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.


What's So Funny About Reading At Work?

I forgot if it was something I overheard at the recent NJLA conference, or something I read on a blog, or overheard in a conversation. But it was along the lines of this: that librarians should clear up the misconception that we "just read" at work by showing all the valuable work that we do. Outreach! Programs! Website stuff! Reference!

And I wonder -- what's so wrong with reading at work? Why do we have to let people know, "oh, silly, we don't read at work!"

Truthfully, shouldn't employees be encouraged to read during the working day?

Librarians are expected to give readers advisory. And to create booklists. To do storytimes. To visit schools to talk about books and read stories. Arrange author visits. Run programs. All these things require reading. And if the library discourages reading at work, when does this reading get done?

At home; not on library time. One of those things that librarians are "expected" to do.

So why do libraries discourage reading at work? Why don't they encourage it?

I think it's partly fear: if the patron sees someone reading, they will assume it's the equivalent of watching TV & eating bon bons. In other words, it's not something for work; it's something for fun. And why should librarians be paid for doing something that's fun? The patron is looking at that reading librarians and thinking, my tax dollars are being wasted.

I think its partly the belief that being a librarian is a calling, not a career. And since librarians enjoy reading, they'd be doing it anyway, so why make time at work? It's something you love anyway, so of course it will get done! But to tell the truth, sometimes I don't want to read another picture book or a teen book. I want to read something grown up; or I want to read something because it's what I want to read, not what I have to read.

Finally, I think its the belief that the reading will be a barrier to a patron approaching the librarian. "Oh, I don't want to disturb you." Except, the patrons say that anyway. If you're on the phone, if you're working at the computer, if you're helping another patron. So why should reading be any different?

If the issue is public perception, then the answer shouldn't be to go along with the misconception. Encourage staff to read -- and be loud and proud about it. And educate people that no, we're not reading; we're working. And that work happens to involve reading.

Some ideas:

  • Have posters in the children's area listing all the books librarians have read so far that year.
  • Keep a running total of all books read by staff on your website.
  • Have buttons: "We read so we can give you the best."
  • Just as you schedule desk time, schedule DEAR time.
  • Have an article in the local paper that explains why staff reading is important, and include numbers -- books published, books bought, books read, books used in storytime, books appearing on booklists.

Does your library encourage reading on library time? What ideas do have to let patrons know that it's a valuable use of staff?

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Blogging NJLA 2006

I've been a little quiet here lately, primarily because I've been working on three big things:
  1. The New Jersey Library Association's official blog. I'm the Blog Manager, and have been coordinating like crazy with my fellow blogging team members on our wiki (many thanks to Steven Cohen, who suggested it and gave us access to the PLA Blog planning wiki) and with our 4 event bloggers (one of whom is Pop's own Liz B), who will be helping to cover this week's NJLA Annual Conference. I'm particularly excited that the IT section will be hosting a podcasting station this year. You can grab the feed here.
  2. My co-presentation, called Feeding The World Information: Blogging, RSS, and Podcasting with John Iliff of Palinet. I'm covering blogging & RSS, he's covering podcasting. Fun, 2.0-esque feature: we've never met in person before. We created our presentation virtually. I'm very excited to see how this works (and based on our phone conversations, I think it'll go quite smoothly, indeed. I hope I didn't just jinx myself horribly by saying that.)
  3. Web 2.0 classes for the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative. Developing a class like this one is hard work, but it's so rewarding because it helps me clarify my thoughts about the topic.

(For those of you NJ Librarian bloggers who will be offering conference coverage from your own blogs, please tag your posts !)

Some Nice Press

My esteemed local newspaper interviewed me by e-mail two weeks ago, and published the conversation yesterday. Sweet!


Interview with Tanya Lee Stone

Tanya Lee Stone has written a number of picture books (including the timely for this week P is for Passover) and just published her first book for teens, A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl.

Liz B: A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl tells the story of 3 different high school girls who date the same "Bad Boy." It's a frank look at love and lust and desire. There's a point where Josie -- the freshman -- says, "I'm not stuck up. I'm confident. There's a big difference." And that line has really stayed with me, because there are many girls who enter High School with confidence and then it disappears. Nicolette and Aviva are totally different from Josie, but are also typical in some ways: Nicolette is the girl who is in control, and Aviva is the girl who is in love. What was your inspiration for A Bad Boy? Were Josie, Nicollete and Aviva always the narrators?

