By Brandon Murakami
Pard, Chantale. Anime Clubs for Public Libraries: A Practical Guide for Librarians. Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.
Chantale Pard is no stranger to writing practical guides aimed at librarians who are interested in starting programming, and her second monograph, Anime Clubs for Public Libraries, gives librarians numerous ideas and “how-to’s” for building, growing, and maintaining anime clubs aimed mostly at attracting engagement from young adults and older children. Anime, for the uninitiated (librarian), is roughly corollary to “Japanese cartoons,” although scholars across the globe have yet to land on a decisive definition of what exactly qualifies under this umbrella term. Pard herself is less interested in defining what anime is and more invested in how the public library—via the anime club—can foster community building as well as expand access to what is inarguably one of Japan’s most popular cultural exports. Thus, Pard’s book offers an accessible and highly digestible, breezy approach for anyone who may be interested in starting an anime club, whether at a public library or as an afterschool student activities organization, and the myriad benefits it entails.
The majority of the book covers Pard’s own personal experience in establishing and running her local anime club, interwoven with anecdotes and tips from other librarians who have also programmed anime- (and manga-) themed events, making it immensely useful as a practical guide. Overall, this book is—theme aside—a good fit for anyone who has absolutely no experience in organizing a public-interest event or group, regardless of how “popular” the content might be. If there is any major takeaway, other than the copious amounts of ideas for things to do for the anime-inclined, Pard’s guide serves as a reminder of how important public institutions (i.e., libraries) are in the public sphere: creating, fostering, and expanding communities, as well as providing and facilitating opportunities for children and young adults to meet, bond, and grow over their shared—or even newfound—interests.
Put another way, although there are potentially significant financial costs (on tight budgets) as well as additional time-consuming labor for already-overworked librarians, Pard’s book emphasizes how this is a critical investment into patron engagement. Her guide gives us a means of reasserting the library as a still-relevant space for children, young adults, and their parents to enjoy their interests in a safe, welcoming, and nurturing physical space.
Broken into fourteen chapters, Pard’s guide allows the reader to dip in at will, with roughly the first half of the book dedicated to the logistics of running a club and a background on the medium and the latter half focused on the specific kinds of themed events a club might host. It is also a quick read due to Pard’s attention to including guiding images and crafting her accounts through accessible language. For the programmer with little to no spare time to fully read the book or a chapter, here are two things that I found particularly helpful. First, a table of the major content covered in each chapter allows the reader to skip to relevant sections. Second, a succinct but exceptionally functional “Key Points” section at the end of each chapter serves as an effective set of summaries. Those who have done public programming—especially for younger audiences—may not get as much out of the sections on the logistics of running/planning a club, save the numerous anime-specific events that Pard includes. However, the guide serves as a good refresher even for the most experienced librarian given the extensiveness of what an anime (or manga) interest club could do.
Chapters one, two, and three cover an introduction to anime, starting programming at a public library, and an age-specific audience for the anime club, respectively. Chapter four covers the logistics of screening anime (copyright, access, subtitles versus dubs). Chapters five and six address involving teens in club leadership and volunteer roles—essentially cementing the futurity of the club. Chapters seven through twelve address themed activities such as “Anime Crafts and Art Projects,” “Holiday Parties,” and “Anime Games,” which include instructions, advice, and reflections from both Pard and other librarians.
Chapter thirteen addresses how the club might celebrate diversity and inclusivity; read alongside chapter seven, “Cultural Experiences,” it could lead to effective pedagogical moments around big issues like cultural appropriation, LGBTQ+ issues, racism representation, or even how dangerous and toxic fandom and “stans” and “weebs” can be, effectively creating spaces for critical reflection within the library. By fostering an environment that promotes an educated and nuanced understanding of some serious issues, anime club members become more conscious of approaching and interpreting the world around them. Further, this also builds on legitimizing the club’s purpose as a public good and, in turn, will hopefully guarantee its budget (or an increase of funds) to continue its pedagogical and social functions.
On this note, I do have a few slight criticisms of Pard’s book. First, is its unfortunate already-datedness, given its release during a global pandemic, makes me personally wonder how a post-pandemic guide might look different given increased awareness of public health, wariness of public spaces, and, more considerably, the even tighter budgets that public libraries (and other organizations) may be forced to run on as a consequence. Obviously, a second edition or digital epilogue would be immensely useful here to provide additional ideas for the library’s digital programming. However, in turn, this shift to digital platforms (however necessary for health safety issues) does raise concerns about access to technology and the internet. Additionally, incorporating digital or even hybrid programming does cut away some of the significance of the anime club at the public library: the friendships formed between strangers bonding over something that they both like is a sociability that is invariably lessened considerably—if not lost altogether—in the digital space.
Second, I wonder at the inclusion of K-pop in the book, particularly within the seventh chapter. Is there overlap between anime fans and K-pop fans in Japan? Yes. Is there an overlap between the two, globally? Absolutely. Rather than being a short section (roughly eight pages), I feel as if Pard could have expanded K-pop as an alternative activity/focus of the anime club into its own chapter. First, there should be greater instruction on the difference between Japanese popular culture (i.e., anime and manga) and Korean popular culture (i.e., K-pop, K-dramas, manhwa), given the historical and political tensions between the two countries. Second, there is more to understanding K-pop than four (brief) paragraphs can cover. (While I realize this is an introduction to the unfamiliar librarian who will—one hopes!—do more research on the subject, K-pop as it is addressed by Pard, in my opinion, does need a fuller explanation.) Finally, given how fans’ and stans’ emotions get tied up with specific idols—who are also real people—there should be more instruction on how to guide teens through understanding their attachments and obsessions in healthy ways.
That said, Chantale Pard’s Anime Clubs for Public Libraries is a welcome resource and a practical guide for librarians and programmers who are invested in “keeping up” with what is popular among today’s youth and providing for them an enriching space so they might connect with others their own age with similar interests. Although the book’s audience is limited, I think it would be useful within MLIS programs as well as for those interested in public programming at secondary schools, community centers, or similar venues. Though many of the book’s suggestions require funding and the guarantee of certain technologies, along with the availability of a physical space to conduct club meetings, activities, and events, there are inevitably workarounds. Luckily, Pard helpfully provides strategies and ultimately a starting point for the (library) programmer, as well as a multitude of tips on how to start, grow, and maintain an anime club in creative and engaging ways.