Libraries often have reputations as “boring place(s) where you can’t have any food or fun,” so says Matt Upson, assistant professor of reference and instruction.
But Upson, in his new role at Emporia State this semester, hopes to change that. Several years ago, when Upson was the library director at McPherson College, he had a lot of student staff members and “a lot of work to do.” In order to create a way to help students find resources that was both quick and engaging, Upson worked with a colleague at the college, C. Michael “Mike” Hall, who now works on comics full-time, to generate their first comic book, “Night of the Living Library.” The comic is about a zombie attack on a library where the students must do research in order to save themselves. Upson wrote the informational aspect of the comic, and Hall drew it.
“We wanted to make a series of short films to teach basic library skills to our student population,” Hall said, “but when we had to admit to ourselves that we didn’t have the budget to make films on the scale we wanted to create, we hit upon the idea of doing an instructional comic book.”
And their idea was successful to say the least. The two posted the comic book online in March 2011 – the book was downloaded over 1 million times in just a month. Now, all the comics Hall and Upson composed have over 2 million total downloads.
“It’s not just about books,” Upson said. “It’s about information. It’s about (students) finding the right resources to do well in their courses and knowing how to use information in the future.”
Upson and Hall are currently working on a full-size, 150-page textbook on information literacy and research skills that could also be used at ESU as a textbook for UL 100, Information Literacy and Technology. The University of Chicago would publish it, said John Sheridan, dean of the university library and archives.
“The University of Chicago is known for its conservative approach (to teaching) and so, if they are dipping their toes into comic textbooks, there is nobody better to lead them there than Matt Upson,” Sheridan said. “When the university library has someone on the staff accomplish something like that…our colleagues from different universities would be asking, ‘What are you doing next,’ and that’s not a bad place to be in.”
Sheridan said he’s always looking at ways to attract students, and he believes ESU has a lot to offer students in their studies and lifelong learning, but they have struggled with how to make the information engaging instead of dry – the comic book was a successful approach.
“(Upson) certainly is creative and very energetic, and he has a very good perspective and understanding of student learning styles and a flexibility to adapt his teaching style so it articulates well with the students’ learning styles,” Sheridan said.
Hall said research shows that through the use of visual aids, along with traditional texts, complex ideas are conveyed more efficiently and create a higher level of reader engagement.
The library has encountered quite a few students believing all they ever need is Google, Sheridan said, and that it takes “a little doing” to point out that there may be some better way to do research.
“It’s creative synergy at its finest, and the development of that synergy has been my favorite part of the relationship,” Hall said. “Plus, Matt’s one of my best friends. Getting to do creative stuff with the guy who introduced me to my wife? It doesn’t get any cooler than that.”