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.


Thematic One City, One Book in Alameda

Alert reader and Friend of Pop Lisa Schmeiser let me know that the Alameda Public Library is doing something very cool with their One City, One Book initiative, known as Across the Pages: instead of just one book, they've chosen a theme for everyone in the community to enjoy: Mystery! They've got movie nights, murder in the library games (one of which is a fundraiser), Q&A sessions with mystery authors -- something for everyone, in other words! I love that one of the teen events features mega-popular anime Death Note, and the all-ages events include classic films like The Maltese Falcon alongside new ones for children & families like Nancy Drew. What a nice mix of new & old, and what a thoughtful combination of programs for the entire community! It fits in perfectly with the Alameda Free Library's goal, "to bring Alameda together through books, reading, and the sharing of ideas and experiences." Bravo!

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Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz Memorial Service

The drawback of being on Facebook and Twitter is that I sometimes think I've written about something, only to discover that no, it was part of a FB/Twitter conversation

In January, after the ALA Midwinter Conference, ALSC members Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz were killed in a car accident on their way to the Denver Airport. The New York Times wrote a beautiful article about the two women; the ALSC blog collected memories of the two women, and posted other updates.

Kate McClelland was the vice-president/president-elect of ALSC. Following ALSC rules, Thom Barthelmess was appointed to be vice-president/president-elect.

If you've clicked through any of these links, right now you're realizing what a loss this is to these women's families, friends, library, and the profession.

Perrot Memorial Library in Old Greenwich, Connecticut is holding a Memorial Service on March 20. Full details are at the library blog.

Cross-posted at A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy.



Friday Fun: It's Everywhere!

Do you ever feel like discussions of pop culture are everywhere? Sometimes in the least expected places? When I realized that even my local newspaper has a pop culture blog, I started thinking about how pop culture isn't so frowned upon anymore. I think it's because people have realized that pop culture is culture, first and foremost. Thousands of years ago, we had shared stories that were told around fires and in town squares. Now, our stories are from TV, movies, and books, as well as the lives of the people who appear on our screens.

Rachel Maddow has a pop culture segment every night on her show called "Just Enough"--just enough pop culture to allow her out in public, in Rachel's own words. We have academic resources on pop culture, such as Greenwood's Pop Culture Universe (as consulted on by PGTL's own Sophie). And every day, it seems like there's a new blog that talks about all the different ways culture is intersecting and becoming more based on popular works.

I think this is all about how pop culture isn't sneered at in the way it used to be. Yeah, sure, if you're reading Perez Hilton or Gawker to stay on top of the exploits of starlets, there might be a little derision. But with how complex and engrossing television series have become, with how transporting movies are, with how fanatical fans are over their favorite books . . . is it any wonder that pop culture is now just culture? And I'm happy that this is happening.

What do you think? Am I all wrong about this?



Our Students, Ourselves

This post was co-written with Erin Downey Howerton of schooling.us (Erin's is the first-person voice in this post) and Liz Burns of Pop & Tea Cozy, and cross-posted at the YALSA Blog. Erin is the school liaison at the Johnson County (KS) Library. She is a member of YALSA and AASL.

Librarians' hearts were aflutter today as the New York Times reported on school librarians in their Future of Reading column. Motoko Richs' article "In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update" features a day in the life of Stephanie Rosalia, a librarian at Public School 225 in Brooklyn. The piece marvels at how she does not simply stamp books and shush students, but rather teaches information literacy. It rose quickly to the #1 slot as today's most emailed NYT article.

My Twitter network was quite active as we traded links to various responses, and, regrettably, the comments on the article itself. Most dismaying was comment #24 from "suenoir," a reader who identified herself as a school board president from King County, WA and who felt that school libraries & librarians are superfluous in the face of the Internet and public libraries. She commented:

"If teachers used the public libraries, imagine what could be done with the space now occupied by the library. What if it were a music room? An engineering lab? Students have access to a librarian at public libraries, they do not have access to so many other resources."

This commenter appears to be affiliated with the Highline Public Schools (Susan Goding, board member, used the email suenoir@hotmail.com in her campaign information which is easily available online). Goding's district indicates that they enroll in excess of 17,000 students, and one of their secondary facilities reports that they see an average of around 100 students a day in their media center for regularly scheduled classes, not including students using the library who are not specifically scheduled for instruction. That's an awful lot of students to absorb at a local public library branch!

