Editor’s Note: This is the second of two posts on engaged librarianship by Maureen Donovan, the Japanese Studies librarian at OSUL. In the first post (Digital scholarship as a tool for engagement), Maureen explored the ability of digital tools to increase engagement when used as part of active listening.
Developing a research collection of Japanese comics (manga), I was baffled by the sheer volume of these popular culture artifacts coming out annually. Not knowing how to choose among so many, I organized a freshman seminar, “Analyzing the Appeal of Manga,” to investigate which works are likely to have lasting value. My role was to organize the seminar, with students bringing questions each week to discuss with each other. Is it the art? The characters? The stories? What’s important in this work and why do we care what happens? As I listened to their discussions, criteria for determining quality (usually relating to great storytelling and character development) became clearer and I found myself pulled into further engagement in this field. Among other things, I learned how savvy students are at sharing and accessing these works online. In the context of global youth culture the students knew about a new Japanese publication or film within hours, while impressive online encyclopedias and bibliographies made it easy for them to research existing works. Of course, one cannot ignore such issues as copyright infringement through “scanlations” and other controversial aspects of global youth culture. Still, the information skills that these students had developed through interest in manga or anime prepare them for participation in the “global information society.” Meanwhile, I learned a lot about manga during the six times I taught that course, providing a foundation for my engagement in this field that continues to evolve.
With an eye toward developing the scholarly potential of the manga collection, I found myself drawn into investigating the origins of manga in Japan, because I knew that eventually people would want to delve into how these brilliant cartoonists learned their craft. Who were their teachers? Where did all this creativity come from? Inevitably those researchers have started using the collection I am building. As I meet with them, I hear about problems they encounter in doing research using manga as primary research materials, which leads me further into active engagement, building resources to support them. That’s how the project to index the issues of Jiji Manga, a 1920s newspaper cartoon Sunday supplement that I have been collecting, was initiated. Fortunately I had the assistance of a wonderfully talented graduate student, Hyejeong Choi, who actually did the work of indexing. That index is now one of the “most popular” pages on the library’s wiki, with over 73,000 views on the main page, in addition to thousands of views for each of the over 500 pages for individual issues. Researchers worldwide as well at at Ohio State use this index to study Japanese history, early manga, culture of the 1920s and many other topics.
Working with manga also brought me into greater awareness of the global flow of information, which led to developing a course on Understanding the Global Information Society with Miriam Conteh-Morgan, and teaching it in International Studies. That course is built around questions too: What is information?, What is a globally networked information society?, How are work and play being transformed in today’s global information society? As a teacher my role is to construct a learning environment where students explore those questions, but as they report on their projects my awareness grows apace. I find myself bringing what I learn about the evolving global scholarly ecosystem through teaching this course — and listening to my students’ reports — to discussions when I meet faculty and other researchers in the course of my work as Japanese Studies Librarian. There’s a continuum of engagement between teaching and research, all revolving around the new knowledge creation and sharing processes that form the basis of today’s global information society.