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.


Fun Friday: This is Halloween, everybody make a scene!

Christmastime is nice, but I've always been of the opinion that fall is the most wonderful time of the year. Colored leaves, new sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes, and my favorite holiday, Halloween. Goblins and ghosts and ghouls, oh my! (And also, free candy.) This year, I'll be dressing as Jenny from the short story "The Green Ribbon" from In A Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz and Dirk Zimmer. Some green ribbon, a dress I already own, and poof! Instant costume. Hey, you gotta be creative when you can't sew.

For all of you who read Pop Goes the Library, I wish you the most spooktacular of Halloweens and offer these links for your Halloween-themed web browsing pleasure:

Have a fun Halloween, everyone, and remember to stay far, far away from the house that gives out toothbrushes.

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Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, was a guest on the Colbert Report last night. It was very, very good. See for yourself at the Colbert Report website.



Fun Friday Make-up Exam: Election Addiction

My last post was a lame cop-out, so here's what I had planned to write about: Elections A Go-Go!

My friends, you may need to stage an intervention. I am reading and listening to little other than election coverage, and almost every single other person I know is in the grip of a similar mania. When SNL is creating midweek specials on the election (fueled in equal parts, I believe, of the following: wanting to capitalize on Tina Fey's unimpeachably perfect impression of Sarah Palin; wanting to leverage the popularity of said impression into a ratings boost for Fey's show, 30 Rock; and wanting to make the most of the awesome chemistry between Weekend Update's Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers before Poehler went on maternity leave after giving birth to her son, Archie Arnett -- if you're reading this, congratulations, Amy & Will!), when you can view a really well-edited Obama vs. McCain dance-off (which I will not spoil for you -- it's work-safe, so click away), and when Jon Stewart & Steven Colbert's respective shows are pulling down better ratings than they ever have before, you know an election isn't just an election. It's a Pop Culture Event.

I know you didn't need me to tell you that. I'm just indulging in a little rhetorical flourish.

I'm curious about what libraries around the country are doing about the elections -- Presidential, Congressional, and local -- for their communities. At my school, the senior high library is one of the locations where students, faculty, and staff can purchase McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden t-shirts, so we have a display case decorated with sample shirts, along with student-produced information on the candidates and red, white, and blue decor of various types. We're holding a mock debate later this week, and I created a wiki for one of our Sociology teachers for her and her students to use in conjunction with a poster assignment she gave them for this week.

It's really all about the Presidential election at my school -- here in NJ, incumbent Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg is presently up by an average of 17.4% (you'll have to scroll pretty far down to see the NJ polls, but all Senate races are included there!) -- but your community may be more focused on a state or local election.

I hope you'll leave some information about and links to whatever your library is doing to celebrate Election Day. Meanwhile, here are some of my favorite resources, which tend towards blue & purple:

FiveThirtyEight.com -- this is probably my favorite site right now. I check it several times a day, because it's updated so frequently. Nate Silver, statistical wunderkind, breaks down, analyzes, and explains in plain English what frequently conflicting poll results actually mean. He's an Obama supporter, but this is a site about numbers, not about policy. While most of the site's coverage is specific to the Presidential election and how it will play out in the Electoral College, Silver & his team also offer comprehensive coverage of all of the Senate race polls, too.

The Christian Science Monitor's Patchwork Nation -- this project bills itself as "The American voter beyond red and blue, and how you fit in." You can take a survey to see how well you match your county's community type (there are 13 types, and each is represented by a blog written by a community member), follow project director Dante Chinni's blog, and evaluate the project's statistical methodology.

The Cheat Sheet from The Daily Beast -- I am not exactly cutting-edge these days, so I'll cop to not having heard of The Daily Beast -- Tina Brown's latest venture -- until Christopher Buckley's Obama endorsement in its pages got him kicked out of the National Review. Now that I have found it, though, I am a big fan. I love the variety of opinion, I love the intelligent irreverence, and I love love looove The Cheat Sheet, which is kind of a political Buzzfeed.

