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.


We Don't Need No Stinking Library

Or do we?

Librarian in Black and The M Word - Marketing Libraries are talking about a "staffless" library has opened in Kings County. There is interesting talk, pro and con, at those two blogs, so click on through to add to the discussion. The story the blog posts are based on is at Library Journal.

My first thought: good on that library system! The staffless library is basically a branch in a larger system, and that system actually did what libraries usually just talk about: they listened to what their customers wanted and gave it to them. What I've seen/heard in libraryland is often a "ask customers, pretend to listen, and in the end give them what we think the library thinks they need" philosophy. So yay for that library system for listening rather than paying lip service.

My second thought: just because you cannot see the person doing readers advisory doesn't mean it doesn't happen. (Actually, I owe you all my two cents worth on how RA and libraries is criminally undervalued. Maybe I'll have time in February.)

In having this type of "staffless" library, what the community, the library, and librarians need to remember is that it is NOT staffless. The Librarian in Black listed all the building costs and some of the services that staff a staffless building.

I saw that list and thought, "but wait! There's more!"

So here is what staff is still doing for this customer base -- and what, truly, all libraries should be doing well because we all have people who just want their materials. Disclaimer: include me in that. I work long hours, I get home, no, I don't want to go to a library program and don't care what they offer. I want my books, thank you very much.

Professional services that are still being done and need to be done very well:

Catalog. About five years back, when I was complaining about catalogs and poor cataloging so it was so damn hard to find books and DVDs and music on it, I was told by muckety mucks in the library world that it is a well known library fact that patrons don't use the catalog to find the books they want. They browse. Conclusion unsaid: so it doesn't matter that something is hard to find in the catalog.

I'm sure you can point me to those studies. I browse myself. But with the advancement of online searching, and Amazon, etc., the truth is people are used to going to a computer and using it to find what they want -- with a different set of browsing expectations. Expectations not of the shelf but of the catalog. If you have people relying on placing holds to get materials, a library has to pay attention to its catalog and what is in it. A valuable professional service right there, done by a professional librarian who is savvy enough and customer-friendly enough to create the online public access catalog that is about finding books rather than organizing and classifying them.

Website. As a member of the book blogging community, I can tell you -- websites matter. Readers Advisory is not about the check out person noticing someone with Nora Roberts and recommending LaVyrle Spencer (and, sadly, too many librarians believe this.) It's about the reviews and booklists and information you provide on your website. Call it handselling, call it booktalking, call it readers advisory -- book blogs are doing this every day and our readers love it. I'm not saying the library website should look like a book blog; but it is so 2001 to believe that your patron won't get suggestions on what to read next from your website.

The important thing, as with everything else about your library, is it has to be done well and it has to be kept fresh. This alone could be a full time job for a librarian. I, for one, would LOVE that job. Right there -- another professional staff for the staffless library.

Collection Development. Kirkus has left the building; and sadly many libraries think this is an area that can be outsourced to someone else. If Collection Development was a science, perhaps it could be, but I see it more as an art. I think Collection Development done with librarians who staff the libraries is important and critical. Note I say done with -- delegating, say, purchasing all the New York Times bestsellers or certain top authors makes sense. So, too, does centralized purchasing for large systems. But local staff should still be empowered to have the input to say "this series does well at my branch," "this genre sits on the shelf," "people are looking for x and we don't have it."

How to do this when you're not seeing the patrons? Analyze what is being placed on hold, both from a pure statistical approach (individual titles, genre, author, age) as well as from a holistic approach.

Example: Twilight is being check out, along with a lot of vampire books. Doing just a math approach, collection development adds more teen vampire books. WRONG. The skilled librarian who is up on their literature -- the librarian who knows books -- knows the Twilight inspired reading also includes paranormal romance and straightforward romance and buys those titles, also. Easy? No. Impossible? No. Requires a whole new skill set and way of thinking? Yes. Requires staff? Yes.

A Loud Mouth. Marketing, advertising, press -- none of those are quite the words I'm looking for so I'll just go with "loud mouth." The "staffless" library still requires promotion, letting people know it's there and what it offers. In a way it will require a louder mouth, so that the taxpayers and budget makers don't think, "staffless" means staffless. The library has to let people know, there is staff -- professional, educated, skilled, talented, staff -- and the patrons at the staffless library benefit from the expertise of that staff. So no, you cannot fire them; no, this isn't the answer to your budgeting dreams. And as with everything else -- being loud is a talent. Doing it right matters. So yet again... here is another place where staff is needed to make the staffless library work.