Tanya: My inspiration was the title and all it started to invoke for me as soon as it popped into my head. Josie was a narrator from minute one, although she did not yet have a name. For a while it was only Josie and I didn't know that I would be adding the other girls. Once her story emerged, though, I knew I had other perspectives to explore--other girls who would have been affected by this boy. It was a very linear experience. I didn't jump around from one to another. I wrote Josie first, then Nicolette, then Aviva. I got to know them all really well. And now that real teens have acted out the parts in a play I scripted, I've gotten to see them come alive on the stage.

While writing the book, I kept thinking back to high school and college and the ups and downs of dealing with guys who weren't good for us. It didn't matter what kind of girl you were--pretty much everyone was susceptible to a bad boy at one time or another. And what it had most to do with was what we needed to learn about ourselves. Learning from mistakes is a big part of navigating relationships--finding out what pushes your buttons and why, what you're not willing to compromise about, what matters to you, and what doesn't. Josie, Nicolette, and Aviva all share one very important thing; they all become more self aware and therefore, more empowered.

By the way, at one point there was a fourth girl named Lauren, who I took out of the manuscript before ever submitting it. As her story came together for me, I realized her main conflict didn't have that much to do with our bad boy. Lauren needs her very own book, and she'll get one some day soon, but she didn't belong in Bad Boy, so I took her out. That was the one main change I made to the plot throughout the entire process.

Liz B.: You were an editor for children's books for over 10 years. How does that experience help you now that you're on the "other side" as a writer?

Tanya: It helped in a huge way--I had been working on craft all along! Seriously, I probably edited 500 books before I ever wrote one. I knew a lot about what to do and what not to do and had already spent countless hours doing both conceptual editing and line editing, which amounts to a whole lot of writing. I also had a good sense of what I was looking for in a writer and in a manuscript, and now I try my best to deliver what I would have wanted to receive.

I also learned a lot about how NOT to submit--having received countless submissions--of adult fiction, romance, thrillers, etc...--that never should have been sent to me as a nonfiction children's editor. By the time I was ready to submit, I had a jump on the learning curve.

Liz B: In your VOYA article about (Now and Forever: The Power of Sex in Young Adult Literature), you say that books are possibly the safest place for teens to learn about sex. I totally agree. When I was in High School, the only teen books with sex were Forever and Norma Klein; after that, it was off to the adult section of the library or book store. It's nice to have a multitude of choices now, but I do wonder at those who don't want to see sex in teen books. Don't they remember that teens will still read about it, except it's the Judith Krantz version of sex?

Tanya: Well, I can't speak to what they know or remember, but I know how I feel about it, and I'm so glad you asked this very important question! Whether or not parents and kids want to be reading about sex is a personal decision, but for those who do want to read about it there are plenty of good choices today. I've been frustrated with the media's portrayal of this issue. The conversation has been incredibly one-sided and the goal of the media seems to be only to alarm, and not to inform. It baffles me as to why the same old story--told in the Wall Street Journal, NBC News, the NYT, and Newsday--about "racy reads" and "dangerous" books is still news--and they're even talking about the same books over and over again. Instead of focusing only on the mass-market "sexy" books, why not also look at some of the other YA books out there that are offering readers a safe environment in which to explore confusing and volatile issues. For me, I have already gotten plenty of feedback from high school readers that A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl has helped them either process something that happened to them, or that they gave it to a friend to help prevent a bad situation.

Also, I think many of the people who don't want to see any sex in books are falling for the old "ignore it and it will go away" rationale. For the high school kids who want and need to talk about this issue, we should be helping to point them in the direction of books that reflect their reality with sensitivity and care. Books are not the enemy. And some books may be just the ally a teen needs.

Liz B: What are you working on now?

Tanya: Some creative nonfiction and another YA novel.

Liz B: At Pop Goes the Library, we like our pop culture. What is your pop culture area of expertise?

