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.


Getting Over the Rainbow Party

Thank you, Marc Aronson, for rebutting so beautifully and succinctly all that is wrong with the seemingly endless summer parade of hand-wringing articles and op-ed pieces regarding What Is Wrong with YA Literature.

NB: Free 30-day registration at PW.com required to read Aronson's piece online, or you can read the print version in the August 15, 2005 issue of Publisher's Weekly.

Hip-Hop Week on Fresh Air

Everyone's favorite interviewer (well, maybe not everyone's -- Gene Simmons couldn't seem to get along with her, but I rather think he's the exception to the rule), Terry Gross, has delved into her impressive backlog of interviews with Hip-Hop's greatest and put together a really fun and fascinating slate of programs for this week. Yesterday covered the form's roots in the Bronx, featuring interviews with DJ Kool Herc, Melle Mel, and Grandmaster Flash. Today keeps things on the East Coast with Russell Simmons, Darrell McDaniels of Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and Public Enemy's Chuck D. Tomorrow Terry ventures to the West Coast with interviews from Ice-T and Ice Cube. I can't wait to see what Thursday & Friday bring.

If hearing these interviews whets your appetite for more Hip-Hop history, I highly recommend reading Hip Hop America, by Nelson George and Yes Yes Y'all, by Jim Fricke.


Television Crossovers

A crossover is when a character from one story crosses over in the world of another story.

Television crossovers can happen for a number of reasons. A continuation of an earlier show: The Brady Bunch and then The Brady Brides. Or an engineered spin-off: Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. Or cross promotion: characters from established shows showing up on the show right before or after their own show: Friends, Mad About You, The Single Guy. Sometimes its subtle and jumps networks: Homicide Life on the Street and Chicago Hope.

Whatever the crossover is, you either love them -- like I do -- or think its nutty. I, for one, think its pretty cool that the world of Law And Order is in the same world as The X-Files.

You don't have to be a TV junkie (or someone with the ability to remember unimportant details and trivia) to know your TV crossovers. This amazing site, the Crossovers and Spin Offs Master Page, has it all. Not only does it mention specific crossover moments from shows; it then proceeds to link the shows that share the same reality. It includes all decades and all shows. You'll be the star of the reference desk with this unique source for all TV crossovers.

Best of the Best

During the recent ALA Annual Conference, 100 "best of the best" young adult books were selected by YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association). The 100 books were from 1994 to 2003, and includes both fiction and nonfiction. The full list is here. (For some reason, I couldn't find it on the ALA website itself. If you can find the link, I'll edit this and add it)

I LOVE lists like these. I like them for collection development (do we have this book?), weeding information (in other words, if its on this list, don't), and as a personal and professional guide and benchmark. Have I read the books? Have I at least heard of the books?

My score: I've read 54 of the 100, and I'm happy to say that those 54 are fairly equally spread out for all 10 years and for fiction and nonfiction.



The film version of Speak (based on Laurie Halse Anderson's book of the same name) will air on Showtime on September 5th at 9. And for those of you (like me) who don't get Showtime, Speak will air same date, same time on Lifetime.

Speak is an extremely popular teen book and an extremely good teen book. Melinda starts high school traumatized by something that happened over the summer, and she is ostracized by the entire school. Sounds dark and depressing? Your heart will hurt for Melinda. But at the same time, Melinda's new role as outsider lets her comment on her life and school in a way that is humorous.

The DVD of Speak will go on sale on September 27. I guarantee that you will have teens looking for this movie, and you will also have teachers looking for it as well.


Is Posh Spice Welcome At Your Library?

Thanks to LISnews, I found this interesting article about Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice: Posh: I've Never Read a Book.

Let's ignore the "never" for now (seriously, not even Hop On Pop when you were 6?). And let's put aside that this is a snippet from an interview. And let's not go into her "autobiography": its not a secret that celebs don't write their own books.

This is your potential customer. Do you laugh at her at her? Do you talk about her behind your back? Or do you direct her to the things your library has that she has said she likes: "I prefer to listen to music, although I do love fashion magazines." Show her your popular music collection. Show her your magazines and explain what issues can be checked out. What about non-fiction books about fashion and couture?

