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.


Steven Johnson's Open Letter to Senator Clinton

This post is mostly a place-holder and reminder to myself to read Steven Everything Bad Is Good For You Johnson's latest opinion piece in today's LA Times. From scanning it, here's the jist: Senator Hillary Clinton wants to study the effects of video games on children, and Johnson would like her to be more clear about what those effects will be compared to -- reading? card games? shooting dirty pool?

I am so tired of the pathologizing of teen interests & behaviors, and I am so glad to see opinion pieces like this one. Happy weekend, all.


Magic at Any Age, Indeed!

Thank you, Anastasia Goodstein! As anyone who reads YPulse knows, you really get teen culture, and your recent opinion piece on the value of adults reading Harry Potter gives a much-needed boost to a sorely misunderstood (and lately lambasted) area of publishing. I particularly like your broader point, towards the end of the column, that by engaging with popular teen culture in addition to popular culture aimed at grown-ups, you're part of a growing & healthy social trend:

That a lot of pop culture appeals to both kids and their parents has only helped improve parent-child communication. What's more fun than going to a bookstore at 9 at night with your kid to get the new book you're both dying to read before bedtime?

Well, exactly. My mother sometimes bemoans the fact that she just can't keep up with pop culture as a whole anymore because it's so fragmented. She remembers a time when pop culture meant three networks on TV, a selection of radio stations, and the newspaper. There was truly a national mass popular culture, with some regional variations. It's true that popular culture is segmented into almost more niche interests than I can count; it's also true that thanks in large part to online culture, more and more niche-dwellers are finding kindred spirits and joining other niche-interest communities, from music to sports to movies to literature to fetishes to politics to fashion. I think we're learning to make the fragmentation work for us as a society & as a culture. Now how about making it work for us in libraries?

Some ideas, beyond the usual Reader's Advisory tropes (and they're good ones, but there's something more out there, right?), most of them shamelessly lifted from periodicals & for-profit emporia I like:

  • R.I.Y.L. (Recommended If You Like) -- this is one of my favorite features of one of my favorite music magazines, CMJ New Music Monthly. Every album review ends with a list of three or four musical acts or concepts, some of them tongue-in-cheek. For example, at the end of a review of Green Day's American Idiot, the reviewer might write, "R.I.Y.L.: Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, The Ramones, singing in a fake English accent." (Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong, who is from California, generally sings as though he were The Adenoidal Lord of the London Guttersnipes. I'm not sure why he does that, but Joey Ramone used to sing that way, too, so maybe it's just a cherished pop-punk tradition.) My point, and I do have one, is that we could do this with our music collections, too. What's stopping us from slapping a sticker with R.I.Y.L.s onto CD jewel cases of lesser-known bands, to help boost their circulation? Why shouldn't we do the same with DVDs?

  • Staff Picks -- we see this at book, music, and movie stores all the time. It's so easy & cheap to do, and we should include every staff member's selections -- janitors, student assistants, cataloguers, librarians, administrators, whoever -- just set up a shelf next to the circulation desk (hello, impulse shopping!) put a big, colorful sign over it that says "Staff Picks!" and then encourage staff members to write 1 or 2 sentences about what's so great about their books of choice, posting the comments immediately below the books (which should be displayed face out, so that their lovely cover art is shown off to its best advantage).

  • Patron recommendations & reviews -- I'm thinking of something along the lines of the customer reviews feature at Amazon.com. I've been told by the IT gurus at my library that there is a module of our catalogue software, Innovative's Millenium, that would allow patrons to write reviews of catalogue items, and I really hope they install it. I think this would make the catalogue not only more interactive (a good thing), but also more user-friendly (an even-better thing). If you prefer a more low-tech route, encourage enthusiastic patrons to write brief (no more than 250-word) reviews of their favorite new titles for the library newsletter. They get their names in print, you provide a service to the wider community, and you look like the responsive, interested people you are -- everyone wins!