Tanya: I'm a bit of a Sex and the City junkie. If I'm watching TV at 11 pm, you can bet that's what's on, and if I happen to come across it at another time, I can't not watch it. It's pretty hard to stump me in a who-said-what game. Go ahead, try me! Oh, and here's something I'm forever being teased about. You know when a minor character pops up on a show and everyone is trying to figure out what show they'd seen him in before? I'm your go-to-girl for the answer!

Liz B: I so want Carrie's apartment. And now I know who to call when I get "where did I see that person" itis while watching a show.

Thank you!


Interview With Jess Lourey

Jess Lourey is the author of May Day, the first in the Murder by Month mystery series. How cool is it to have a murder by month and for it not to start in January? Mira James, grad student, leaves Minnesota for a part time job in a library in rural Battle Lake. She's barely settled in when she finds a dead body in the stacks.

I've been enjoying reading Jess's blog, particularly what she has had to say about the publication process and promotion. At the same time Jess agreed to answer a few questions, Justine Larbalestier (author of Magic or Madness) has been blogging about writers and self promotion; I found it interesting to read all the things Jess is doing.

So, on with the show! Or at least, the Pop Interview. And find the answer to how many queries does it take to get an agent.

Liz B: May Day is a fun read -- and I'm quite happy to find out that its a series, and we get to see more of Mira. Can you share with us a bit of the process, from thinking of "Mira, library, murder" to publication? Did you originally think of this as a series?

Jess: OK, my mom is an English teacher, and I come from a long line of crossword-puzzle-loving book readers who value the written word, so I've always been in awe of books. I had written horrible, self-involved poetry in high school and college, and a couple short stories, but never dreamed of writing a book until one day, out of the blue, I decided to do it. That book became my Master's thesis, and it's called Purple-headed Thistles. It's mainstream fiction and about three women on a road trip. I had a heckuva time publishing it, so tabled it and started reading mysteries.

I started out with Tony Hillerman and branched out to Sue Grafton, Carl Hiaasen, and Janet Evanovich. When I read Evanovich, that was it. I thought, "I want to do this. I want to write a funny mystery that makes people forget about their life for a couple hours." That was the kernel for May Day. I was living in Battle Lake at the time, a tiny and quirky Minnesota town, so that became the setting. Mira, the protagonist, followed a similar path as me to get to Battle Lake--high school in Paynesville, college in Minneapolis, stumble into Battle Lake--but once she was there, she encountered a whole different life than me, one with murder, mayhem, and hot guys.

Once I had the plot line sketched out, the book really began to write itself. I hate it when authors say that because come on! If books wrote themselves, we'd all be writers. The truth is, though, that characters take a life of their own and do things a writer would never imagine them to do.

I finished May Day in 2003 and was rejected 50 or so times until I came across this nugget of advice on a mystery-writing website: "If you're writing a mystery, write a series. That's the only way it'll sell." So, I took that advice to heart and wrote June Bug, the second book in the Murder by Month series. I also hired an independent editor to help me get May Day from 45,000 to 60,000 words and to pump up my character development. After I had a bionic May Day and a complete June Bug, I sent out 100 query letters. Before the rejections started coming in, I sent out 100 more. Then, I sent out 100 more. By this time, rejections were pouring in, but so were some nibbles, and I had too much momentum going to back out.

I signed with my first agent in the summer of 2004. She wanted to go with publish on demand, which wasn't the direction I wanted to take my fiction, so we parted ways amicably and I quickly found a new agent, who signed me to Midnight Ink in January of 2005. Midnight Ink bought June Bug in August 2005 and Knee High by July, the third in the series, in February of 2006. My plan is to finish all twelve months, in Battle Lake, with the original cast of characters (minus a few dead ones, here and there).

Liz B: I'm impressed that you looked at the market (series sell better than standalones) and revised and wrote accordingly. Now that May Day is published (and the second in the series, June Bug, slated for a March 2007 release), the promoting has begun. There's the website and the blog; but also traditional book signings. How much time are you devoting to marketing? What marketing strategies are you using? And how much is the publisher involved?