Campaign Stops -- This NY Times blog is written in the form of conversations between Gail Collins and David Brooks, two of my favorite columnists. I cannot wait for Brooks to publish another book. His 2005 book, On Paradise Drive, is one of my favorite works of popular sociology of the past 5 years.

This American Life -- Ira Glass & Company have been doing some truly stellar reporting lately on both the election & the economy. Great stuff!

My favorite historical perspective on elections & presidents & American political thought in general comes from Sarah Vowell, whose interview on this week's Studio 360 was, unsurprisingly, as illuminating as it was delightful.

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Watching TV without the TV

I was on vacation for part of last week, and once I got home and started to get back in the swing of things, I thought to myself, "I missed seeing Countdown a few days . . . thank God for the Internet." Because MSNBC has the last few aired shows available to watch--in easy-to-watch clips rather than the whole show--on their website. Thus, I was easily able to get my Keith Olbermann fix.

And that made me start thinking: are we at a point now where you don't even really need a physical TV anymore? Sure, there's still events that you're not willing to wait for the show to be available online, and Internet watching removes some of the community feel of TV watching. Yet for the most part, I think we're getting close to a tipping point. Between sites like Hulu and individual network websites, I think a large portion of the mainstream TV audience could let their TV sets gather dust while their broadband Internet connection gets a real workout.

However, there's a few caveats to this, and if you read that last sentence, you should be able to see the big two: "mainstream TV audience" and "broadband Internet". If you live in part of the US that doesn't have broadband access, and there's still a lot of places like that, you'll probably going to be using your TV still. And for those people who don't just watch CSI and Lost and 24, the restricted access to more unusual shows would probably be a deal-breaker.

Since I fall into the latter group, while I don't think I'm ready to give up my TV set quite yet, I have to say that I'm using the Internet more and more to watch TV. And in tough economic times, if I can find a way to live with waiting to see shows once they're online, I'd definitely dump my cable TV and use my TV to watch DVDs.

How about you? Do you think TV on the Internet is only going to keep growing, or will this be a flash in the pan? And what does this mean for our library services?



Friday Fun: If You Have Twelve Seconds To Spare

I just got back from the EXCELLENT Internet Librarian 2008 Conference, sponsored by Information Today...and yes, I did indeed **squee!** aloud to see Pop Goes the Library, The Book, on the cover of the catalog tucked into my nifty tote.

My brain is filled right up to the top, and I hope to have much more to share with Pop, The Blog, over the next few weeks concerning the conference and the amazing people there, but for Friday Fun, here's a quick little snippet.

Connie Crosby gave a great talk on Instant Audio and Video in which she discussed all sorts of very cool, cheap-to-free sites that allow online production and distribution of, yes, audio and video. One of my favs? 12Seconds.tv, which might be described as "Twitter with video." Each post is only, you guessed it, 12 seconds long. I searched the word "library" and came up with 89 returns, including a series called Biography of the Day, Cupcake Library TV (!!!), and, of course, a very nicely done SHHH! It's in "public alpha," so go request an invite! I just did!

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Friday Fun Substitute: American Libraries Update

George Eberhart, Editor of American Libraries, asked me to share the following with you all, dear readers:

I wanted to let you know about some important news about American Libraries.

1. Our weekly e-newsletter, American Libraries Direct, is now available to anyone who wants to sign up for it, not just ALA members. The sign-up form, as well as the FAQ, is at http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/aldirect/aldirect.cfm .

2. American Libraries has launched its own blog, AL Inside Scoop, http://www.al.ala.org/insidescoop/ . Editor-in-chief Leonard Kniffel offers an insider’s view of goings-on at ALA headquarters and what hot topics ALA staffers are talking about in the hallways. Associate Editor Greg Landgraf offers his perspective from “the lower floors” of what many see as the ALA ivory tower.