And do you hear what she says about reading -- "I haven't got enough time" -- and conduct a respectful Reader's Advisory interview? Maybe she's unaware that books can be fun, and would be interested in a fictional behind the scenes, gossipy look at the fashion world, like The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger.

Or maybe her "not reading, preferring to listen" attitude is the key point of this conversation. Maybe she would be interested in your audiobook collection.

And maybe -- after you've listened to her, and shown her some suggestions, and been friendly -- maybe she'll come to the conclusion that the library is a welcoming place, even for someone who "never read a book." And she and her sons will come back for a visit.

It is highly unlikely that Victoria Beckham will show up at your library. But it is very likely that you have customers who, like Victoria, claim never to have read a book; not to have the time for reading; and who prefer music and fashion.

Is there a place at your library for them?


Info Tech Is Our Job, Redux

I wrote about this issue earlier this year, and I'm happy to see it back on savvy LIS bloggers' radar, this time in the form of Andrea Mercado's charmingly titled Geek Out, Don't Freak Out classes. She's just taught the first class in a proposed series, this one on digital cameras. As her recap shows, these courses do not need to be a big-budget extravaganza to be effective and serve a need to one's community:

I went over the basic anatomy of a camera, and encouraged people to ask questions and fiddle with their cameras as we went along, which they did. One attendee came to the class because she's shopping for a camera (she didn't have one with her, so she got to play with the library camera), so the hands-on playtime was helpful not only in picking one out, but knowing what to look for when she goes to Best Buy to play with the display models.

We didn't take as many pictures as I would have liked, but this class was helpful to everyone mostly because they just wanted to know their way around their camera. After we played with settings, pushed all sorts of buttons, opened and shut little flap doors, and flipped through manuals, the attendees really had the sense that not matter what digital camera you have, you really can just turn it on, take a picture, and look a your picture or download it. The features were no longer intimidating, they became interesting toys to experiment with.
(Emphases mine.)

Here is a great example of a public librarian with an interest and some level of expertise in a given area observing a need in her community, and filling that need. Anyone can do this! You don't have to hire expensive instructors, you don't have to break the bank buying lots of technology (note that in this case, the students brought their own cameras, or tried out the cameras belonging to the library), and you don't even have to have a classroom full of people to make a course like this worthwhile. Way to lead by example, Andrea!


Library & Librarians Image Round-Up

Well, no sooner do I vent my total exasperation with the failure of public libraries to market themselves effectively than I find some heartening news.

The first (and most cheering) tidbit comes from Ann Arbor District Library's Erin Helmrich (alert readers will remember her as the author of the article that inspired me to create this very blog), who understands that libraries & marketing go together like chocolate and peanut butter, via a lovely plug from YPulse:

"This summer our version of 'viral' marketing was to give out rubber-bracelets that we had custom made with our AXIS [AADL's teen services] logo and out website address - library was *not* written anywhere on it - and they are flying out the door!"

Well done, Erin & Eli!

The second is more of a mixed bag: on the one hand, libraries got a plug from the excruciatingly (but not tragically) hip public radio magazine This American Life (scroll down to the episode titled "Image Makers" to listen via RealAudio). On the other? Well, Andrea says it best:

Sadly, the segment showed a bit of how far we have to go on that front. Even though Ira Glass lovingly described the concerts, many of the librarians and library workers came off sounding…well…like frumpy librarians. I winced when a woman addressed a group of 9-14 year olds with the globally-annoying "Hellooo boys and girls" and spoke in a sing-songy voice. I cringed when circulation workers plugged their ears at the icky rock music. You could HEAR the sweater sets. Are we really that bad?

Happily, Andrea and her commenters provide a lively & useful exchange of suggestions on How Not To Behave In Front Of The Young People. In the long run, I hope that the Future Taxpayers Of America in attendance at the awesome-sounding concert will remember the awesomeness, and not the cringing of certain rawk-hating members of library staff. (Via librarian.net)

Must Read: Popwatch

Sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you. You ask questions I wonder about, like "Whatever happened to Joey Lauren Adams?" (Turns out she's alive and well and editing her directorial debut.) You poke fun at your own magazine's absurdly early Oscar predictions. (Really, guys, what were you thinking?) You expose the seamy underbelly of Jack radio (who, in the Philadelphia Area, goes by Ben, and is voiced by the recently scorned-by-Dancing-With-The-Stars J. Peterman). You are an embarrassment of riches. You are my new ultimate 1-stop shop for all things pop. I think we'll be mining your content for library-related ruminations of our own (minus the cud, of course).


