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.


J-14 Write Up in Slate

J-14 is exactly the kind of magazine I would have eschewed as a snobby teenager. I read The Nation, Rolling Stone, and the still-mourned Sassy, thankyouverymuch, and saw absolutely nothing strange or amusing in that juxtaposition of periodicals. Some as-yet unidentified thing happened in my college years to make me crave delicious, trashy celebrity gossip, though, and that something makes me a fan of tabloid-lite 'zines like J-14, profiled in this great Slate piece, which dissects the magazines many charms, not least of which, if you are gussying up a Teen Space in your library and have a tight budget, are the pull-out posters of today's young starlets & hunks. Laminate, tack to the walls, and let the drooling begin! Link via YALSA-BK.

Also very worth checking out: Slate's Number 1 archive. I wish they'd publish this column more frequently.


NY Times On Knitting: Very Slow On The Uptake

Has the Times been sleeping on the job? This editorial sure makes it seem that way. Knitting has been hugely trendy, and growing in popularity, for the last three years, at least. Four new knit shops have opened in a 10-mile radius of my house in the last year, and there are now three high-end knit shops in Center City Philadelphia. There's been a very pleasant proliferation of well-written knitting books for all ages, blogs, and magazines (both online and print). My library's winter Crochet For Charity program regularly drew crowds of over 20 (in three generations at a time) to crochet squares that have now been seamed into an afghan we're donating to Warm Up America -- it was such a success that we're going to run a 6-week crochet & knitting program this summer for tweens & teens. I'm not unhappy about the Times's editorial, it just seems weirdly timed.

School Shooting Follow-Up

Following up on last week's post about what libraries & librarians can do in response to school violence, yesterday's edition of Radio Times featured an interview with Katherine Newman, a Harvard sociologist and author of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings. You can listen to archived shows by scrolling to the middle of the page to browse archives by date -- in this case, March 29, 2005.

The entire hour of interview & discussion with listeners was fascinating and well worth firing up the old Real Audio to listen to, but the bit of it that really hit home for me was what Newman said about the one thing all school shooters seem to have in common. I'm paraphrasing here, but the gist of it was that these are boys who come from small towns where there's one dominant mode of accepted masculinity: athletic excellence. The pressure that young men feel to meet quarterback standards, even if they're more the chess club type, is tremendous, and can be crippling when they're in the very vulnerable 11-14 year-old age range.

So, what can libraries & librarians do? First of all, we can keep our eyes & ears open. We can be role models for a wide variety of gender roles. We can booktalk the hell out of & coordinate programming around great books for boys that showcase protagonists exploring life off the playing field. We can publicize the library as a safe haven for all kinds of kids, from those who bask in the glory of pep rallies to those who polish their Lincoln-Douglas debate strategies.


Paul Hester, R.I.P.

Blogger seems to have a beef with me. It failed to post this after I wrote it yesterday (March 28th), and just ate my most recent post. Argh.

My husband called me this morning to share the sad news that the drummer from Crowded House, a great & underappreciated band (in North America, anyway), had hanged himself in Melbourne over the weekend. The more I dwell on this, the more glum I get, so I'm going to try to dispell the gloom with a little happy reminiscing about the greatness of Crowded House (and affiliated acts Split Enz, and Neil Finn as a solo artist).

All Music Guide has a great biography of Crowded House, here.

Young Adult Readership Conference

Wow. Is it me, or does this conference look amazingly interesting & useful to libraries serving YAs? I want to go to so many of the sessions! My top three:

The Real Deal: How Young Adults Spend Their Time Online: From RSS and SMS to peer-to-peer file sharing, find out how newspapers can tap into the new information networks.
Discussion Leader: Susan Mernit, Media Center Fellow

Marketing & Promotion: Best Practices for ROI: Seminar participants share their most successful promotions and events that reach young adults.Discussion Leader: Marti Galloway, marketing manager, tbt

What Makes This Generation Tick?: To know where people are today, focus on their generation, not their age. Discussion Leader: Historian and author William Strauss

Tuition for Young Adult Readership: Connecting With The Millenial Market is a whopping $2,225, so I'll be passing this time. But I will definitely be checking back at the site to see if there are any notes, handouts, or other goodies posted following the conference.

Via Susan Mernit's very fine blog, which I found via a round-up post at my beloved lifehacker.