This article served to remind us in the library community that our patrons do not always easily or readily understand the differences in purpose between different library types. They may think of us all as interchangeable widgets, able to help in any library we might find ourselves in. This is not so. I had a great email conversation with Liz Burns and Sophie Brookover of Pop Goes the Library on just this topic:

Sophie: This article made me stand up and cheer, right at the breakfast table (because that's where I read it, after a friend posted it to my Wall on Facebook). Stephanie Rosalia is a perfect example of what a great, properly trained and enthusiastic school librarian can offer, which a public librarian cannot: just-in-time learning opportunities for students that relates directly to what they are learning in the classroom every day. She is exactly the kind of school librarian I want to be when I grow up.

edh: Yes, we public librarians often have very little contact with teachers at individual schools despite robust outreach efforts. I know some patrons get the mistaken impression that we're not concerned with student needs.

Liz: Public libraries don't ignore students; far from it! But a public library's main mission is not to be geared towards students. It's a system geared towards the entire public. Yes, that includes the homeless; teens; seniors; young mothers; people using the Internet; and students.

edh: I loved how the article and video demonstrated Ms. Rosalia's ability to incorporate all sorts of content in her school library. She's obviously deeply involved in the curriculum and learning process in her school.

Sophie: School librarians remix and mash up content from all sorts of sources -- online, print, audio, video, and more -- every day, all with a view towards matching the right content with the right kids at the right time. Public librarians do this every day, as well, but to be a great public librarian is to be a fantastic generalist. To be a school librarian is to be what many of us are called these days, a media specialist. As a media specialist, your area of specialization is your school's curriculum. You are aware of a wide body of resources, but you home in on the materials that meet the specific needs of your students' assignments.

edh: Absolutely! I am not entirely sure that the school board member who commented on the article understands the distinction between our libraries' functions.

Liz: Saying "use the public library, there is so much more we can do with school resources and money" is like trying to have one's cake and eat it, too. Because while sometimes there are actual joint libraries (with appropriate funding and staffing), more often shutting the school library does not result in additional funding being given to the public library. So there is an addition of students needing instruction, books and materials for reports, but no funds to purchase those additional books or to hire the needed staff.

edh: And some public libraries have restrictions on the materials they can buy – collection development policies can prohibit us from purchasing the books and media that would best address student learning.

Liz: And that's aside from the loss of the librarian as teacher. When will those students be able to go to the local library? Students get transportation to schools; they don't have the same access to public libraries. Those students with parents who have the transportation and time will benefit from school libraries; those students whose parents don't have ready access to cars and who work while the library is open, won't be able to use the public library. I've been in libraries where there are a good number of local kids who use the libraries; and just as many kids who don't, because they don't live close enough to the library to walk or ride a bike safely. Public libraries may be full of students; but can one imagine that if they are filled WITH school libraries available, how overwhelmed those libraries would be WITHOUT school libraries?

Additionally, public library budgets are being cut. What would your school do when the public library cuts hours, staff, and the materials budget? Open up the school library? By that time you'd have a dearth of materials missing from the years it was closed.

edh: That's just for materials designed to support academic assignments – imagine all the great fiction titles you would have missed out on in the intervening years. The public library alone is not enough to supply a student with the choices they need to read widely for enjoyment.

Sophie: A good school library should absolutely have high-appeal leisure reading. After all, AASL's Standards for the 21st Century Learner are fully 25% about the pursuit of personal and aesthetic growth, and with that in mind, I've sunk a large proportion of my own school library's budget into high-quality, high-appeal books for my students to read for fun. I've been lucky enough to have the unswerving support of my school's English Department, many members of which have brought hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of students to my Library Media Center for booktalks and reader's advisory, all in the service of year-round independent reading assignments. This collaborative effort has been so successful that I plan to continue to develop and promote the LMC's fiction and nonfiction collections for leisure reading.

There are so many opportunities for school librarians to collaborate with public librarians to provide even better services and collections to our students, but I think it's very important, as Liz said, for school and public librarians to spend some serious time educating the general public about the different missions of each institution, as well.

edh: Yes, letting people know about what we do in different libraries is imperative. I find myself also recommending special libraries to students who have a very specific or advanced assignment. We're lucky to have special libraries in the Kansas City area that will lend freely to the public and assist students with individual disciplines. The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education library is great for students looking at Judaism and World War II, and the Linda Hall Library has a special collection just for aspiring teen scientists among their more esoteric materials. Access to only one library is never enough! If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a variety of libraries to educate them into adulthood.

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Liz Burns on the Printz Process

Our very own Liz Burns is guest-blogging at ForeWard Magazine's blog, ShelfSpace, this month. Her first post is a typically insightful look at her experiences being a member of the 2009 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. Since I'm on YALSA's Nominating Committee again this year, I will be using Liz's entry as a "here's a glimpse of what you can expect" point of reference for potential Printz candidates.



What's In a Name?

Does "library" matter?

My alma mater, Rutgers SCILS, has decided to remove "library" from its name and become SCI.

A meeting with current students, alumni, etc. is being live blogged at SCILS or SCI.