3. Login is no longer required to view the current issue of the American Libraries print magazine online (in PDF format), or to view the archives, which date back to the January 2003 issue. Go directly to http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/alonlineebrary/alonlineebrary.cfm . First-time viewers will need to install the ebrary reader to view issues. To download, go to http://site.ebrary.com/lib/ala/Download . Firefox 3 users installing the reader for the first time will need a workaround, http://www.ebrary.com/kb/users/ff3install.jsp , to make the ebrary reader work with their browser.

I realize that while this information is useful & timely, it doesn't really meet our usual standard of fun for Fun Fridays, and I have only the following to offer by way of apology: your correspondent is beyond exhausted due to participation in her school's Spirit Week, including chaperoning the Homecoming Dance last night and yelling her lungs out during the Field Events in support of the Class of 2010, who donated over 400 books to the Library Club's book drive. I owe you all one, is what I'm saying.

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Work Like a Patron Day? Which Patrons?

LizB: Posts such as Work Like a Patron Day bring out Devil's Advocate in me.
To start with, I do like the idea that we should look at our library with not just fresh eyes, but the eyes of our public, both old and new patrons, and customers of all ages. So making sure signage is accurate, facilities and equipment are clean, places are inviting and well kept? All good. Wondering, "if I were new here and wanted to do x"...

But, I'm leery of certain things. I don't think we can be, or should be, every thing for every person. And all too often, I think we as professionals are all too quick to second guess our fellow professionals to point out how they are doing it wrong.

For example, part of the original post was that "it was hard to concentrate with people walking
and talking around us." Which brought out a huge sigh. Because not a day goes by that there isn't a "silly patrons, asking for quiet! We aren't shushers anymore"post in the library blogosphere or listservs.

Does it take a Work Like a Patron Day for us to acknowledge that yes, some of our customers want quiet, even tho they tell us that every day?

And see -- that is some of our customers. To the person who did the original post, people are walking and talking. To the teen librarian, perhaps, they saw a bunch of kids at a computer enjoying playing games and talking to each other and thought "yes! this is not your grandma's library." To the reference librarian, they saw members of their bookclub chatting about next month's title and where to find discussion questions.

My question is, when we Work Like a Patron -- what patron do we work like?

Sophie: That's an important question -- what patron, indeed! Since libraries are open to every member of a given community, "patron" means many individuals representing many demographics. What you say about what "patron" means to different members of staff is actually a good way to look at it -- if every member of staff chooses a particular patron group to emulate on Work Like A Patron Day, then a given library should have a pretty decent picture of what different people are hoping to get out of their library experiences.

I think it would be a mistake to craft new rules around the observations gleaned from WLAPD, though: I'd rather see libraries using those observations as a way to open a conversation between library and community about what is expected, and what is possible, given the library's budget, staffing, hours, and space. I'd also like to see libraries use those WLAPD observations to implement small changes that would improve the overall atmosphere of the library. After working for a day at stations where keyboards aren't functioning properly and screens are all smudged up, I bet the in-charge-of-computer library staff would add "clean computer screens" to their daily routine and would ask the IT folks to fix or replace the keyboard. That's not rules, that's making the library as functional & clean as Kinko's, where their patrons might also be doing some computing.

Ditto the business of shushing/not shushing. I think many libraries are so into making internet-accessible computers available to the public that they aren't thinking as much as they could be about the realities of libraries as mixed-use public spaces. As you say, depending on the time of day and day of the week, the library is serving many functions to many different demographic groups, from quiet-seeking scholars to rambunctious families spilling giddily forth from storytime. I think the person Michael quotes in the entry you link to is really asking us to look at how & if we're offering spaces that are well-suited to the needs of our communities, rather than asking our communities to make do with the spaces we offer them.

