By Ani Bundel
For some nerds, fandom starts at home, passed through the generations. But not everyone is so lucky to be nerds raised by nerds in nerd-positive atmospheres. For those who need a third space to get their geek on where someone understands them, the library is a sanctuary.
New York Comic Con is all about nerd culture, and that includes the pace where free books still reign: The Library. NYCC has practically taken over the New York Public Library on 5th Ave as part of this year’s convention. The panel “Welcome To The Nerd Palace” discussed how incredibly important the library is to young, developing nerds. It featured moderator Ben Perry and panelists Bianca Hezekiah, Yosenex Orengo, and Rakisha Kearns-White, all who came from the Brooklyn Public Library, and had more than a few ideas how to make nerds feel welcome in their space.
From hitting up loner kids to carefully targeting those who use the library as a safe spot to play games like Magic: The Gathering, all three agreed the key was authenticity. Teens can smell inauthentic nerd-adults right away. It’s better to admit you don’t know what they’re into and have them tell you than to try and fake it.
It’s also about having what the kids want to obsess on. The fandoms these librarians were into ranged from Supernatural to video gaming to the NFL. (Yes, really, sports nerds count!) Judging these kids for what they are into is part of what the NYPL programs are trying to combat because one never knows where curiosity could lead. As Kearns-White pointed out, reading Manga can lead to learning about Japanese culture, or taking Japanese language courses, or even moving there. For kids whose parents can’t open up the worlds to them, these are the pathways to knocking down walls of what is and is not possible.
All of them also emphasized the digital divide is still real. Having the dead tree copies of comic series on the shelves can be the difference between a kid discovering a lifelong love of reading and never knowing something exists. As for parents who think comics aren’t “real reading,” remind them that a comic book has the word “BOOK” in it for a reason. It has two covers and pages in between covered in words. Lessons parents assume can only be imparted by “great literary classics” sometimes hit better in a format today’s kids find more accessible.
Speaking of gatekeeping, it’s not only parents who assume some forms of reading are better than others. Kids themselves can lapse into toxic aspects of fandom, judging their fellow nerds for not having read this and that. This is where being in a library can dispel such behavior. After all, the library is a place everyone comes to learn. Don’t judge, teach.
These library programs can create a real sense of community for kids who might otherwise feel alone in their love of the niche or the nerdy. And that is why treating the library as the free Nerd Palace for all kids is one of the most important things parents, teachers, and fellow librarians can do.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this piece incorrectly reported that the panelists hailed from the Brooklyn branch of the NYPL; it has since been corrected.