World Future 2005, Part 2

There were a lot of interesting things and a lot of very, very smart people. I'm just going to give some Conference highpoints that touch on either pop culture or libraries:

Science Fiction as the Mythology of the Future by Tom Lombardo, Ph. D., website: The Odyssey of the Future. Was mostly about adult science fiction literature, but did include Ursula Le Guin. Some recent studies on boys & reading conclude that boys are reading, its just that their reading preferences aren't taken seriously; this is an excellent reference if you need to show that science fiction is literature and not fluff.

Education: Prognosticating Change by Blake Godkin, Rodney Hill, and Jonathan Kotinek of Texas A&M University. Future education should not be about delivering content (ie "knowledge majors") but rather about knowledge producers. Class work shouldn't be about delivering information, but rather about the process of using that information. Two quotes: "students would be responsible for getting information on their own" and "content is easy to find." Sounded to me like libraries would still be critical to helping students find that content.

Entertainment of the Future: Celebrities as an Alternative Reality by Heriberto Lopez Romo of the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales S.C., Mexico City. Celebrities are our new gods. No, really: not in having god like powers, but rather that celebrities reflect our modern mythology, with celebrities reflecting our values, and each celebrity reflecting a different value. So it's not that we care about Jennifer Aniston; it's that right now, she is reflecting the Wronged Wife (or perhaps Cold Career Woman?) and that is why we care. It's the story we project, but the story isn't from jealousy or gossip or whatever: it's because we still have a need for myth. As for celebrities of the future: if sports continue to be Pay Per View, we will have less and less sports stars because their public will be unable to watch and we'll be seeing more "made to order" celebrities. It was a bit tongue in cheek, but at the end the presenters argued that Madonna's daughter Lola is a "celebrity by design."

Blogs & the Global Conversation by Andy Wibbels of Easy Bake Weblogs. In some ways, this was the scariest program of them all; because for how smart the Futurists were, the number who knew nothing about blogs and the impact of blogs was incredible. Maybe those who attended were not reflective of the membership in general; but I have been looking for conference bloggers and so far have only found Responsible Nanotechnology.

World Future 2005, Part 1

My library sent me to a different type of conference this year: World Future 2005: Foresight, Innovation and Strategy, the Annual Conference of the World Future Society. It was held the last weekend in July in Chicago.

From looking at the Participants list, the only other library organizations that attended were ALA, the New Jersey State Library, and the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative. Yes, that's right: 3 of the 4 are from New Jersey.

Overall, it was an interesting mix of people, with men outnumbering the women and -- to put it bluntly -- more older than younger people. The Conference was a real mix of people and thoughts; it would be impossible to put one label on anything. Speakers ranged from philosophical to practical, from optimistic to pessimistic.

Programs that touched on libraries included education (what will future education look like?), aging (if people are getting older and are healthier, what does this mean for both our customers and our staff?), retirement (or rather that people won't be retiring), technology, security, --- well, just about anything. Often, libraries weren't specifically mentioned or were only touched on in a presentation; but there was a lot to think about, a lot to take back to the library for discussions about where libraries are headed and what libraries will look like in 50 years.

Some drawbacks: I found mixed reactions from people when I said I was from a public library and explained that my library was concerned about the future of libraries, what the library of the future would look like, etc. The reactions of those in the education programs were positive; but outside of that... Well, I had one pony-tail man say, "teens like the Internet. You should have internet." Thank you Mr Pony Tail Man for giving me that amazing insight. You haven't been in a library in 40 years. But what a reminder that if librarians and libraries don't make themselves heard and aren't vocal about who we are and what we do, we get condescending remarks about getting Internet computers. And then there was guy who couldn't understand why a librarian would be interested in a program about "The Challenge and Future of Cultural and Religious Diversity." What does that have to do with libraries, he asked? Again, after the initial "you don't know libraries" response, the message was obvious: libraries are failing to get the message out that we are diverse.