Personally? I'm both embarrassed and appalled. To me, this is a loud "libraries and librarians don't matter" -- tho, Rutgers will still accept tuition from those who want an MLIS degree. Our money is good; who we are and what we do? Not so much.

About eighteen months ago, Amy at Library Garden said we should "pimp ourselves" -- be loud and proud about our MLS/MLISs.

The library news is full of bad news: libraries closing, hours cut, staff reduced, budgets cut.

And what does SCILS do? The opposite of being proud; instead, they back away from the l-word.

I wonder, if our professional schools don't want to promote libraries, does it matter? Should we just toss the towel in, say it doesn't matter whether or not we are librarians? It doesn't matter if we work in libraries? Heck, if it doesn't matter, why do we need an MLS or MLIS? Maybe we should all go back to school for this type of degree, if libraries don't matter.

Edited to add: The Annoyed Librarian addresses the name change. Her point? Or at least, what I think her point is? That the professors at universities teaching library science aren't librarians: "The permanent faculty at library schools aren't librarians. What they research and teach has only the most tenuous connection if any to libraries or librarianship." So the name doesn't matter, because what goes on at "library school" has nothing to do with libraries; and Rutgers has a captive student audience who won't go elsewhere, no matter what the name is.

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Friday Fun: Book Covers

One aspect of book production that can get the short shrift is cover design. Everyone's heard the platitude that you can't judge a book by its cover, but if that were true, why would publishers put so much effort into creating their covers? I have a only slightly secret crush on Chip Kidd, who is my favorite book designer (you can see some of his work here) as well as being an entertaining author.

But there's a lot of other imaginative people out there, like Pablo Defendini (who is also very passionate about electronic books) at Tor Books. Pablo doesn't have as much online as Chip, but here's a great example of a print he designed for Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.

Now, there are some other things I've been seeing online that also deal with book covers. A little old now, but here's a blog post from Joseph Sullivan's Book Design Review from November of last year, showcasing some of his favorite book cover designs from the year. While I'm partial to the cover for Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! (better known to many people as the movie Soylent Green), the cover for The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is just amazing.

Pursuant to that, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is part of Penguin's (through their UK office) Great Idea series. There are three series, and the link takes you to the first one. Each is twenty books, and they comprise everything from Karl Marx to Seneca to Thomas Hobbes to George Orwell. I think each and every one of these books has great cover design. They are small, hand-sized editions, and if someone wanted to buy all three series for me (a bargain at just under 300 pounds) I would love them forever.

On the more fun side of things, blogger Spacesick recently created a whole bunch of book cover mock ups, taking popular movies and creating 1960s style book covers for them. I don't know if I can pick a favorite from these. Every time I settle on one, the next one catches my eye.

For practical purposes, you can always create displays of books designed by the same person/design team. That would take some research, but could be well worth the results. Alternately, you can pick out similarly themed book design, and put them together under a "Judge This Book by Its Cover" display. For programming items, you could have people design new book covers for their favorite book. Or take a book with bad design and redo it. The possibilities are endless!

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Coraline is based on the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman. The movie theatre I saw it in was only 2-D, not 3-D; I'm hoping to be able to watch and enjoy the 3-D version.

The movie is animated stop action, and it's a thing of beauty. Great colors, wonderful scenery, it's just an amazing work of art. The OtherMother is deliciously creepy, especially when she's imitating a child's version of what a Perfect Mother would be.

I'm usually quite easy about books that have been turned into movies. No, really. I understand that what works well in a book doesn't work well in a movie; and that to tell a story visually requires change. I also understand the need to cut (or expand) a story to make it fit a movie format.

That said, ultimately, I was disappointed by how the story was adapted into film.

Spoilers! Spoilers! Spoilers!

The movie introduced a friend for Coraline called Wybie; and while this lessened Coraline's isolation (an important part of the book), it did give Coraline someone to talk to and interact with. The book has long stretches where it is just Coraline and her thoughts; having a person there, instead of just Coraline, makes sense. So I understand why Wybie was added.

What doesn't make sense is that Coraline, while spunky, is dumbed down. And part of that dumbing down shows at the end, when Wybie (the boy) rescues Coraline. Coraline's well-plotted defeat of Other Mother gets turned into a spur of the moment event that requires The Boy to help save the day.

OtherMother and her OtherWorld are wonderfully realized; but it's exaggerated a bit too much, such as putting the retired actresses (Miss Spink and Miss Forcible) into stripperesque costumes.

This is a don't-miss visual experience; but in terms of story-telling, the book remains far superior and has a much more appealing Coraline.

