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.

2009-02-13

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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2007-01-06

Librarian: A Career for the Future

I want to thank Jill for letting me know that Librarian is listed as one of the Best Careers 2007 in U.S. News and World Report in an article titled “Get-Ahead Careers for 2007” by career coach Dr. Marty Nemko. Kudos to Dr. Nemko who tells readers that librarianship is an “underrated profession” and to forget about the dated image of the librarian as “mousy bookworm” and refers to librarians as “high tech information sleuths.” This article is one of the few that gets it right about the profession in my opinion. For instance, I am currently working on a presentation in which I am using my library’s digital databases, microfilm collection, vertical files of newspaper clippings on local history, resources from our special collection room on New Jersey history, and the resources found in the Library of Congress’s “American Memory National Digital Library Program” available online. I couldn't fully tell my story without the computers AND the books AND the microfilm AND the newspaper clippings. Is it perhaps that today’s history was yesterday’s pop culture?

The only point that I don’t agree with Dr. Nemko on is that the work environment of a librarian is placid. The work environment may seem placid to some, but perhaps one may change one’s mind by reading Liz B’s previous post “What Does Library Mean?” And let’s not even get into the challenges of censorship and intellectual freedom that librarians encounter on the job. Rather than placid, librarians and libraries exhibit what Ernest Hemingway describes as “grace under pressure.” In an interview with Dorothy Parker, in the New Yorker (November 30, 1929) Parker asked the former World War I ambulance driver “Exactly what do you mean by ‘guts’?” to which Hemingway responded, “I mean, grace under pressure.” John F. Kennedy used this phrase of Hemingway to define courage in his Pulitzer Prize winning book “Profiles in Courage” published in 1955. I prefer courageous over placid.

Dr. Nemko also mentions that many computer-related jobs that were hot a few years ago did not make the list of Best Jobs 2007 due to the fact that many of these jobs have gone overseas. So, what happened to the blue-jean wearing, tech-savvy, dot-com’ers and webmasters with the big ideas and entrepreneurial attitudes? Well, I noticed there were quite a few in Library School with me from 2002 – 2004.

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2007-01-03

What Does "Library" Mean?

The New Year started with a bang with two very different types of stories about libraries:

The Washington Post article, Hello, Grisham -- So Long, Hemingway? With Shelf Space Prized, Fairfax Libraries Cull Collections about a library system weeding classics. My favorite quote: "More computers and growing demand in branches for meeting space, story hours and other gatherings have left less room for books."

The New York Times article, Lock the Library! Rowdy Students are Taking Over! about a library in Maplewood, NJ, that is shutting down during afternoon hours because the disturbances going on during that time period. My favorite passage: "Librarians and other experts say the growing conflicts are the result of an increase in the number of latchkey children, a decrease in civility among young people and a dearth of “third places” — neither home nor school — where kids can be kids."

There's been a lot being said in blogs and over coffee about these two articles, but together, they raise an important question: What is the primary function of a library in a community?

Let's avoid armchair quarterbacking (Fairfax should display classics! Don't lock out the teens, have programs!) and take what is being said at face value.

In Fairfax, it's about changing to be, well, a community center: meeting space. story hours. other gatherings. Giving people only what they want; with no questions about what people need, or whether a library is different from Barnes and Noble.

In Maplewood, it's saying, no, we are not and should not be the community center; we're a library, and if the town wants a community center for teens, build one.

And, surprisingly enough to those who know I delight in pop culture being in libraries, I'm finding myself siding with Maplewood. I think libraries are part of the community, absolutely; but our primary role is library.

We should welcome teens with programs and teen advisory groups; with friendly staff, comfortable surroundings, and with reasonable rules that are the same for everyone.

We should partner with local agencies and community centers.

But if what Maplewood needs is a community center for teens, they should build one and staff one, rather than having people say "oh, the library can do it."

Part of the reason I say this is cost; we have limited budgets. Hiring additional staff means money that cannot be spent elsewhere on electronic databases, updating websites, staff for other library needs, or professional development.

Another reason I say this is training and education. Librarians are librarians. If a library has a primary purpose of community center, shouldn't it be hiring people with degrees in recreational management instead of people with degrees in library science? And once we stop needing people with MLIS's to serve our primary purpose, how can we call ourselves libraries and librarians?

Space is another concern. Most libraries have not been built to serve as a community center and don't have that space. If a library shifts to a community center model what about those who valued the library model and library resources? Where will they go?

A library can be and should be an important part of town it is in. But it cannot be and should not be all things to all people. Libraries can and should (and do!) partner with other members of the community; that's the way to make sure your town has what it needs.

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