Jess: Now you've gotten to the heart of the matter--promotion. I had done enough research beforehand that I knew promotion was going to be a lot of work, and even more time-consuming than the actual writing of the novel, but none of that prepared me for the reality. Since February 2006 (the book came out on March 1, 2006), I've been averaging 25 hours a week on promotion, including:

  • Booksignings (Brian, my publicist at Midnight Ink, has been great about setting these up for me all over Minnesota and Wisconsin). Booksignings are generally demoralizing in that you sit at a table in the middle of a cavernous Barnes & Noble, as people walk by you and try not to make eye contact. You feel like the girl who wore her prettiest dress to the dance and spends the whole night alone in a corner. There are up moments, like when someone talks to you (and it doesn't matter if they buy a book--it's just nice to have someone talk to you), or when you meet the bookstore people.
  • Library and school presentations (Brian set up one, and I'm setting up more). These are great fun for me. Teaching pays my bills, so I enjoy talking to a group of people and having an exchange of ideas. These presentations have also been good book selling opportunities as people are more inclined to be interested in your book if you've already entertained them for an hour.
  • Buying and distributing promotional materials. I received a grant from the Lake Region Arts Council, my county's art board, for $1200 worth of promotional materials, and I bought pens that change colors, magnets, book bags, bookmarks, Nut Goodies (the candy of choice of Mira James, the Murder by Month protagonist), and t-shirts. I wouldn't order the book bags or t-shirts again, but the pens, bookmarks, magnets, and Nut Goodies have gone over well.
  • Sending out review copies to bookstores, libraries, and reviewers. Brian has been a great help getting review copies in the hands of media and reviewers (including getting May Day reviewed by Kirkus and Publishers Weekly), and I've worked the library and bookstore angle. Brian supplied press kits, and I supply the book and some promotional materials. I only send the review kit to bookstores and libraries who have requested it after receiving a postcard from me.
  • Contacting local media for television, newspaper, and radio interviews. My hometown newspaper, the Fergus Falls newspaper (near Battle Lake, where the Murder by Month mysteries are set), the college newspaper where I earned my degrees, and the newspaper in the town I currently live in were all happy to do full interviews. I also got on two local radio shows and the local television station by calling them and playing up my local angle.
  • A book launch party at the local library. The Friends of the Library supplied the space and food, and I gave away prizes and sold books.
  • Getting friends to review May Day on amazon.com. Ha! I actually did get a couple family and friends to do this, but I also had a complete stranger or two positively review May Day, so whee!
  • My publisher has been very generous in that they made sure May Day is on the new paperbacks table at all Barnes & Nobles and Borders books. I'm doing my best to repay that confidence in me by stopping at all Barnes & Nobles and Borders I am close to and offering to sign stock.
My marketing blitz for May Day is winding down (I hope!), and I've actually gotten back to my writing schedule, which is good because the deadline for Knee High by July is June 1st. I do have some book clubs I'll be speaking at in May, and I will possible be doing some events in Battle Lake in May (though they have been tight-lipped about May Day there), and I have a Wisconsin library/bookstore tour coming up the last two weeks in June, but hopefully after that, I can return to my reclusive writing lifestyle. Oh wait!!! I do online interviews with fabulous people from New Jersey, too.

Liz B: You did your homework and it shows. And I love the part about the grant (and pens!! Who doesn't love pens?)

OK final question -- at Pop Goes the Library, we are all about pop culture. What is your pop culture area of expertise?

Jess: Oh sweetie, I am all ABOUT pop culture. I know that Reese Witherspoon wasn't supposed to wear Dior to the Oscars but snuck in with her vintage gown, that Mr. T.'s character on the A Team was BA Baracus and he was afraid to fly, every plot line on every single episode of Sex and the City, that Ryan Seacrest is dating Teri Hatcher but it won't work out because he's gay...I could go on. Sometimes I feel guilty that I had to stop reading People and switch to Us and Star because all the human interest stories in People were getting in the way of the good stuff, but I get over it.

And I'm not just attracted to pop culture as a voyeur. As a sociologist, I think it's a valid and really freaking fun branch of human study. I'm currently in the middle of co-writing a pop culture research essay that I hope to have published. It's called "She's Driving the Car: Gender, Miscegenation, and Sexual Orientation in Gigli," and the abstract is at http://www.jesslourey.com/research.html.

If I had to say what my area of expertise in pop culture is, though, I would have to say it is the intersection of feminism and pop culture. There's been a clear shift in the portrayal of women in film, television, and magazines since the days of Charlie's Angels (the television show), and the way it both undermines and empowers women is an area that deserves further study. I wanted that to be a central theme in May Day--how the popular culture of the 80s, 90s, and today affects us as women, and how we can take the good and leave the bad and ultimately define ourselves.