Any other ideas floating around out there? Anyone got a new & interesting (or old & interesting) niche-interest connecting method that's working for them? Let's hear about it!



Having a long day in the library? Tired of another person asking for the red book on a high shelf they took out last year? Looking for a laugh, and for some understanding of the highs and lows of working in a public library?

Then check out Unshelved, a comic strip by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum set in the public library of "Mallville."

Just like your public library, Mallville has Reference Sampling Week:

Its patrons like the Internet:

And the library has a summer reading program:

All images used with permission.

To find out more about the cast of characters -- the Branch Manager, the Reference Librarian, the Children's Librarian, the Young Adult Librarian, the Mascot, and assorted patrons -- there is a handy primer.

You can view the daily strip on the website; get it daily via email; and catch up on the comic strip from the very first by either looking in their archives or buying one of the books or other tie-in merchandise. I am the proud owner of the no longer available "What Would Dewey Do" T-Shirt, and I want to get the "Book Club" T, complete with Book Club rules (the first rule? You Do Not Talk About Book Club.)


Must Read: Ann Arbor District Library

Well, looky here. I believe I blogged about the clever people at AADL a while back -- now they've got several blogs going (many of which are aggregated on the main page -- smart!), including an audio blog, a books blog, and a video blog, all of which keep their users up-to-date on new additions to the catalogue and other important events (such as the MTV VMA nominations announcement!). Here is a library that is using RSS feeds & blogs to serve their community and to toot their own considerable & worthy horn at the same time. Bravo!

MTV Music Video Award Nominations

MTV announced the 2005 Video Music Award (VMA) Nominations yesterday. Pop-punk band Green Day led the field with eight nominations, including Video of the Year, Best Group Video, and Viewer's Choice. Other lead nominees included Gwen Stefani, whose first solo album, Love Angel Music Baby (which not at all coincidentally the name of her clothing & accessories line as well -- can you say cross-branding, everyone?) has yielded 4 hit singles so far, and awards favorite Missy Elliot with six nominations for "Lose Control", the first single off her new album. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs will host the August 28th Awards Show from Miami.

So, what does this mean for libraries? Plenty! The VMA list is arguably more important than the list of Grammy nominees, for a couple of reasons. First, this is a list of nominees who are doing truly interesting and often innovative things with their video sales pitches. The video for Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (which is for my money, one of the best pop songs of the last year, whipsawing between lonesome melancholy and authentic rage) is a mind-bending thing of beauty. For every piece of vapid eye-candy nominated, there's at least one piece of fascinating short-film genius. Second, the VMA nominees represent a more accurate cross-section of what a huge demographic of this country is listening to and watching. If that's not a mandate for collection development, I don't know what is.

So, take a look at the complete list of nominees. Like all nomination lists, it's long and a bit daunting at first, but read it with a view towards seeing what names crop up again and again -- these are acts that dominate MTV's daily call-in video request show, TRL, week after week, which means that they are acts that your library users, ages 10-16 or so (this age range will skew younger & older, depending on your community's listening habits), love to listen to. Therefore, they are bands whose CDs you should offer in your collection. You probably buy Coldplay, U2, and The White Stripes for your adult users, so apply the same criteria for your younger users. They want & deserve their Green Day, Kelly Clarkson, Usher, and so on. Check your library's catalogue and see what you already have; then see what else you can afford to buy.

If you don't already have a budget line for tween & teen popular music, beg or borrow money from other budget lines to start a small collection, and then promote the heck out of it: in conversation, on your library's website, in newsletters. I cannot keep most of my Teen Music collection in its browser -- it always looks sad & picked over because it is (well, not sad, but certainly picked over), and this is a very good thing. These are items that earn their shelf space.

Next, think about hosting a VMAs party. This could be your last hurrah for your Teen Summer Reading Party, or you could consider it a warm-up to a bigger, multi-age-group extravaganza like an Oscars Party for next winter. Order some pizzas, haul out all of your music magazines and nominated artist CDs, display them attractively with all of your music-related books, hook up the TV, and away you go. If you don't have cable in your library (come to think of it, I don't think my library has cable), hold the party after the fact using a videotaped copy of the show. Or just start small with a tie-in display. Go at your own speed, but go, go, go!