If I got nothing else out of this Conference, it was that we still need to do outreach and marketing. We still need to connect with those who don't know us and don't come to the door and think of the library as just a building with books and people who go "sh."


Cathy Belben

Up until a few months ago, Cathy Belben was a high school librarian in Washington. Now, she's a writer for the critically acclaimed Veronica Mars. Our readers know that the librarians of Pop! are quite the fans. How did a high school librarian from Washington who didn't have TV service end in in Hollywood?

I promised not to be an annoying fangirl begging to know who's at the door and Cathy kindly agreed to answer some questions about writing and Veronica Mars.

While those of us who are fanatics about either Young Adult literature or Veronica Mars, or both, are familiar with the amazingly awesome way you got your current position, could you please recap for those readers who haven't heard?

About 8 or 9 years ago, I read and loved Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas, and wrote him an email telling him how I loved the book and asking for advice about my own writing. He responded graciously, and after a few more emails, agreed to read a couple of my stories. He liked them, and encouraged me to pursue my writing. We became friends via email, met a few times, and stayed in touch over the years. When Veronica Mars was picked up last year, he asked me to consider coming to LA to write for the show, but I wasn't in a position to give up my life in Bellingham, Washington, or my library job, so I turned him down. When VM was picked up for a second season, Rob again invited me to join the writing staff, and this time, I agreed.

What types of writing had you done before Veronica Mars?

Prior to Veronica Mars, I had never written a TV or movie script. (In fact, I haven't even had TV service for the past 15 years). Most of the writing I've done has been non-fiction articles for local publications and library mags. I've had work published in School Library Journal, The Book Report, English Journal, Bookmarks, Knowledge Quest, and The Bicycle Paper. I wrote a regular column for the Washington Library Media Association's journal, Medium. I now have a regular blog on Writers on the Rise, a website run by my friend writing guru Christina Katz. For years, I wrote short stories and published a number of them in English Journal, Cicada, and some Washington State literary magazines. The stories that Rob Thomas originally read were "The Patron Saint of Membership" and "Serious Repercussions" which were featured in English Journal as part of their literary contest.

What exactly does a "staff writer" on a television show do? What has been the most unexpected part of your new job?

A staff writer is a member of the group of writers who "break story" for the episodes of the show. As the person with the least experience, the staff writer is assigned the fewest scripts, and as in my case, may write scripts with a co-writer. I'll be writing my first episode with Phil Klemmer, which I'm very excited about. He's a very kind, funny, smart, and patient person and I expect to learn a lot from him. Probably the most unexpected part of my job is simply how fun it is. I didn't expect to suffer, of course, but Rob Thomas is one of the kindest, smartest, funniest people I've ever known, and he is a wonderful person to work with and for--the office is casual and fun, but the expectations for quality aren't sacrificed. We have a great time together, laughing and joking around, and the rapport this helps create makes our writing time more productive and easy-going.

How has your experience as a high school librarian helped in writing for Veronica Mars? And what is the biggest difference between being a high school librarian versus a staff writer?

Being a high school librarian has helped me a great deal. Besides having a feel for how teens think and act, I've also been able to use my research skills to gather information for the show. My own episode features a psychic, so I've been reading about how psychics channel their information from the Great Beyond or whatever. I read tons, and since I started working for Veronica Mars, I've been concentrating on fiction and non-fiction about crimes, criminals, deception, and detection.

Since Pop Goes the Library is about Pop Culture – what area of pop culture is your area of expertise? Books, graphic novels, music, movies, magazines?

I love books, and always will. I don't read as much YA now that I'm engrossed in writing for a detective show--I'm reading a lot of true crime--but I read widely from many genres, and lately have been focusing on non-fiction. Although I love music, I'm no expert. I read a lot of magazines--Esquire employs one of my favorite writers, Chuck Klosterman, and I never miss his monthly columns, and I've loved all three of his books. I'm also a huge fan of David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell.

Cathy, thank you so much for sharing your time (and we even got a teeny tiny spoiler, yay!) It's never too late to start watching Veronica Mars; the new season starts September 21st and the DVDs for the first season will be available on October 11th. For those of you interested in reading some of Cathy's earlier writing, go here.