High Schoolers in the Law Library: A Law-Related Programming Using Graphic Novels

At least once a year, a law library should strive to invite and encourage seniors from the local high schools (New Orleans in our library’s case) to tour the law school and attend a programming activity in the law library. What does this look like? In theory, the high school seniors will be given a tour of the law school and then the law library, where a few professors, an admissions officer, the dean, and the librarians will talk to the students about an education in law and what it can do for the person as well as for society as a whole. It may seem a difficult task to get a high schooler excited about something that lacks context and most likely feels like a goal that is very far away, but the reality is that it is, in fact, a very short amount of time between undergraduate school and considering law school as a graduate program.

Programming activities using diverse, multi-cultural reading materials are extremely important so every student involved feels equally represented. The importance of programming activities extends beyond that of equal representation to equal education. When programming activities include multi-cultural materials, it allows opportunity for learning and growth as many students may not have been introduced to other cultures outside of their own environments. Introducing multi-cultural materials into programming activities allows students the opportunity to learn, understand, and accept one another’s differences on a grander scale. In a law library, by using and introducing high school students to graphic materials (i.e. graphic novels and/or comic books) on the law, it will assist in the introduction to and engagement with a few of the many facets of the legal field and how justice can be served in a multitude of ways, realistically and imaginatively.

Ideally, your library should strive to hold this programming activity at least once a year, in a private space in the library; an area with ample seating and table space. The main objective of this activity is to introduce high schoolers to the pertinence and relevance of the law. The end goal of the activity being that not only does the law seem more interesting, but that hopefully law school may seem more attainable to these high school students too. In an effort to engage the interest of high schoolers in the programming activity, the library should use materials that make the law interesting, entertaining, and relatable to the students so that they have context behind what they are learning. Further, with the use of multi-cultural graphic materials when introducing the topic of law and law school as a future endeavor, using graphic novels that are socially and culturally relevant to the students will be most effective. For example, in Louisiana, there is a high rate of incarceration and police and governmental corruption, so the graphic materials chosen will encompass this point for importance and relevance sake.

The programming activity should consist of a tour and a 30-minute discussion on what the law is and why it is important to society. At this time, a law librarian will introduce three (or more) graphic materials that relate to the law. Examples of materials used in Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Library are The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessy and art by Aaron McConnell;[1] Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer’s Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling;[2] and John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell’s March.[3] Hennessy’s book breathes a different life into our nation’s cornerstone principles. It will serve to introduce the students to the very tenants of the Constitution and show them that the foundation of our American laws can be learned in a fun and entertaining way. Jones and Mauer’s Race to Incarcerate showcases incarceration in the United States. The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and Louisiana incarcerates more people, per capita, than any other state in the United States; therefore, Louisiana incarcerates more people than anywhere else in the world.[4] This fact is not lost on the youth of New Orleans; therefore, introducing this material to the students will help them understand the exponential growth of the U.S. prison system. Lewis’s March talks about the vivid journey of human and civil rights from Congressman Lewis’ first-hand account growing up in rural Alabama. This book illustrates to the students the struggle of those that came before them and how the law of civil and human rights, in the United States, has transformed over the years. This is highly relevant to these students as they live in the Deep South where Jim Crow and the civil rights movement holds a tough legacy.

The goal of this type of programming activity is that it will impassion and stay with some of the high school seniors to the point that they, too, will want to fight for justice and civil liberties just as those before them.

[1] Jonathan Hennessey, The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (Hill and Wang, 2008).

[2] Sabrina Jones & Marc  Mauer, Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling (The New Press, 2013).

[3] John Lewis & Andrew Aydin, March: Book One (Top Shelf Productions, 2013).

[4] Louisiana incarcerates 1,050 people for every 100,000 U.S. residents. This is the highest incarceration rate in the United States, followed by Oklahoma at 1,010 people incarcerated for every 100,000 U.S. residents. Danielle Kaeble & Lauren Glaze, Correctional Populations in the United States, 2015, U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (Apr. 20, 2017 3:34 PM), https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus15.pdf.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on RIPS Law Librarian Blog.

Posted in: Civil Liberties, Education, Librarian Resources, Libraries & Librarians