Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.

2004-05-05

Pop Culture Boot Camp: Mainstream Edition

So maybe you’re suffering from acute pop anemia. The bad news is, you’ve got some catching up to do. The good news is, catching up is fairly easy. (It’s staying caught up that can be hard, but we’ll get to that later.) Today’s post is a handy toolkit of links and tips designed to bring you, the librarian, a few steps closer to applying your keen observational skills to track trends in popular culture and use that knowledge to anticipate user needs at your library. Much of the focus here is on teen pop culture, because teens are my patron base, but there’s stuff with all-ages appeal here, too.

Pop Quiz!


Erin Helmrich and Wendy Woljter write sharp, web-based quarterly quizzes for Voice of Youth Advocates. In 15 questions or less, each quiz covers the latest developments in movies, TV, and music.

Take the latest quiz and treat it as a diagnostic tool. If you aced the Televisionary section, but got busted on Musicality, you know what to do: add some Top 40/hip-hop/R&B radio stations to your presets. I flubbed a couple of the artist/single match-ups, so I know that my commute needs to feature a more equitable NPR/Wired 96.5 split.

If you’re a keener, and want to take a retrospective approach, try Helmrich & Woljter’s archived quizzes. Linked here, in reverse chronological order for currency purposes:

December, 2003
August, 2003
April, 2003
December, 2002

Quizzes 1-7 appear in print only, in back issues of VOYA.

Want something a little less teen-centric? Try The Baltimore Sun’s weekly pop culture trivia quiz.

Read the Charts



Read the Nielsen Ratings every week. The nice folks at Nielsen Media update them each Wednesday. Don’t feel obligated to become a devoted watcher of every single one of these shows. I often feel I’m the only one in the world who doesn’t love Raymond. In fact, I invite you all to name for me a less lovable show currently in production. But I’ve sat through an episode or two, and seeing its name in the ratings every week reminds me that that lots of people do like it, and watch it regularly.

Read Billboard’s charts. Start with the album charts and singles charts. Each section includes a host of charts, for Country, Latin, Indie, Christian, Dance, Hip-Hop/R&B, Rap, and more, followed by more detailed specialty charts. Scan the charts that interest you, or that you know will interest your patrons.

Keep an eye on the box office bottom line, too. Of the three major sets of popularity charts, this is probably the easiest one to incorporate into your weekly information intake: on Monday mornings, most news outlets report on at least the Top 5 films of the previous weekend.

You probably do this as a matter of course, but a reminder can’t hurt: check the weekly bestseller lists. Take your pick.

So, what can you do with all of this information? Keeping up to date with popular culture can help you…

  • 1)…create current, high-appeal material displays. Take this week’s earnings for Mean Girls. Apart from being the latest Lindsay Lohan vehicle (see also: Freaky Friday), it’s also scripted by Saturday Night Live head writer Tina Fey, based on Queen Bees & Wannabes. Here’s a opportunity to create a great cross-generational, multi-genre book display about friendship, bullying, parent-child communication, and the trials of adolescence. Fiction, nonfiction, books for kids, books for grown-ups. It’s all there. Just a few weeks ago, Hellboy was the top box-office earner. It’s based on a comic book by Mike Mignola. What a great opportunity to highlight your library’s graphic novel collection, with a Hellboy trade paperback as the centerpiece.

  • 2)…make connections with your patrons. Knowing what your patrons are reading, watching, and listening to gives you a conversational in with them. Yesterday, I saw a couple of teens browsing my library’s CD collection, and overheard them complaining that they couldn’t find anything good to listen to here. I approached them, asked them what they wanted to see here at the library, and let them know that we did have three out of the five albums they most wanted to hear, and that I’d be happy to show them how to place holds on the CDs that were checked out. They were impressed that I’d heard of Ludacris, and I was happy to teach them how to place holds on materials.

  • 3)…focus your spending. Your budget is tight, and you want to buy materials that you believe your patrons will want to use. By combining pre-publication information from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal, and VOYA with our knowledge of trends from sales, ratings, & box office charts, we can make better, more informed choices about where to spend our precious dollars.


Next week: PCBC: Indie Edition.

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