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.


Librarians Invade Comic-Con!

Kudos to NPR for covering this angle -- I was one of the librarians attending Comic-Con this year -- and I'm delighted that the reporter chose to interview David Serchay & Eva Volin for this piece! Anyone know how many of us were in attendance? More on CC later!

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Fun Friday: Happy Anniversary!

No, it's not Pop Goes the Library's anniversary, it's mine. Five years ago today, my husband decided I was worth putting up with full-time. So for Fun Friday, I bring you anniversary traditions and ideas.

Most people know that the 25th anniversary is the "silver" anniversary and the 50th is the "golden," but many don't know that every anniversary has a certain gift attached to it. For example:

The 5th anniversary is traditionally the "wood" anniversary, with a modern gift of silverware.

The 11th anniversary is the "steel" anniversary, with a modern gift of jewelry. (Of course, being the girlie girl that I am, I think every anniversary is an appropriate time for jewelry.)

This August, my parents will celebrate their 35th anniversary, which is the "coral" anniversary, with a modern gift of jade.

Of course, nothing says anyone celebrating an anniversary has to follow any tradtion, but I find these gift ideas fun and inspiring. For the wood anniversary, why not give an acoustic guitar or plant a tree? For the steel anniversary, take a trip to Pittsburgh (and while you're there, have a Smashed Potato pizza at Fuel n' Fuddle for me). My favorite might be the paper (first) anniversary: BOOKS!

One of the coolest anniversary traditions I've seen is from author/blogger Peg Kerr. Peg and her husband Rob take what they call "tunnel" pictures, one of which you can see here. Every five years, they get a portrait done, and in those portraits they're holding their anniversary portrait from five years earlier.

Gifts or no gifts, I'm happy to celebrate, and I think the husband is just happy that I didn't request a wedding cake that looks like this.

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Breaking Dawn Parties on YALSA Wiki

For those librarians wanting to hold a party in celebration of the August 2 release of Breaking Dawn, the final book in Stephenie Meyers' wildly popular Twilight series, Angelina Manfredi has very helpfully compiled party activities, treats, and giveaways for your event! Ideas come from members of YALSA's YA-YAAC listserv, and are posted to YALSA's wiki.

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Wednesday Night Lights: Tor.com

Many of you know who Tor Books is. As the publishers of Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Orson Scott Card, Andre Norton, Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, and many more--sometimes it seems like every science fiction or fantasy book is published by Tor--librarians are very familiar with them and their work.

This past Sunday, Tor launched a giant interactive social community at Tor.com. In addition to offering interesting posts and discussions from Tor employees and other experts in the field,* Tor.com has downloadable art, free fiction, and until Sunday, 24 free downloadable books from the Tor catalog.

Not only is this an exciting opportunity to take part in an online community hosted by the biggest science fiction publisher out there (how serendipitous is that?), but you can get some free books!
*In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those experts in the field. I write on all matters short fiction.

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The Real Life League of Real Superhero Stories

It took 70 years, but it seems that pop culture has finally finished digesting the Superhero and begun to regurgitate the idea in the form of stories about how weird the idea is. With this past week's progressive sample release of Dr. Horrible, the Whedon's Supervillian Mad Scientist Musical Laundromat Love Story, the release of Hancock featuring Will Smith as a drunk, disillusioned superhero, and the momentous unveiling of the first trailer for the hotly anticipated film version of breakthrough graphic novel Watchmen, stories that essentially ask "what if superheroes were, like REAL or something?" are bigger than ever.