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Blossom Dearie, RIP

Oh, MAN. I'm so sorry to hear that one of my all-time favorite singers, Blossom Dearie, has died at the age of 82. I'll post more later, but here she is performing her classic "I'm Hip":

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NY Comic Con Talk Follow-Up

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel with Fuse #8's Betsy Bird & Matt Bird (her lovely & knowledgeable husband) on Graphic Novels: A New Literacy for Libraries, School, and Home. Betsy recorded the talk and I'll post a link here to the podcast when she makes it available for download.

I made 40 copies of my handout, and we ran out, which is both good & bad -- good to have 45 folks snapping up our materials, good that they thought enough of them to leave with them, rather than crumple them up into a ball, to be deposited on the floor. (Better still that we had so many attendees after our room assignment was changed!) Still, 40 handouts and 45 audience members meant that several of those delightful audience members went without. So, for them, and for those of you who couldn't attend but are interested in the materials we provided, here you go! Betsy is planning to post her handouts at Fuse #8; I'll link to the post once it goes live.

UPDATE: I vanquished my FTP issues and the link for my handout, above, now works. Huzzah! Thank you, alert reader Inkwell Bookstore, for noting the problem.

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Lux Interior, RIP

The LA Times music blog reports that Lux Interior, co-founder and lead singer of seminal psychobilly band The Cramps has died at age 60. Full obit here. If you've never heard of the Cramps (indeed, my own knowledge of them extends not much farther than rocking out to a few great singles on various compilations and an appreciation for Poison Ivy's unique fashion stylings), here's a lovely, succinct analysis of why they matter:

The band's lack of a bassist and its antagonistic female guitarist quickly set it apart from its downtown peers and upended the traditional rock band sexual dynamic of the flamboyant, seductive female and the mysterious male guitarist.


The band's influence can be clearly felt among lauded minimalist art-blues bands, including the Black Lips, the White Stripes, the Horrors and Primal Scream, whose front man, Bobby Gillespie, allegedly named his son Lux.
Pitchfork has a nice obit, as well, featuring some great live clips, including their 1984 performance in a mental institution.

Allmusic's analysis is delightful, as well:

[...] the Cramps celebrate all that is dirty and gaudy with a perverse joy that draws in listeners with its fleshy decadence, not unlike an enchanted gingerbread house on the Las Vegas strip.

Allmusic's entry on the Cramps is particularly useful if you're looking to offer some listener's advisory to distraught fans (or to folks who'd never even heard of the Cramps before but are curious about their sound). Check the list of Moods & Genres -- if you click "trashy", for example, you'll be brought to this page, which lists similar moods, trashy albums highlights, and top trashy artists. It's so well organized and so browse-friendly that it's easy to get lost in there, but what a wonderful time you'll have!

Bust out the crushed-velved blazer (in black with blood red piping, please) and black eyeliner, folks, while you put together a display to honor Mr. Interior featuring but by no means limited to:

  • All of your trashiest rock biographies;
  • CDs by Iggy Pop, White Stripes, Elvis, and other artists you find on AllMusic;
  • Movies by John Waters;
  • Maybe some pink flamingos (you know, the ones for putting on one's lawn)?
Other ideas? Put 'em in the comments.

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NYC Comic Con Talk!

So, I lucked out, big-time, by being paired up with uber-blogger Betsy Bird and her husband, graphic novels expert Matt Bird for a workshop on graphic novels called Graphic Novels: A New Literacy for the Library, Classroom and Home.

Betsy's posted the program description at her blog, A Fuse #8 Production, which makes my life oh, so easy:

Elizabeth Bird, Sophie Brookover, Matt Bird

SUNDAY 2:45-3:45 ROOM 1A23

The explosive growth of graphic novels continues in the public library world and is now being felt in the classroom. Is it a legitimate reading format? What is it about these books that make them worthwhile reading? How can graphic novels help you meet your state’s core curriculum content standards? Graphic novels present a new opportunity to engage readers and these three talented presenters will show you why these books work for the teacher, the librarian and the parent.

Elizabeth Bird: is a children's librarian at New York Public Library's main children's room at the 42nd Street location. She has served on the Newbery committee, written for Horn Book, reviews for Kirkus, and currently publishes the blog A Fuse #8 Production on the School Library Journal website.

Sophie Brookover: is the Library Media Specialist at Eastern Regional Senior High School in Voorhees, NJ. She is an avid reader of graphic novels (forced to pick just one recent favorite, she offers two: Sidescrollers and Y: The Last Man), and is the co-author of Pop Goes the Library: Using Pop Culture to Connect With Your Whole Community (InfoToday, 2008).

Matt Bird: Matt Bird is a writer and lifelong comics enthusiast. He will receive an MFA from Columbia University in May. His new graphic novel project is The Gentleman with artist David Baldeon (Blue Beetle) and inker Steve Bird (Robin).

If you're going to be at NYCCC, please drop in! This is such an exciting time for graphic novels, particularly for those educators scooping GNs up in their warm, brilliant embrace.

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