LizB: "The needs of our communities" versus "the spaces we offer" really strikes a chord with me. My idea: the physical library would be something that did offer something for everyone. It would think about things like noise flow, so that children's storytimes and teens after school would not be a bother to patrons who need quiet. After reading the initial post, I also wonder about multiple internet rooms: one with enough space for 2 or 3 to work on a computer (be it games or projects) and one that is a quiet study computer room. Meeting rooms, information center, my dream list would go on and on and on, with, truth be told, the traditional library (books and other traditional resources) being a part of a larger community center complex, with professionals besides librarians being part of the center.

But, right now, especially with the current financial outlook, I don't see brave new libraries happening anytime soon. I think we are all going to have to "make do" with the spaces we have. Plus, I think we need to really think hard about what the mission of the library is: is it to have meeting space for business people, for example? Where is that funding coming from? What is going to be cut back to make that happen?

The sad thing is, sometimes? The staff computers are just as bad, broken, and filthy as what the public uses.

"Making do" doesn't have to mean "put up with it." Making do can mean having the meeting room program-free for certain days and times, so that people can have quieter spaces, or having quiet times in computer labs. And, I think, it means being honest with both ourselves and our customers that we cannot be all things to all people. How can we engage in that dialogue in a productive manner - meaning, it's much than saying "no, we cannot do it."

Sophie: Oh, I agree -- "making do" is making lemonade out of lemons, not saying, "well, we're budgetarily screwed, so, sorry, folks! You're SOL, too!"

This fits in well with what we wrote about in our book (warning! shameless plug for Pop Goes the Library: Using Pop Culture to Connect With Your Whole Community, available for purchase now!) about the importance of library services being specific to a given community, and being engaged in ongoing conversations with their communities. Just as we need to take a look at what pop cultural trends are speaking to our communities, so we need to look carefully at what usage needs are now, and how they may be changing. Maybe Community A sees a spike in homeless usage of the library and its bathrooms because local shelters are crammed, while Community B sees their computer usage going through the roof because once-spendy community members aren't replacing outmoded home computers because their budget can't stretch to afford it, and then Community C finds that its patrons want more fiscal health programming.

I think what Brian Herzog is getting at in his original post is that libraries are never done. Our policies are (or should be) always evolving, because the communities we exist to serve are changing, too. We're not going to please all of the people, all of the time, and that's hard to swallow, because as a profession, we like to meet our communities' needs. But by speaking honestly and working collaboratively with our community members, we can serve most of the people really well nearly all of the time. And that's what we should really be shooting for.

LizB: Absolutely! I can get behind that. I just hope that people see "work like a patron" day as a way to be constructive, with both the good and the bad, as well as figuring out who your partrons are and what they want and need; and that it's not turned into a "you're doing it wrong" day.

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Beyond Leveled Books

Beyond Leveled Books: Supporting Early and Transitional Readers in Grades k-5 by Karen Szymusiak, Franki Sibberson, and Lisa Koch; foreword by Sharon Taberski. Stenhouse Publishers. 2008. Copy provided by author.

A few months back, there was a conversation on Yalsa-Bk about reading levels. I had a couple of questions, so did what people usually do; turned to friends who are experts, Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of Reading. In addition to answering my questions, I found out about Franki's new book, Beyond Leveled Books, and Franki kindly sent me a review copy.

In the foreword, Sharon Taberski says, "Leveling does have a place in our classrooms - a practical one. It can help match a child with a range of books he's likely to be able to read on his own and during guided reading, and it can play an important role in helping struggling readers become more proficient. . . . [T]here's a lot more to teaching children to read than finding their levels and moving them upward. Children need to plateau in their reading. They need to consolidate their skills and strategies, to read widely and deeply, to increase their vocabulary, and to experience life and gain humor so that they have more knowledge and insight to bring to texts and consequently understand them better."

Libraries have books. And librarians. And librarians are very good at matching a book to a reader. But what we don't learn in library school is how to teach reading or how reading is taught. Which means when a kid comes in looking for a book, it's great. But when a parent (or teacher) comes in asking for level this or that, it's a blank, because for us it's about the book, not the level.