Watchmen, which follows cataclysmic events in the life of a second generation of superheroes, some of whom inherited their characters from their parents, is very heavy stuff; in addition to giving graphic novels a much needed shot of legitimacy that has yet to wear off, it singlehandedly broke open the world of superheroes by actually exploring how the world might react if people actually dressed up in spandex and fought crime. Now, some people actually do dress up in spandex and fight crime, but we'll get to that later. The idea of Superheroes in a real world, or at least acting something like regular people without all the stilted superfriends-speak and unironic catchprases, keeps coming up again and again, from my favorite show Venture Brothers (which owes much to Ben Edlund's Tick) about the weak, self-absorbed but super-scientist grown son of a seemingly superhuman titan of achievement, to Disney's surprisingly unawful tween-targeted Sky High, about the freshman year (at a floating superhero high school that might as well be called 'Superwarts') of the son of the world's mightiest superheroes, who also happen to be high-powered real estate agents; and of course, The Incredibles, which could somewhat fairly be described as Watchmen recast as a sitcom. All these projects break one of the cardinal laws of Superheroes: no attachments other than a single love interest, and for darn sure NO OFFSPRING. Just crossing the family dynamic with the superhero tropes provides so much wonderful friction that it's certain there are superhero family dramas (and superhero family sitcoms) in development. Seriously, how long can it be before someone decides to remake The Greatest American Hero?

However, as the Incredibles explored a bit, there is enormous potential in the ridiculousness in the world of Superheroes, or, as Warren Ellis and boingboing have redubbed them as a result of DC and Marvel attempting to enforce their recently-renewed 1979 'Superhero' trademark, Underwear Perverts. One of the most inspiring films in this area is the underappreciated Mystery Men, based loosely on a spinoff of misunderstood genius Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot Comics. There's a scene in Mystery Men where the main characters are auditioning potential new members of the team; and the parade of goofballs and their elevator pitches about their superpowers (The Waffler carries Truth Syrup, which is Low Fat) looks to me like a really fun idea for a library program. Have a panel of superhero judges to see superhero auditions, or give kids time to make their own costumes and form their own super squad and shoot a commercial for their services, with awards for awesomeness, ridiculousness, and outlandishness. With the right group, that could be an absolute blast. Maybe you could even get a real costumed hero to come inspire the audience.

Because there are real-life superheroes, of course. You may well have heard of Angle Grinder Man, who freed the booted cars of London, or heard Terrifica on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, a woman who protects the drunk girls of the bars of NYC (and has an arch-nemesis, Fantastico). Mexico has Superbarrio, protector of the weak and organizer of labor rallies, and here in Michigan we have FoxFire (not a web browser), who helps those in need as part of a shadowy organization known only as the "Nameless Few". Some of these people are bringing attention to their cause, others are tongue-in-cheek but not entirely kidding, some are sweetly earnest, and others are downright serious. If you can stand a bit of a web time warp (and a well-intentioned but not very comprehensive resource), you may wish to check out the World Superhero Registry to see if a caped crusader is available in your area.

Regardless of intent, the superhero is here to stay, and these ideas have left their Marvel & DC cradles and made the leap into the real world. They're even spilling out of their rightful place on the Graphic Novel shelf and storming Dewey's fortress of Solitude. In addition to numerous scholarly works about superheroes, a new book coming this october explores the plausibility of Becoming Batman and what it would realistically take to reach Batman's level of martial arts and technological prowess. Next up is a book about parenting twins, and how to activate their wonder twin powers.

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Fun Friday: Reed Memorial Library Cake Pan Collection

A friend in Ohio informed me recently that her local public library, Reed Memorial in Ravenna, has a collection of cake pans that it loans out to its members. Not only that! They provide OPAC access to them, too. Alf! Playboy Bunny Head! Elmo! Diego! He-Man! NASCAR! R2-D2! The list goes on! You can't place holds online, but there's a friendly note in the record directing interested patrons to the Children's Desk, where you can flip through the book of photos of the pans, and place a hold in person. According to the library's Policies page, cake pans (like DVDs) may be borrowed for 7 days, and the fine for overdues is $1/day.

Obviously, I had to know more about this collection, so I e-mailed the library and was granted this interview with Esther Cross, Head of Children's Services, and the creator/maintainer of the cake pan collections.

1) How did you decide to start the Reed Memorial Library's Cake Pan Collection?

We were doing Birthday boxes with theme cake pans. The pans were popular, not the boxes.
[In a previous e-mail, Esther also noted the following:] I started the cake pan collection in the early eighties. It has been growing every year. I bought the first cake pans from a donation. Our collection now grows from donated pans and buying the newest pans. We have over 300 pans.

2) I see you've got quite a range of pan styles -- how popular is the collection? What kind of patron feedback do you receive?