RSS at Ann Arbor District Library

Well, well, well. The Ann Arbor District Library, according to Eli Neiburger (IT Manager at AADL), intends
to provide RSS feeds of not only newly-arrived items, but also newly-ordered items, so that you can get on the request list before it even arrives. We also hope to eventually offer custom RSS feeds of new items, by genre, author, or keyword, but we'll have to get to know our new system better before we'll know if we can pull that off.

Isn't that splendid? And doesn't it dovetail oh, so perfectly with the class I'll be teaching tomorrow? Why, yes, it does! It's also exciting to me because even though I live nowhere near Ann Arbor, my library uses Innovative Millenium, too. I'm hoping for some useful, patron-satisfying RSS grooviness in the not-too-distant future. Link via Jessamyn.

Teen Writing Skills: Better Than Expected

And fort that, we can thank technology. You know all that instant messaging stuff? RU there? LOL? CU L8tr? brb? It may make precise spellers & grammarphiles cringe, but it's not the downfall of written English all the doomsayers were predicting.

Christina McCarroll of the Christian Science Monitor reports:
Though plenty of adults grumble about e-mail and instant-messaging (IM), and the text messages that send adolescent thumbs dancing across cellphone keypads, many experts insist that teenage composition is as strong as ever - and that the proliferation of writing, in all its harried, hasty forms, has actually created a generation more adept with the written word.

"People are so intent on seeing contemporary popular culture as bad, as lesser, that they can't sort out certain ways in which young people today, because of the Internet revolution, are better at what we used to do," says Al Filreis, director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania, who deals with high school writers as well as college students. In the past 20 years, he's seen "the quality of student writing at the high school level [go] way up, and this is explained by the fact that they do more writing than they ever did."
(emphasis mine)

Vindication is so sweet. One area where kids could use some help, though? Writing formal letters and addressing envelopes. In an interview on Here and Now yesterday, McCarroll related a story from her mother's 8th grade English classroom about how students could not for the life of them figure out what format a formal letter should take, what information they should write on a standard envelope, and in what order it should go.


Degrassi: The Next Generation

Holden: So, uh, what do you wanna do tonight?
Banky: I dunno. Get a pizza, watch "Degrassi Junior High".
Holden: You got a weird thing for Canadian melodrama.
Banky: I got a weird thing for girls who say "aboot".
-- Chasing Amy

Oh, don't we all? As a rabid fan of Degrassi Junior High, I was, shall we say, stoked, to hear of the existence of Degrassi: The Next Generation (not to be confused with this spinoff franchise) and even more giddy to see this lavish article in the NYT Magazine this weekend. A teen show starring actual teens! That teens like to watch! A TiVo Season Pass for the series has been set, you can be sure.

Minnesota School Shooting Tragedy

For those of you who've been following the Red Lake Reservation* story, you may, like many others, be wondering what in the world would cause a teenager to kill his own grandparents, don a bullet-proof vest, and head off to his school to kill a handful of his classmates and teachers. You may also be wondering what, if anything, a library could do about this type of tragedy.

A library in touch with (or maybe just yearning to be in touch with) its community might consider holding a series of intergenerational book discussions, starting with Todd Strasser's Give A Boy A Gun, moving on to Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, then Alex Flinn's Breaking Point and maybe wrapping up with Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak or Gail Giles's Shattering Glass. These are books written about and for teens, and to a one, they are about as heartbreakingly perfect as representations of serious teen problems get.

*If you need a login for the NY Times article, go to bugmenot.com. They'll sort you out.


A Gentle Reminder

About library staff behavior, courtesy of Mimi Smartypants. Being a jerk to the public is really not okay. No, never. No, not even when jerky behavior becomes fodder for hilarious online journal entries.

Fear Factor Friday Recipes

Christine asked for Fear Factor recipes in a recent comment. Who am I to refuse?

Inspired by the appealing grossness of the TV show and the nifty-sounding programs organized by colleagues on listservs like YA-YAAC and TAGAD-L, I decided to host two Fear Factor Friday food challenge programs in February.

The first round was all about gross food. The deal was, each course consisted of real food, but combined with other real foods in such a way as to pervert the entire purpose of the food. All courses were served cold, but I heated thoroughly all of the foods that came in jars or cans, and then refrigerated them until serving time.

Round One Foods
Bad Baby Food: I combined baby lasagna with baby vanilla pudding. I thought this would be the easiest course, but the kids had a really hard time choking it down.

