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Thursday, December 7, 2023

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The Comics Corner in the University Library The Comics Corner in the University Library

National Forum to Explore Comics in Education

An Institute of Museum and Library Services grant places SDSU at the forefront of a proposal to merge libraries and comics for innovations in teaching and scholarship.
By Leslie L.J. Reilly

San Diego State University’s pioneering exploration of comics as a learning tool on social justice will expand to a national stage under a grant from an agency that supports innovation at the nation’s libraries and museums.

Comics@SDSU, a grass-roots faculty-led collaborative for comic studies, will forge partnerships with research libraries to develop opportunities for the inclusion of comics in education, particularly toward the teaching of diversity, equity and inclusion and other matters of social justice.

The $149,305 grant comes from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent agency of the federal government, and is the first ever received by Comics@SDSU (formerly the Comics Working Group), composed of about 25 faculty members who are working to boost the comics curriculum and create a certificate in comics studies.

Pamela Jackson, popular culture librarian/comic arts curator, and Beth Pollard, professor of history, lead the group. In 2019, they utilized the library’s archival collection of 100,000+ comics to develop an innovative Comics and History course with an emphasis on social justice.

“Comics have found an increasingly significant role in K-12 and higher education and have also proven to be a locus for students organizing around intellectual freedom,” the group said in its grant proposal. “Yet, there is an unmet need to coordinate and promote the use of comics in teaching at all levels, and to support development and use of research collections in libraries.”

With the grant, Jackson and Pollard plan to develop and convene a national forum, four separate meetings over a period of 14 months, beginning March 2022. The forum will pull together public librarians, academic librarians, and comics scholars nationwide to form a network of research librarians and libraries to support work in comics and social justice. The first meeting will gather librarians from school districts, colleges, universities and public libraries across San Diego County.

“We will find out what is happening with libraries across the country to learn how they are using comics in teaching and research,” Pollard said. “We will find out what they dream of doing.”  

The interest Pollard and Jackson noticed earlier this year when they invited scholars from other California State University campuses to a working group meeting that gauged the use of comics in curriculum confirmed the usefulness of expanding beyond SDSU.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. Professors from 11 CSUs joined the conversation and shared how their colleges incorporate comics into academics. “It provided a proof of concept that this could work nationally,” Pollard said.

Leading the conversation

“The success of the SDSU proposal demonstrates the strong foundation for national impact put in place by our colleagues across the university over the past few years as well as the potential this program has to grow and to make a difference in the CSU and beyond,” said Scott Walter, University Library dean.

Monica J. Casper, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said the grant “demonstrates the benefits of deep collaboration. Comics@SDSU is highly interdisciplinary, and this project illustrates the robust, successful partnership between the College of Arts and Letters and the Library.”

The scholarly study of comics takes in subjects as varied as climate and social justice, sexuality, and wealth and equality.

“In addition to speaking with librarians nationwide, we will engage with comics scholars to discover how they use comics for learning, scholarship, and engagement with an additional focus on the use of comics in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and social justice education,” Jackson said.

Pollard added, “With the connections we make, we can share even more online content from libraries and resources from across the nation.”

Jenny Robb, head curator at Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at The Ohio State University Libraries, and Maryanne Rhett, professor of Middle Eastern and world history at Monmouth University in New Jersey are external grant advisors in the partnership, who will provide additional guidance.

“This funding will enable us to take our comics work to the next level, with enhanced opportunities for pedagogy and research,” Casper said. “The national forum showcases SDSU’s resources, while also sharing them widely.”

“It begins to put us on the map as a center for comics studies,” Pollard said, “not just in California, but nationwide.”
Learn more about Comics@SDSU.