The circulation varies from pan to pan. Barney has gone out 68 times. Others only once or twice. We sometimes add pans because of patron requests.

3) How easy is it to maintain the collection? Do you ever retire certain pans, either because of lack of use, or due to overuse (for example, if a non-stick pan loses its non-stick coating)?

We wash the pans that need a little extra care. They are circulated in bags with the barcode on the bag and a note to please wash before and after use. We have had to retire pans that came back damaged but not often. They are more likely to just not be returned.

4) Do you offer Interlibrary Loans of your pans? Do you also offer cake decorating supplies or workshops?

No, we don't interlibrary loan our pans. They do not transport well. People outside our county have gotten a library card here so that they could check out our pans. We do not offer decorating supplies, but do include directions for decorating the pan. We are updating the instructions to color pictures since we have the new technology.

5) I love that the list of cake pans is accessible through your OPAC -- any chance you'll be adding photos to the records online?

We are working on adding pictures to our catalog but have no idea when it will be done. We have pictures of the pans in the Children's Room for people to look at.

6) Do you do any programming with the pans? Cake taste testing, recipe contests, cake decorating programs, etc.? How extensive is your cookbook collection, particularly the baking books?

We often use our pans for library programs. I have done simple decorating programs but most often people use our pans with classes they take at other places. We have had people use our pans for the county fair and to make wedding cakes.

Thank you, Esther! I love this (so far as I know) unique collection idea, and my head is spinning with tie-ins -- cake-decorating programs, events with master bakers in the community, cookbook collections designed to tie in with the pans themselves, baking contests, a library cookbook! Fabulous.

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Pop Culture Things I am Addicted to Right Now

AKA, the kind of post Sophie is writing right now because she is taking two summer courses (never again, gentle readers. Never. Again.) and is doing lots of busy behind-the-scenes book stuff with Liz. Big fancy reveal coming soon. Also, I've been meaning to work these links seamlessly into posts on other topics, but that kind of sophisticated stuff is just not happening these days.

**Edited to Add**: How could ever forget Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? This might get me kicked out of the Whedonverse Fan Club. Mea maxima culpa, Joss! Watch now, thank me later. Seriously, watch now -- Act 1 went live yesterday, Act 2 goes live on the 17th, Act 3 goes live on the 19th, and after the 20th they're gone (until they come out on DVD).

Cute With Chris -- hilarious weekly video podcast (subscribe with YouTube or iTunes, or just view at Chris's site) that is both about cuteness and utterly satirizes & skewers cuteness.

Guillermo del Toro -- Genius. Of course, my favorite movie critic of all time, Mr. A.O. Scott, can make anyone seem like a genius if he likes them enough, but really, del Toro rocks in a very old fashioned, deeply odd way. We just watched Pan's Labyrinth this weekend and although it made me cry like a baby at the end, I found the creatures fascinating (apparently the ones in Hellboy 2 are very similar) and I just couldn't wait to see what happened next. I am placing holds on his other films at my local library, and putting the other ones in my Netflix Queue.

Band on the Diaper Run
-- on days when I wonder to myself what the heck I think I'm doing working full-time when I have a toddler, I read this blog and get a grip. I applaud Jason & Kori for making their family life mesh so seamlessly with their work life, and I realize that no matter how vexed or frazzled I may feel, my life is way less complicated than theirs. (I'm also glad they make it work, b/c I love their music.)

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Interview with YALSA President Sarah Debraski

Newly inaugurated YALSA President Sarah Debraski was kind enough to answer our burning questions about pop culture, YA librarianship & lit, leadership, and parenthood. (Questions are in bold, answers are in standard text.) Thank you, Sarah!

1. As YALSA president and a mom, what kinds of pop culture do you find time for? Movies, music, trashy TV?

Thanks to Netflix and Tivo I still manage to squeeze in quite a bit of tv and movies. My husband and I are really hooked on watching entire tv shows on dvd. This spring we watched Twin Peaks (I had not watched it when it originally aired and was totally taken in by it.) I admit to also being in the midst of watching 21 Jump Street and the Bob Newhart Show. The Office, That 70s Show, How I Met Your Mother, Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, Futurama, I love them all. It would be embarrassing to list any more than that, so I'll just say that we watch tv every night and I don't even consider it a guilty pleasure, it's just a plain pleasure.
Movies I see much less frequently, the most recent were Juno and The Queen (liked them both.)

