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Michael R. Lavin, 62, Super Librarian who advocated for graphic novels

Jan. 12, 1955 – June 24, 2017

If there ever is a superhero named Libraryman, his secret identity might be someone like Mike Lavin.

By day, he was a library specialist at the University at Buffalo who was respected nationwide. After hours, in his mental laboratory, he created a fusion that brought him equal renown – high analysis of the lowbrow genre of comic books and graphic novels.

It provided the fuel for his 25-year quest to build respect for the field and to introduce graphic novels and comic books to shelves and classrooms in schools and public libraries.

One of the earliest advocates of academic acceptance of graphic novels, he wrote extensively on comics and often was cited for his commentary on the depiction of female superheroes. He was a frequent lecturer and consultant regionally and nationally.

Among his publications were “Comic Books and Graphic Novels for Libraries: What to Buy,” “Comic Books for Young Adults: A Guide for Librarians” and “A Librarian’s Guide to Marvel Comics.” He established a website at UB for online comic book resources, with reviews and bibliographies.

“He had a deep love of the field and he always looked for items that were suitable for youth,” his wife, Irene, said.

Locally, he often helped coordinate activities for the annual Buffalo ComicCon with his longtime friend, Emil Novak, owner of Queen City Bookstore.

“When graphic novels got really popular,” Novak says, “Mike started realizing what a great niche it was for him. He was a really, really important person for graphic novels. He made them click.”

He died unexpectedly June 24 in his home in Snyder. He was 62.

Born in Buffalo, Michael R. Lavin credited the Classics Illustrated comics he read as a boy with igniting his imagination. A 1972 graduate of Amherst High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in library science from the University at Buffalo and a master’s degree in business administration from Canisius College.

He began working at the Buffalo and Erie County Central Library in 1978 in the Business and Science Department and served as assistant department head from 1981 to 1988. He also was director of the library’s federally funded Job Information Center. He and Irene Martonis, another librarian at the Central Library, were married in 1981.

He went to UB’s Lockwood Library in 1988 as a business and management subject specialist and traveled abroad to teach about American business information in Latvia and Thailand.

He became UB’s coordinator of electronic collections in 2001, managing the electronic resources in all UB libraries. He also selected and managed the graphic novel collection at the Lockwood Library. Promoted to the faculty rank of librarian in 2004, he was appointed business/management librarian in 2011 and retired in 2015.

Mr. Lavin also had been an adjunct faculty member in UB’s Department of Library and Information Studies since 1983. He taught a seminar, “Graphic Novels and American Culture,” 10 times since 2007.

He wrote two editions of a standard textbook in library education programs, “Business Information: How to Find It, How to Use It.” He served on the editorial board of the Journal of Business and Finance Librarianship for more than 20 years and on the editorial board of Serials Review for nearly 14 years.

He received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Librarianship in 1991 and the Gale Research Award for Excellence in Business Librarianship in 1992.

In retirement, he worked part time in reference libraries at Canisius College and Niagara University, where he developed their graphic novel collections. Canisius has named its collection in his honor.

He also enjoyed reading history and researching genealogy.

He camped for many summers with friends in historical garb at the Pennsic War, hosted by the Society for Creative Anachronism at Coopers Lake Campground near Slippery Rock, Pa., the largest and longest-running medieval reenactment in the world. He had a tattoo on his arm of his campsite’s emblem, the Silver Phoenix.

In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Andrew M., a special effects artist; and three brothers, John C., James R. and Patrick A.

A memorial service was held June 28 in the Perna, Dengler, Roberts Funeral Home, 1671 Maple Road, Amherst.

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