Beyond Leveled Books is also about the book, not the level. Aimed at teachers, it is a must read for librarians. While showing teachers why it is good to go beyond leveled books, it also works as a great primer as to what is a leveled book and how reading is being taught in the classroom. Yes, as public librarians we focus on the book; but it's also good to know what is going on in the child's classroom.

I'd further suggest it to parents who are trying to understand what is going on in their child's classroom and what is happening with their child's reading skills and how those skills are much more than a "level." What about comprehension, understanding what is going on in the book, etc? The authors and other contributors, all classroom teachers, explain some of the "critical needs" of their students, using examples, including how and when an adult can help the student meet those needs. The parent who complains about a teacher using picture books or graphic novels, or who doesn't use books grades above the child's grade, needs to read this book to understand better how reading is much more involved than learning how to read words.

The book is full of articles, reading lists, lesson plans, and suggestions to address a child's reading as something much more than a vocabulary level. Over and over, I found examples and illustrations of reading being more than words. When a child reads "right" in a sentence, do they understand they are being directed to look at a photo to the right of the text? Or do they think the author is saying "right!" How does a child learn about the use of flashbacks in a text?

I especially liked the ideas of grouping books by authors, characters, genres, series -- a wide assortment of ways that kids can find the book they want, rather than obsessing about what level they (and their classmates) are at. These suggestions for classroom libraries can easily be used in public libraries, for displays and booklists. The chapter on series books is perhaps my favorite, because I read them as a kid and read the grown up versions now (Nora Roberts is my comfort read).

The authors address one of my pet peeves about levels and reading above levels. When books are viewed as simply the sum of their vocabulary words, kids are given books above their age level that are best left for a few years down the road. The example in the book is The Giver, with a well-meaning teacher using this book with third graders. (While the book uses all school examples of this "reading up", I also see it happen with parents and relatives selecting books for kids). The teacher writing about this notes, "I understand the importance of giving children books to read that support their growth and development as readers. They won't make progress as readers if they read only easy books. However, there are better options for young advanced readers than young-adult books. Teachers need to look at more than the readability level of the book when book selections." She then notes that the theme of the book is just as important, if not more so, than vocabulary. When children are pushed into books that are above their comprehension, the result is books they won't reread once they do have "the life experience, cognitive development, and emotional maturity to truly comprehend the book." They also miss out on the books they missed in the hurry to rush them into older books.

Stories about reading include the authors mentioning their own children and their students. I am very thankful that in doing this, the authors presented a variety of types of kids and readers; there is no "this is how I raised a reading genius and so can you." Instead, this is about teaching reading, and teaching a love of reading, with a huge emphasis on how reading is more than just vocabulary and grammar.

As Franki wisely reminded me in a comment to a post of mine at Tea Cozy, "I have worked with lots of kids over the years who really struggle with reading and it is hard to love something if it is never easy enough to enjoy--thus the teaching how to read being essential. It is the teacher's/librarian's job to know books and kids well so that a child can find books they love--and books they can read. They go through the motions, and say they love lots of books, but when you talk more, they never actually finish the books or they've not understood the book. So, for me, it is a combination of the two--always."

Looking for how that combination works? Read this book.

Cross-posted at Tea Cozy

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Friday Fun: Think before you post!

It's a modern conundrum. The web never forgets, especially when you post drunk. Or email drunk. Or leave unfortunate comments drunk, or tired, or on youtube. The fire-and-remember habit of information posted to the web or emailed to colleagues can make for some embarrassing mornings after one clicks that send or submit button when one really shouldn't have. But no matter what the problem, software is the solution! Right? Obviously, especially this week, which saw the release of two new tools to help combat the menace of post-posting regret.