As far as music goes I generally do not listen to much that's popular and you might even say I'm stuck in the past. I love Neil Young, Pearl Jam, and the Beatles. But I also like Ben Folds, The Decemberists, and Band of Horses.

Since I am the mom of a three year old I will tell you that I also watch Thomas the Tank Engine, Curious George, and occasionally Bob the Builder or Caillou.

2. What do you see as libraries' role in shaping and expanding pop culture?

As purveyors of media tie-ins libraries are intrinsically linked to pop culture. I think that libraries can show people (of all ages!) how interconnected cultural phenomenons are and how pop culture isn't something new (So You Think You Can Dance vs. American Bandstand --everyone wants to dance on tv!). More importantly, pop culture is a valid part of our overall culture, so it is imperative that libraries work it into their collections. Pop culture certainly includes books, too. The cover of this week's Entertainment Weekly has Twilight on it and a big feature on Stephanie Meyers. How can libraries ignore pop culture when we are part of it? By being part of it and encouraging trends, libraries can definitely shape pop culture.

3. What's one piece of advice you have for all YA librarians?

You don't have to act like a teen to get along with teens. You're an adult, they know it and you know it. You can be approachable, friendly, warm, but don't try to be something you're not (good advice for YA's too!)

4. What's your favorite YA novel and why?

This question hurts me because how can I choose just one?? I love Sarah Dessen, Shannon Hale, Sharon Shinn, Rob Thomas, The Cure by Sonia Levitin, anything set in a boarding school, and the Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden. The Marsden books are exciting and terrifyingly real. I love them because not only are they good stories, but also because Marsden doesn't talk down to his audience. His books inspire you to think about topics that are difficult, uncomfortable, sad, and scary. To wrap that up in a package that is also such good storytelling is the mark of a very good writer, I think.

5. Can you share some tips on family/work balance -- it's unusual (and inspiring!) to see a parent of young children so involved in our profession at the national level.

Thanks, Sophie! I did leave my job when I had my son three years ago, and now I have an eight month old daughter as well. It was a hard decision for me because I very much wanted to be at home with my kids, but I didn't want to let go of my profession. Remaining involved in YALSA turned out to be a good balance for me. I've carved out "work" time at home and my husband supports my involvement by staying at home when I travel. The best tip I can give to anyone would be to accept having a messy house. Seriously, when I have a few minutes to myself I sit down and read a book rather than pick up toys. I do a lot of work at night, but I always take time to sit down at the end of the day and watch a little tv and then read in bed. I'm still dedicated to my profession and right now I'm serving teens by being part of YALSA's leadership, which in turns helps others working directly with teens.

6. The theme for your presidential year is going to be Engaging the YALSA Community. Can you talk a little bit about how you chose that theme, how you hope to see it build on past YALSA achievements, and what successes you think it will set the organization up for in the future?

I started thinking about this theme when our membership numbers were growing by such leaps and bounds. I was considering all the different people I know in YALSA, some of whom I'm very close to. I thought it was interesting that while two people might both call themselves YA librarians, they might have very different careers, depending on so many factors--size of library, community, budget, administrative support, geography, etc. I also started thinking about YALSA members who don't work in traditional libraries--authors, online educators, consultants, and so on. I thought it was neat that YALSA could bring all these people together with a common goal of serving teens well, and I wondered how that could be built on. I wanted to make sure that YALSA could reach out to all its members, no matter what their role in young adult librarianship might be and I wanted it to go both ways--YALSA reaching out to members, members reaching out to YALSA. So, that's how Engaging the YALSA Community came about. I think YALSA already enjoys a high level of commitment from its members--witness our active committees, filled e-courses, and active discussion lists. The fact that we offer ways for members to be involved without attending conference is also great. This year I'd like to see that expanded upon and encourage people to become even more involved. I think it will definitely set up our organization for even greater success. Members will be invested in the association's growth and success and YALSA will continue to be the authority on young adult librarianship.

