching tool we used was a scavenger hunt questionnaire. The content was related to sequential art/film and popular culture. The scavenger hunt was counted as an extra credit assignment, but all students had to complete it. Students were given time to do the scavenger hunt in class but were not allowed to use Google or Wikipedia to answer the questions. It was meant to be a fun exercise and to teach students to think “beyond Google and Wikipedia” so that they were actually exposed to other modes of searching and how to find detailed answers to queries. At first we wondered whether this was a useful exercise, until we saw that some students actually had to think about and strategize how they were going to find the answers (see Appendix B). In our society, when students think of Google, they increasingly think of locating information. It is important to emphasize the fact that there is so much more out there. Graphic novels and comics may be used to teach the principles of information literacy and encourage students to think critically. Without information literacy skills, some students may find the wealth of information on a topic overwhelming. The Association of College and Research Libraries (2014) defines information literacy as, “… the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information.” Developing these skills is an important component of any higher education.
While we have used the “mini-graphic novel,” Xtranormal animations, and the scavenger hunt in at least five classes, only three classes have been surveyed. We have collected data over the course of three years. We wanted to do the surveys a year apart because we felt we could get better data that way. We surveyed two classes in the fall of 2010 and one class in the fall of 2011 and 2012. (The survey compiled all of the results for all three years together so we were not able to view each year individually for discrepancies.) For the survey questions, see Appendix C.
Comments on the class were favorable. Overall, students liked the addition of the graphic novel and Xtranormal, with the majority preferring the graphic novel to the movies. 83.1% of students responded that they found the Xtranormal videos to enhance the class, while 16.9% disagreed. As far as students wanting to see an Xtranormal video for each section of the class, the results were almost split, with 55.9% agreeing and 44.1% disagreeing. Overwhelmingly students felt that the lessons in graphic novel form enhanced and explained the lessons, with 91.5% agreeing and only 8.5% disagreeing. Students were also asked if they thought both the animation and the graphic novel enhance the class. 96.6% said yes while 3.4% said no. Those percentages were also the results for the question of: Do you feel that taking this class has in some way prepared you to do more research for your future classes? When asked what could be improved in the class, several comments were made regarding technical aspects, which are often out of the purview of the instructor’s capabilities. A brief sampling of some the comments include:
There’s an effort made to appeal to students.
I enjoyed that the class is not too stressful but is full with knowledge on how to research and also how to use the library.
I now know how to surf through the library website without running into troubles.
I like the way that we are able to work through things together. That way if I have any questions, I can ask them, and then actually learn something.
None. It’s simple, perfect and fun to learn.
I think that the content of this course was explained in an in-depth way. There are not any improvements I can think of off the top of my head.
Go into more detail with the videos/graphic novel text
maybe add in more jokes and little better animation in videos
I liked how the instructor managed to make a boring topic really interesting. I liked all the comic book references and the scavenger hunt at the end was entertaining as well. I actually learned a lot I didn’t previously know.
The Library 1100: Introduction to Library Research, taught at Texas Tech University by TTU librarians, is a very beneficial course for undergraduate and graduate students. While other sections of LIBR 1100 have not included the graphic novel short that we created along with illustrator Kevin Jones, our hope is that if we create a full version of the graphic novel it would be considered for inclusion in the curriculum for this course. Using the comic in LIBR 1100 made the content more engaging for the students. Survey results and comments for the course were encouraging after the inclusion of the graphic novel and Xtranormal movies. While survey results reflected that students liked Xtranormal movies, the movies were not as well received as the graphic novel. We will likely look for another site that will help to produce movie shorts, but cost is always a factor. Our survey results support our belief that sequential art may be used in higher education settings to teach various topics from information literacy to history to cultural concepts and many more. This is a work in progress and we hope to eventually share our research results with a wider library and academic audience. Looking to the future, we hope to create and implement a full graphic novel information literacy textbook.
(Special thanks to Laura Heinz, Kimberly Vardeman, Ryan Cassidy, Amy Kim, Jack Becker, and Kevin Jones for their assistance and support).
Parts of this article are based on presentations & proceedings the authors gave at LOEX (Library Orientation and Education Exchange, Columbus Ohio, May 2012) and the Comic Arts Conference Comic-Con (San Diego, July 2012).
Introduction to the Research Process: Art by Kevin Jones, Script Carrye Syma, Concept Robert G. Weiner
Public Web-CRAAP TEST: Art by Kevin Jones, Script Carrye Syma, Concept Robert G. Weiner
Citing Resources: Art by Kevin Jones, Script Carrye Syma, Concept Robert G. Weiner
Appendix B: Internet Scavenger Hunt
YOU CANNOT USE GOOGLE OR WIKIPEDIA
PLEASE CHOOSE ANOTHER SEARCH ENGINE (ALTA VISTA; YAHOO; LYCOS, WEBCRAWLER, ETC.,)
- What is the name of the first Flash?
- What comic book did the 2nd Flash first appear?
- What year did the first issue of Millie the Model appear?
- What is the name of the first patriotic superhero (hint it is NOT Captain America)?
- Who wrote the Miss Fury comics?
- Which graphic novel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992?
- What is the name of the person who was a Spider-Man/Peter Parker clone?
- Which Superhero did President Obama team up with?
- What movie franchise was also a Dark Horse Comic book series? (HINT the first movie starred Sigourney Weaver)!
- What is the significance of Amazing Fantasy 15?
- Who created Captain America?
- Who created the character of Blade the Vampire Hunter?
- Which actor played the Joker in the 1960s Batman series?
- What is Wonder Woman’s “real” name? Who played her in the television series during the 1970s?
- What are the names of two Ghost Riders? (There are actually several major Ghost Riders, but two names are fine).
- What actor played Captain America in the 1990 Movie? Who played Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger?
- Who created the series The Walking Dead?
- Which actor played Green Lantern in the feature film?
Extra Credit questions!
What Band does Angry Anderson sing for? Where are they from?
Before Motorhead, what is the name of the band that Lemmy played with?
Who was the Beatles first bass player? (It was NOT Paul McCartney). What was the band’s name before the Beatles?
What is the biggest box office Superhero movie of all time?
What is the name of the first Green Lantern?
LIBR 1100—Graphic Novel Component
Exit this survey
1. Did you find the xtranormal videos an enhancement to the class? Did you find them interesting?
2. Would you have liked an xtranormal video for all sections of the class?
3. What did you think about the lessons in the graphic novel form, did they enhance and explain the lessons?
4. Would you like to see all of the content in graphic novel textbook form?
5. Do you think both the animation and the graphic novel text enhance the class?
6. Do you feel that taking this class has someway prepared you to do more research for your future classes?
7. How do you think the content can be improved?
8. What did you like most about this class?
9. What did you like least about this class?
10. How could the class be improved?
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Zabarsky, Jessi, Kelli Fisher and Geneva Hodgson. The Library After Dark. Bowling Green, Ohio: University Library Comics/Creative Commons. 2009. Print.