An Interview with Lara M. Zeises

On her website, Lara M. Zeises is described as "Dorkus Extremis and pop culture junkie, not to mention the young adult author of Bringing Up the Bones and Contents Under Pressure." I think I can speak for all of us at Pop! by saying that Lara's definitely not a Dorkus Extremis in our book, especially since she was kind enough to agree to be interviewed by me!

1. What is your favorite thing about being an author? What is your least favorite?

My favorite thing varies from day to day. But first and foremost, I have to say there's nothing better than getting paid to do what you love. Whether it's write books, or teach classes on writing, or speaking to YA advocates about books and writing and reading - it's all very, very lovely stuff, and to make an actual living off my passion ... that's rare.

My least favorite thing is a purely grown-up concern, and that is I don't have health care insurance. You don't care about things like benefits when you're 16, but at almost 30, not having medical insurance is kind of scary.

2. You've chosen to take your second book, Contents Under Pressure, beyond the confines of a book by having the main character continue her story in a LiveJournal. What have you discovered about writing and your characters by doing this?

It's a lot harder than it looks to keep up Lucy's journal. It's not because it's journal format but because A) my editor originally asked me to try to not lock Lucy into any plot lines in case some day they might want to do a sequel and B) Lucy now is almost two years older than when the book ended. In fact, she turns 16 at the end of August. Lucy @ 16 is very different from Lucy @ 14, and I have to keep track of that whenever I write a new entry.

Fans of the journal are rabid, though. They want more, more, more! It's flattering but a lot of pressure, especially when I'm under a zillion deadlines.

3. As you write your books, have you found that working as an instructor at a university helps shape your characters? What about the teens you interact with during your workshops?

While I like working with my freshmen at UD, and the teens who take my writing workshops, I rarely use them as inspiration for characters. Sometimes I'll bounce ideas off my UD students - like, when I got the first draft of the cover for ANYONE BUT YOU, I asked them for feedback. But mostly my characters are born in my brain, not in the classroom.

Although that's not entirely true. One student of mine last fall intrigued the hell out of me, and I was thinking of writing a book based on her life. She was the only girl in a family full of cops and military men, and she knew from birth pretty much that she was expected to go to law school and get into politics. She was someone who had beliefs completely opposite of mine, yet she was so genuine, smart, and cool that I adored her. So I wanted to see if I could write from the perspective of someone completely opposite from me.

4. Many people love reading your LJ because of your great love for pop culture. What do you like about pop culture?

Pop culture IS my culture. Technically I'm part Russian, part Lithuanian, and part English, and technically I'm 100% Jewish, but I was raised without religion and without any sense of ethnicity. So, pop culture gave me a context in which to exist. Television played a huge part in that. I can chart most major moments of my life by what was on TV at the time. For instance, the Fresh Prince, Blossom, and the casts of SAVED BY THE BELL and 90210 graduated high school the year I graduated high school. The rerun of the series finale to THE WONDER YEARS? My mom and I sobbed to it two nights before I left for college. Felicity entered NYU my first year at Emerson (where I got my MFA in creative writing).

See what I mean?

5. What five pop culture artifacts (games, toys, books, CDs, anything!) would you want to have on a desert island?

My iPod
A TiVo-ready TV w/ digital cable
A lifetime subscription to Entertainment Weekly
My tiny rubber figurine of The Little Prince with the fox, because they watch over me as I write
And Scrabble - but only if I'm NOT alone on the island.