7. Being an active member of ALA and YALSA requires commitment and time. Some librarians have to persuade employers that it is a good investment of their time and their library's professional development dollars. What talking points would you suggest to librarians looking to convince their employers of the benefits of YALSA involvement? What are some of the things you think YALSA can do to help involve those librarians who cannot afford to travel to two ALA meetings a year?

The two most important things I would tell an employer are:
  • investing in employees is logical--you are investing in a staff who will make your library the best it can be, it's an investment that returns to the library, the community, the teens
  • young adult librarians often work in isolation;building a professional network is invaluable in terms of support and knowledge sharing

YALSA offers opportunities for those who can't attend conference in the form of discussion groups and interest groups, the blog, and the listservs. (Additionally, for those who wish to serve on a committee but can't attend conference, ALA policy allows 1/3 of a process committee to be made up of virtual members.) There are also opportunities to publish with YALSA. During my year I'm hoping to see more online social networking for our members.


Jenny Han of The Longstockings looks at Bookswim and asks a very good question: why pay for something the library gives us for free?

In true blogger fashion,* I ignored the question Jenny was asking and didn't even look further into Bookswim. Jenny does, with a few test searches to show that your local library collection is probably better than Bookswim.

To me, the heart of Jenny's great post is this:

I know people are all about the renting these days (prom dresses, movies, designer bags, groceries) but why fix something that isn't broken? The library works just fine and it's free. Are we so lazy that we need the books delivered to our doorstep?

In the comments, I responded how my love for things like Netflix is founded in convenience rather than laziness. Given a finite amount of time and a seemingly infinite number of things to do, having the option of checking one thing off the list while still getting great service is wonderful.** So what about you? Do you love/hate/never tried services like Bookswim and Netflix? Why? Go join in the conversation over at The Longstockings.

Personally, to back up to the library part -- I think for some of us, convenience does indeed trump free. Add to that, sometimes the service is better -- I've twice had lost DVDs with Netflix*** and they never gave me a trouble, as compared to the attitude some libraries give over lost / claimed returned items. Plus, no late fees! I can have the item as long or as short as I need! I can wait for the weekend to watch my movies, rather than in the 3 days libraries give me.

I think libraries are at a crossroads: are we more about community? Carlie has a great post about the books v community center issue; and personally, I fear that the more we say "hey we are a community center" the more responses we will get that are "cool then let's close the libraries and spend the money on community centers with small book collections."

Jenny's post reminds me of two things: the community does think of us first and foremost as being about the materials, even if some libraries and librarians don't. And if we give that identity up, someone else - like Bookswim - will step in. When that happens, those who cannot afford Bookswim, or who still like the place of the library,**** will lose something valuable.

So what can libraries do? Based on my own selfish desire for convenience, the idea of mailing books is a great idea. Some libraries have been doing it for decades. What about remote bookdrops?

Final word: while I enjoy "mail to me" service, with gas prices going up, economically it may be a good idea to start offering book services that go beyond the "drive to me" option.

Cross posted at Tea Cozy.

*Blogger fashion -- using someone else's post to go off on my own tangents, rather than the questions they raise. C'mon, I do it, you do it -- admit it!

**I'm talking about Netflix; I haven't tried the other services like Bookswim.

*** Lost in the mail. Both items eventually turned up.

****I still love browsing books on shelves! But Netflix shows a electronic database can be browsable.


Friday Fun: Happy birthday, Melissa!

Today, our very own British TV maven and dear friend Melissa is celebrating a birthday, so I think we should all gift her with our current favorite pop culture links.

Mine is Musicovery. Some days I feel like listening to Metallica. Other times, I'm more in a Tori Amos mood, or sometimes I just want to shake it like a Polaroid picture. Musicovery will let me tell it on a matrix whether I want music that is more energetic, positive, dark, or calm, and at the same time I can tell it what genres of music I like so it knows not to give me Keith Urban when I really prefer Boys Like Girls.

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What a Day for Sports! Are Libraries Ready for the NeXt Generation?