Spaghettios, Buddy The Elf-style: You know how Buddy, Will Ferrell's character in the movie Elf, likes to put chocolate sauce & maple syrup on everything he eats? Well, that's the theory behind this dish. Mix several cans of spaghettios with a generous portion of chocolate sauce or maple syrup (I gave the teens a choice), and eat. Surprisingly, this was not nearly as nasty as the Bad Baby Food, or so I was informed.

Mama's Eyeball Jello Mold: This is a modified version of a real dessert my grandmother makes. Don't judge, people: she learned to cook during the Great Depression. Pour your hot green jello mixture into a mold (I used a Bundt pan) and refrigerate. After an hour or so (but before the jello is set), pour an entire jar of pimiento olives into the jello, pushing them into the jello so that they're suspended, like crazy eyeballs, in the goo. Continue refrigerating until set, turn out onto a plate, and serve! Let me say right now that my preparation was a kinder, gentler version than my grandmother's. Mama includes chunks of cream cheese in her jello mold. The combination of fake lime flavor with real olive flavor was overpowering for some teens.

Cold Spam: Well, this is just what it sounds like. Purchase one can of SPAM. Refrigerate. Slice & serve. Most teens were really grossed out by this, but one girl wolfed her slice and asked for another. She had a secret weapon, namely that she eats SPAM when she goes camping with her family each summer.

Clam Milkshake: I'm pretty sure I got this idea from someone on TAGAD-L or YA-YAAC. Combine ice cream (any flavor will do, but vanilla fudge is what I used) with cans of whole clams (plus their juice!) in a blender or food processor. Pulse to combine and serve frozen. I thought this would have the highest gross-out factor, since it made me gag when I prepared it at home. Apparently, I didn't put enough clams in it to make it as foul as possible. Let this be a lesson to you all: buy as many cans of clams as you can!

Round two was held two weeks after round one, and I took a page from my Ohio colleague Rollie Welch's book and decided to try an exotic foods challenge. I wanted to encourage the participants to try foods they might never have heard of or seen before. I went to two Asian supermarkets to stock up.

Round Two Courses
Dessicated Anchovies: This is exactly what it sounds like. I bought a bag of dehydrated anchovies (complete with eyes!) and served each participant 5 fish, thereby providing them with about 50% of the US RDA of sodium. The intrepid eaters ate nearly all of their portions. I was so proud.

Dehydrated Octopus: More fruits of the sea! The octopus was not recognizable as anything but very pale shoe leather, as it had been sliced very thin. I gave everyone three largeish slices. This course took quite a while to complete, as the octopus is about as tough to chew as shoe leather might be. Some teens spat it back onto their plates -- chewing was one thing, but swallowing was another.

Lychee Fruits: I wanted to give the participants a treat for trying the new & different seafood options, so I bought canned Lychee fruit. They loved the flavor, but were challenged by the texture.

Chili-Flavored Dried Mango: I found this in an Indian grocery. It's dried mango, rolled in a mixture of sugar and hot, hot chili flakes. Everyone tried 3 pieces, and then shoved a fire extinguisher down their own throats.

Chocolate-Covered Bugs: Unfortunately, the bugs I'd ordered showed up about 3 days too late for this program, but I think they'll be very popular when I run it again. They're not about to go bad, now, are they?

Japanese Candy Buffet: Everyone was such a good sport about trying new foods that I decided to give them another treat (which was good planning, because the lychee fruits? Didn't turn out to be the smash hit I'd hoped for). I provided boxes of chocolate-covered Pocky, Kasugai Fruit Gummies (these are the greatest fruit gummies ever -- they taste like real fruit. The strawberries taste like strawberry. The kiwis taste like kiwi. The snozzberries taste like snozzberry!), and White Rabbits (which are sort of a milky flavored white Tootsie Roll). Pocky and the fruit gummies met with the most success, while the White Rabbits were declared stale.


Blogging Blahs

Between general late-winter malaise -- I know the calendar says March 2, but it's closer to January in my cranky little frosty heart -- an overflowing inbox -- both virtual & paper-based -- and a recurrence of my unfortunate tendency to take on too many fascinating projects all at once, I haven't been feeling very bloggy lately. So I'm taking Hugh MacLeod's advice and am blogging about it. Which, funnily enough, actually makes me feel more bloggy.

In short, as Wilkins Micawber would say, something has turned up. Somethings, actually. No, not the whole Michael Gorman vs. The Blog People flap (wouldn't that make a great B-Movie title? Or a great band name, a la They Might Be Giants or 10,000 Maniacs? I digress. As usual). Others have written cogently & well about it already. Let's just say I'm broadening & retooling my focus here. I hope you'll like it.