6. Finally, a question from all the members of Pop Goes the Library!: with all you do, when do you find time for sleep?

*laughing* I don't sleep much, really. And then I'll go through a week or two where that's all I can do. The best analogy I can come up with is that I'm like an associate at a law firm, where I need to work 60 to 80 hour weeks and have little to no personal life because eventually, in three to five years, I'm going to make partner. And once that happens, I can actually slow down a little and pay attention to life. That's where I am: a midlist author still trying to make a name for herself. Hopefully it will pay off eventually, you know?

Lara's new book, Anyone but You, will be published in November by Delacorte. Many many thanks to Lara for participating in this interview!


looking for the fantastic

Many, many critics have opened their reviews of Fantastic Four by making comments about how this movie is not-so-fantastic. I'm going to avoid the easy joke, but it's certainly true that I didn't come away from this film with a lot of disappointment, since I didn't have high expectations.

I personally preferred the more low-tech, less-glossy feel of this movie, in particular the costume for the Thing. Sure, they could have used computer animation and made him look real, but that's not what we go to movies for. And the fact that I knew it was Michael Chiklis inside that costume, and the latex allowed for actual emotion instead of computer-generated expressions . . . well, I think it added to my enjoyment of Ben's character. And it's certainly Ben Grimm who comes across the best in this movie.

The Human Torch has always been my favorite member of the team, since he's just so much fun. Compared to Spider-man, who he's often teamed up with in special mini-series, Johnny Storm is positively giddy. He's immature, a loudmouth, quick to fly off the handle . . . yet you can still count on him to do the right thing. Even more than other Marvel characters, Johnny rings true. I enjoyed Chris Evans' work in this, but he'd have to really get it wrong for me not to enjoy seeing this character on the screen.

I've never really been able to get a handle on Reed Richards or Sue Storm in the comics, and the movie doesn't do anything to help me with that. Unfortunately, I feel that both actors are miscast, and particularly in Jessica Alba's case, I didn't buy her at all. But hey, that's just my opinion. I will say that the presentation of Reed's stretching was very well done--there were shots of him that looked like they were right out of the comic books.

The villian of our piece was well done, at least. Julian MacMahon makes a charismatically creepy Dr. Doom, and really brought the character to life for me. I read that it was MacMahon's idea to have staples closing a wound on Doom's face, rather than a bandage. Very good idea on MacMahon's part.

For people who want more Fantastic Four, you can steer them towards Ultimate Fantastic Four, which has been written by Brian Michael Bendis and Warren Ellis: Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three.

There's also Mark Waid's highly-praised ongoing work on Fantastic Four: Volume One (Hardcover), Volume Two (Hardcover).

And of course, there's the movie adaptation.


There's A Jedi In The Library

The extremely cool children's librarian at my library has a book discussion group for kids ages 8 to 12. It's cool because the kids are an equal mix of boys and girls; and Miss P is cool because the kids decide what book to read next. So a few months ago when the kids agreed they wanted to do Star Wars, Miss P said OK, despite having never watched any of the movies or read any of the tie-ins.

Instead of worrying about "what one Star Wars book will everyone read" or "which Star Wars movie does everyone need to watch", Miss P realized that Star Wars is one story told through various media: books, graphic novels, games, and oh yeah -- a movie or two or six. She told them to come to the book discussion ready to discuss the story of Star Wars; and if you have things about the story you want to bring, bring them.

The local paper had just run an article on adult fans of the movie series (the link is no longer public but is pay-for-the article), and Miss P reached out to one of the fans mentioned. RJ Armbruster, from The New Jersey Order (a Star Wars fan organization) agreed to come to the program.

The program was wonderful. Over twenty kids (boys and girls) attended, bringing everything from lego models to lightsabers; some came in costume. The themes of the movie were debated, there was trivia, games, and a Darth Vader cake. And the Jedi in the library? That was RJ, who came in costume, spoke about the movies, books and games, fandom, and everything Star Wars related. A highlight of the evening was R2D2, a voice activated robot.

If you're interested in doing something similar, including have a fan guest speaker, The Force is a Star Wars fansite that includes links to local fan organizations.

For days after the program, we had customers saying, "I think I saw a Jedi in the library."