You don't need a building to be a library. Garnet Hill may lack a traditional store and still be a store; it still has staff selecting clothes, marketing clothes, advertising clothes. So, too, can a library lack a "library" yet still be a "library." And you still need staff.

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

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Resource Alert: Media Heat from Shelf Awareness

I was introduced to Shelf Awareness by my e-mail subscription to Unshelved, and I'm so glad! Not only is it full of interesting news about the world of independent booksellers, but it includes a great feature called Media Heat, which tells you all about the authors appearing on TV and radio programs during the coming week to flog their latest books. This is handy for collection development, displays, and reader's advisory, and takes about 5 minutes to read and put to use. Easy & free -- I love it! You can subscribe to Shelf Awareness here.

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We all use Numb3rs every day

This morning on YALSA-BK, a member asked the collective brain for help in finding YA fiction involving math. Since I've been planning a Numb3rs post for a while anyway, I thought this would be the perfect time to write it.

When forced to balance my checkbook or calculate how much that purse is when it's marked "33% off," you can find me quoting Melissa: "I became a librarian because I was told there was no math." And day to day, most of that's true, at least as far as my job is concerned. The Dewey Decimal Classification system is about labels, not sums. Most of the math I use goes into figuring which books have the best chance at the Printz based on their number of starred reviews and the number of starred reviews past winners and honor books have received. I may not be good with numbers but I do love police procedural television dramas (much of the father-daughter bonding at my parents' home involved episodes of Law & Order) and the promise of a smart, interesting police procedural led by a talented cast hooked me. On Friday nights at 10, you can now find me watching
Numb3rs on CBS.

The show's main characters are Don Eppes
(Rob Morrow), an FBI agent, and his younger brother Charlie (David Krumholtz), a mathematician. They often work together to solve crimes. The best thing about the show, plot and writing wise, is the writers' ability to distill incredibly complex math into terms people like me who can barely add and subtract can understand. And to keep those of us that can't add or subtract watching the show, there's a wonderful ongoing storyline about the brothers' relationship and how their incredibly dissimilar and often estranged past affects their work in the present. Other regular cast members include Diane Farr as Megan Reeves, an FBI profiler and behavioral specialist, Alimi Ballard as David Sinclair, an FBI agent, Navi Rawat as math professor Amita Ramanujan, Judd Hirsch as retired architect and city planner Alan Eppes and Peter MacNicol as physics professor Larry Fleinhardt, who is Charlie's mentor. Every week the team solves crimes, often with the assistance of Charlie's math but while they usually catch the bad guy, math can't always account for human nature. Three seasons in, viewers have seen the team solve crimes using combinatorics, sabremetrics, probability, game theory, and many other higher math disciplines.

We All Use Math Every Day is a Numb3rs spinoff project of Texas Instruments and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. For every episode of Numb3rs, they devise a math lesson plan. As an example, the episode "Money for Nothing" involves the hijacking of a truck carrying 50 million dollars in medical supplies and relief. Don's team is able to apprehend two of the hijackers, but they don't know anything about the people who were transporting the supplies or the location of the truck. Don also doesn't know if the robbers will tell him the truth about what happened. Charlie advises Don to employ strategies that people use to solve logic puzzles. Teachers can download the Money for Nothing activities (available in English and Spanish) and apply the techniques Charlie talks about to different logic puzzles.

Some of the books people are recommending on YALSA-BK that fit with the math theme include:

Currently, seasons one and two of Numb3rs are available on DVD and season 3 is due for DVD release on September 25th. The fourth season begins September 28th. If you have patrons who love shows like NCIS, CSI, or Without A Trace, recommend this series. The evidence shows a 95% probability they'll enjoy it.

