Manga clubs have coalesced in libraries in various Queens neighborhoods — Flushing, Jamaica, Long Island City — and the genre has colonized young-adult rooms in libraries around the country.
At least half a dozen Queens teenagers have seriously studied Japanese after getting interested in manga — some making sure to choose colleges that teach it, others using library books like “Japanese in Mangaland” and “Japanese the Manga Way,” said Christian Zabriskie, who as youth librarian at the Queens Library’s central branch in Jamaica drew up to 40 students to its weekly manga club meetings. One young woman discovered a love of languages and now studies Russian in college, Mr. Zabriskie said. [...]
Mr. Zabriskie, 39, now assistant coordinator for youth services at Queens Library, says manga is for these teenagers what punk rock, New Wave, and Dungeons and Dragons were for his generation: a world of specialized knowledge that excludes adults and opens a private creative space for young people.
“This kind of secret, hidden knowledge gives them a power and an empowerment,” he said. “It’s this generation’s esoterica.”
But, he said, unlike other teenage rituals like graffiti or, at the extremes, gang membership, manga fandom increasingly happens at one of the safest places around — the library.
“Rather than seeking out things that may be harmful, having your secret coding be foreign literature that you read in the library is pretty great,” said Mr. Zabriskie [...]
The Queens Library, the country’s largest by circulation, stocks thousands of manga volumes. At least 40 percent are checked out at any given time, and the most popular are taken out 60 times in two years before they fell apart, Mr. Zabriskie recently found by examining circulation records. That popularity rivals the blockbuster Harry Potter books. Mr. Zabriskie estimates that a third of the books left on library tables at the day’s end — the ones teenagers have pulled off the shelf to read for fun — are manga.
The manga mania, like so much else in the city during the recession, is threatened by budget cuts. Beginning in July, proposed cuts would reduce library staff by more than one-third and opening hours by nearly half, library officials say. Thirty-four community libraries would be open only two or three days a week. Mr. Zabriskie’s manga club, the borough’s largest, no longer formally meets; budget strains prevented filling his job after his promotion.
All of New York’s public libraries are imperiled by these unprecedented and potentially devastating budget cuts. Whether or not you live in New York, you can help. Here’s how.
(Photo credit: Sage Ross)