Liz B: Thank you very much!


More on Patron Kryptonite

Well, it seems the stars were aligned last week for discussion of what Aaron calls user-hostile library policies (goodness, that second post is a doozy -- ouch!). New to the biblioblogosphere is Library Garden, a blog written by New Jersey librarians, which featured two excellent posts on this theme. And now, today, I see this photo in Michael Stephens' photostream. The red letters say it all: Too Many Policies.


Interview With D.L. Garfinkle

D.L. "Debby" Garfinkle is a former lawyer and the author of Storky: How I Lost My Nickname And Won The Girl. Storky is Michael Pomerantz, and he has dreams for his freshman year of high school: ditch the "Storky nickname" and haven Gina notice him. Meanwhile, he's being forced to volunteer at a nursing home; his Mom's dating his dentist; and his Dad's dating a string of bimbos. Storky is on Bank Street Excellent Teen Books List.

Liz B.: Storky is such a fun book, and Michael is such a real character that I'm always a bit surprised to think, hey, Debby isn't a fifteen year old boy. How did you channel your "inner Michael"?

Debby: Thank you! I was obsessively self-googling the other day, and found a teenager's blog which talked about STORKY. He said, "This guy published his diary he kept when he was a teen." I felt really good that my novel seemed so authentic to him! Note that I wasn't trying to pull a "Go Ask Alice" fraud though. The cover of STORKY says "A Novel" on it, and my bio in the back of the book notes that I'm a female lawyer with three children. I've always been a bit of a tomboy. So I already think like a male in some ways. Also, I have two brothers and one of my best friends in high school was a guy. Actually, he still is a guy and we still talk. And it really helped to have two male writers in my critique group and a male editor at Putnam. They all kept telling me to add more sex. Also, at the time I was drafting the novel, my friend's teenage son helped us move. He talked about cars, cars, and cars, so I knew I had to include cars in the story.

Liz B.: Storky was your first published book. What will we see next? And what are you working on now?

Debby: Putnam should publish my young adult novel STUCK IN THE SEVENTIES in the summer of 2007. In that book, a wild Valley girl from the present passes out drunk in a Jacuzzi and wakes up in the bathtub of a male honor student in 1978. I loved writing about disco, afros, Neil Diamond, and other silly stuff from that time period.

I also just signed on to do a three-book young adult paperback series--Beverly Hills 90210 meets The Lovely Bones meets Making the Band. I think it will be lots of fun.

Liz B.: From one former lawyer to another -- at what point did you realize that the Law, or being a Lawyer, wasn't right for you?

Debby: I went to law school at liberal UC Berkeley. The summer before I graduated, I worked long hours for a big New York law firm where I represented a nuclear power plant (LILCO), a nursing home with a bunch of patient care violations, a slumlord, and a company fighting environmentalists in order to develop property. This all occurred in ten weeks! No kidding! I think they were testing me. I hated not being able to look at myself in the mirror without wanting to throw up. I also hated the long hours.

I turned down a job offer there to work for the federal government for about one-third of the pay. I really liked that job and stayed for nine years, the last three part-time. I sat in a little office in back of the courtroom and researched and wrote appellate decisions for a wonderful judge who I kind of used as a model for STORKY's Dr. Berman. I was writing all day, so of course I loved it. And it was great practice for fiction writing, because at times I had to be, uh, very creative.

I quit my law job not because I didn't like it, but because I wanted to spend more time with my young children. I thought I'd return to law practice one day, but writing novels is so much more fun. I told my husband the day Putnam offered to buy STORKY, "This is one of the best days of my life and one of the worst days of yours, because I'm never going back to practicing law."

Liz B.: Pop is about using pop culture to improve libraries. What is your Pop Culture area of expertise?

Debby: I have so many! I love MTV. I watch music videos while I exercise on the Elliptical, and love shows like Punk'd, Pimp My Ride, and Room Raiders. I'm so immature, I have to write for teens. I'm also a reality TV show nut. And I've subscribed to People Magazine for the last fifteen years, usually reading it cover to cover as soon as it arrives.

Thank you!

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