What a day yesterday was in the world of sports. I spent a good portion of my Sunday watching Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play in the Wimbledon tennis championship on television in a nearly 5 hour tennis match that was the longest men’s final in history and probably the greatest ever. Nadal finally bested 5 time Wimbledon Champ Federer to win 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7(8), 9-7. It was the best tennis match that I, personally, have ever seen. Both players were courting history. Nadal sought to win both the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year which had not been done in 28 years since Bjorn Borg and his wooden racquet in 1980. Federer, was playing for a 6th consecutive Wimbledon win which had not occurred in over a century.

To continue the sports Wow!-dom, I then watched Dara Torres set a new American record in the 50 meter freestyle at the age of 41 in the Olympic qualifying trials. Yes, you read right. Torres, the former Olympic Champion and mom qualified for the Beijing Olympics in both the 50 meter and 25 meter freestyle events. Quite an accomplishment in a sport that favors swimmers in their teens and twenties. Why did Torres start swimming again? To get in shape after having a baby. Then Torres discovered that she was beating everyone in the pool. And the rest is history, literally.

Then there is also World Series pitching champ Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox who won his last world series game at age 40 and surfing champ Laird Hamilton who still rides the big waves at 44.

So, what does all this have to do with libraries? Well, it leads me to wonder what libraries are doing to support a new generation of readers and library users with programs and services?

By “new generation” I do not mean the teens and tweeners, but rather the Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers who are shattering preconceptions of what middle-age and retirement should be. Many are taking up sports they once played as kids and teens, such as tennis and jogging/running. Others are onto second or third careers, or are using their professional skills to volunteer at local non-profit organizations—perhaps including your Friends of the Library group.

So the question for libraries may well become not “Are libraries ready for teens?”, but rather “Are libraries ready for the teens’ parents and grandparents?”

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The Dawn-ing of a pop culture phenomenon

Some books surpass the title of "book series" and go into "pop culture phenomenon." The Harry Potter books did this, and Christopher Paolini's books, and Stephenie Meyer's books. All of these have garnered not just fans but academic analysis. I've read and reviewed a new essay collection about the Twilight series, called A New Dawn, and you can read my full review here:

Thirteen essays by YA authors of varying popularity tackle themes of romance, vampires and werewolves in literary tradition, morality, the neverending question of whether Edward Cullen is the greatest boyfriend in literature or an out-and-out sociopath (my vote is firmly with sociopath!), and self-sacrifice.

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Pop Culture, Graphically

Thanks to Carlie, I've become a huge fan of the blog GraphJam. Subtitled "Pop Culture for People in Cubicles," it's a great site for looking at pop culture in a different way. Whether it's a pie chart about the demographic makeup of the midnight train to anywhere or a flow chart seeking solutions to a problem, GraphJam is sure to make you chuckle.

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Wednesday Night Lights: Software Guides

Recently I gave a presentation at the public library about social software. They wanted me to talk about nine different* social software/web 2.0 products (MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Blogs, Twitter, del.icio.us, Second Life, and RSS) in an hour-and-a-half. Not surprisingly, we went almost two hours and only gave the barest glimpse into what these products could do.

It was fun. I was happy to do it. And what made it even easier were Educause's 7 Things You Should Know About... series of articles. They had an article for each thing I talked about. Each article answers seven questions about the topic at hand:
  1. What is it?
  2. Who's doing it?
  3. How does it work?
  4. Why is it significant?
  5. What are the downsides?
  6. Where is it going?
  7. What are the implications for teaching and learning?
I showed the site to the people at the presentation as well as giving them the URL on a handout.** I first learned about these myself from the wonderful Librarian in Black with her post about Flickr. What a great resource!

If you need to give your own presentation about newer technologies (including things like Ning, Lulu, Skype, haptics, and on and on) this is a great place to start. They gave me better background information to talk in front of a group of people as well as being a resource that my audience could use later.
*ok, they only had six [MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Blogs, del.icio.us, and Second Life] listed in the programming description, but I felt YouTube, Twitter, and RSS needed to be talked about, and I didn't think I should remove any of the ones that were already listed in the calendar description...

**if I had only talked about one topic, or even a few, I would have considered making copies of the flyer for everyone, but I couldn't really make copies of all nine technologies for everyone.

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