First, the geniuses at Google Labs have unleashed Mail Goggles. Why they didn't call this breakthrough new service 'Mail Googles' or 'Google Goggles' is unclear at this time. By default, when you try to send gmail late at night on the weekends, Mail Goggles will require you to answer 6 math questions before you can actually send the message. The hope is that when you see how slowly you subtract, you'll realize that it's really not the right moment to tell your coworkers, relatives, or supervisors exactly what you think of them. If you are also frequently intoxicated on weeknights, Google's got you covered; you can adjust your Mail Goggles settings to best reflect when you're most likely to send email you later regret. While there's no doubt that this new service ushers in a entirely new era of judgmental software, it does make sense, given their history, that Google released this service just about as far away from April 1st as they possibly could.

But it doesn't end there. Recently, webcomic genius Randall Munroe, creator of the simple but sublime and ultranerdy XKCD posted this comic suggesting a virus that would force youtube commenters to hear their comments read back to them aloud before they could be successfully posted. Youtube comment threads can be repulsive pits of unintended hilarity at best, and horrifying indictments of the direction of our society at their worst, and obviously someone at Youtube thinks so too, as the feature that XKCD proposed last week was rolled out this week. While this breakthrough new feature falls clearly short of Randall's vision of compulsory readability, the addition of the Audio Preview button to the Youtube comment form not only establishes Webcomics as the primary driving force in web application development, but also quietly advocates for heightened readability of youtube comments, which can only make the world a better place. Or, in the immortal words of Canadia420's comment on the infamous Leave Britney Alone video:

"Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahah ahahahahahahahahhahahahahahaha hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha hahahahahahhahahahahahahahahah ahahahahahahahah!!!!! You lack intelligence."

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Librarians on The Colbert Report

As comedian/pundit Stephen Colbert knows, the greatest enemies of America right now are the Communists. Where are the most pervasive Communists? In the library, of course! Books free for all? Internet free for all? The horror! Colbert tackles this tough issue and encourages Americans to fight Communism on last night's episode of The Colbert Report, braving the trenches of the Rutherford, NJ, Public Library to interview some of the most dedicated Communists of all: LIBRARIANS.

To see Colbert's chilling account of Communism in today's libraries, click on this link and download the video. Then go out and shop.

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Fun Friday: Morning Television

My daughter probably watches too much television. And it's a poor excuse, but she is so busy, that sometimes it's nice to have her be distracted for twenty minutes by Dora the Explorer, or Handy Manny, or Little Einsteins or My Friends, Tigger and Pooh. In fact, my daughter is a big fan of all the Playhouse Disney shows (and I have to say we all love Charlie and Lola!), which makes me feel less bad about the fact that she's watching television.

You see, these shows have educational content. They teach shapes, colors, foreign languages, music, sharing, helping others, and so on. And there's something to be said for that. I view these shows for what they can impart to my daughter, not whether I find them palatable as a viewer. And she and I, and her mom, talk about the shows a lot. I can see her taking what she's learned on the show and applying it to the world around her.

I remember little about what I watched for television when I was 2 1/2 years old. I know there was Sesame Street, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Readalong (you would not BELIEVE how hard it was to find this show!), Schoolhouse Rock (not really a show per se, but analogous to Emily Yeung or Captain Carlos), and The Electric Company (which is such a 1970s show it's not even funny). And I know that I watched some of those shows more attentively when I was older.

I also know that there was a lot of stuff that I watched on tv that had no redeemable educational content. Stuff like Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, Sid & Marty Kroft shows, Tom & Jerry/Grape Ape Show (with some dreadful animations), Hong Kong Phooey, Shazam!/Isis Hour, Wonder Woman, and lots of things lost to time. Really, lots of Hanna-Barbara cartoons in the 1970s were pretty bad.

A lot of this stuff is available now on DVD, and this could be a great thing to promote in your library to draw in people my age (35+). I would love to watch some of those shows again, and see if they stood the test of time. I'm not about to buy a DVD set of Thundarr the Barbarian just to be disappointed (even if it did mean I would get to see the episode that got pre-empted by the return of the Iran Hostages in 1981). But seriously, Thundarr's not available that I can tell, so I'm not trying to make some sort of announcement.

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