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Next Big Thing: Kate Nash

Once again, my husband calls it: Kate Nash is The Next Big Thing among fans of musicians like Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, and The Pipettes. How does Marcus know these things? Because he is always following Michael Stephens' third trend/rule: Scan The Horizon. He listens to the BBC's digital radio station, 6 Music, and finds great stuff. In the last year alone, he's introduced me to the four artists previously mentioned, plus Peter Bjorn & John, The Fratellis, Kaiser Chiefs, Mark Ronson, and Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip. Whew! I have then gone on to order music by most of these artists for my library system, where they are -- surprise! -- quite popular. These are artists who get very, very little airplay on American radio stations, and yet their CDs are circulating like mad. How do you Scan The Horizon? I have Marcus Slade (that'd be my husband. Call for rates if you desire his consulting services.), WXPN, NME, Pitchfork, and the surprisingly forward-thinking musical guest choices on shows like Conan & Jimmy Kimmel.

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Exercise videos: It's not about Jane Fonda anymore

I'm not a great athlete. Although I was a competitive swimmer for years, I've never been any good at any sport involving a ball, and I STILL can't run two miles after nine months of training. But despite my aversion to organized sports I do like to exercise. I try to get in five days a week of running, aerobics (step, kickboxing, floor, whatever), weight training, and Pilates.

That's nice, you might think, but what's this got to do with libraries?

As we all know, librarianship is far from a lucrative profession. Being a librarian requires an expensive Master's degree and public library jobs don't pay well. Like most younger members of Generation X/older members of Generation Y, I have lots of debt and expenses: rent, student loans, car payment, my ridiculously high New Jersey car insurance premiums, etc. So I cut some expenses and decided not to join a gym. Membership at the gym nearest to my home is about $600 a year.

Do you know what I can get for $600 a year? About thirty exercise DVDs. And that's what I'm writing about today. Most libraries I've been to lack an up-to-date, safe, modern exercise DVD collection that fits current trends in fitness. So here's my Crash Course in Video Fitness, which will hopefully give you some ideas for updating or creating your library's exercise DVD collection.

First, order a Collage Video catalog, which they'll gladly send you for free. I don't love their website but their catalog is phenomenal. It's split into cardio, weights, cardio/weights, stretching, and specialty (kids, seniors, pregnancy, etc.) workouts. Each video is labeled with ability level, level of impact, time, and type of exercise. Collage has an ACE-certified instructor plus "regular people" (like librarians!) doing each video. Of note: Collage does not include every video they test in their catalog. They include videos that, um, actually give you a workout.

Second, choose an array of beginner, intermediate, and advanced videos. Within these different levels, you'll want to cover aerobic exercise/cardio, weight training, and stretching/yoga. Yoga is huge right now and is an important component of overall fitness, but despite the many infomercial claims it is not the most effective way to lose weight. Just as it's important to have popular fiction in your collection, it's important to have popular exercise videos with name recognition, like Tae Bo, The Firm and Leslie Sansone (all of which appear in the Collage catalog).

Third, make note of instructors whose videos are marked "not available in stores." Many of the best video workouts on the market carry this designation. Most of the instructors in these videos are not celebrities, but certified personal trainers who have years of experience leading exercise classes. To get started, check out some of my personal favorites: Cathe Friedrich, a pioneer in advanced home workouts who has a wonderful gym in southern NJ, just outside of Philadelphia; Karen Voight, a personal trainer from California who is very relaxed and friendly on camera; Tracie Long, a favorite longtime Firm instructor who now owns V Health Club in Columbia, South Carolina; and Gin Miller, who created step aerobics and leads weight workouts as well.

And like books, exercise DVDs need to be weeded from time to time. Be aware when DVD shopping that some workouts from the 1980's and '90's are being repackaged with new covers. Check copyright dates. The thing that gets dated the fastest with exercise videos are not the workouts (a bicep curl is a bicep curl!) but the sets and outfits. Personally, I don't care what the instructors are wearing as long as I'm getting a good workout, but your patrons may prefer up-to-date hairstyles, music, and workout wear in their videos. High-impact aerobics are not always a bad thing, since our joints need a mix of high and low impact in order to maintain strength and flexibility, but make sure the instructors are always demonstrating proper techniques when doing them (such as as landing with relaxed knees).

Whether you keep video workouts with the rest of your DVD collection or with exercise/health/fitness books is up to you, but either way, they're something useful and fun that will add dimension to your collections.

Plus, there's a lot to be said for being able to exercise in the comfort of your own living room wearing ratty sweats and swearing at the TV.