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.


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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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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Age Banding in the UK

I meant to blog about age banding a few days ago when I first saw it mentioned at Publishers Weekly. In a nutshell, publishers and parents in the UK apparently have said, "hey, it would be so cool if all books had labels saying "this is for kids aged x."" Authors, librarians, and booksellers have responded with a loud "hell, no" (Well, to be fair, some authors are saying it's good.*)

Fuse posted about it today, with some more links on reactions to it. One of the many things the authors are saying are saying is "booksellers have the knowledge without age banding thank you very much." Fuse's comment to this is "Sure sure. Or, y'know, maybe you could ask someone with an actual degree in children's literature like a, gee I dunno, librarian? Come on, Phil. We need all the shout-outs we can get."

Going just a wee bit wanky, I'd amend Fuse's comment a bit. Oh, I agree that the librarians are great at matching books to readers, and it's sad that many of the comments arising from this issue are of the "librarians didn't let me read a book" variety.

But what makes librarian's great isn't a degree in children's literature. Cause I don't have that (tho sometimes I really like the idea of getting a PhD in children's literature. Know a good program?)

Like most librarians, what I have is a Masters of Library and Information Sciences, which included two relevant classes: Materials for Children and Materials for Young Adults. See, I think the thing with librarians isn't so much that they know children's lit ... it's that they are the matchmaker, matching the book and the child, and that is what is unique about librarians.

Or, rather, should be unique about librarians. Sometimes, I wonder.

I've posted before (here and at Tea Cozy) about how, to my sorrow, books seem to be "so last year" when libraries talk. It's all about, well, things that aren't books. So libraries outsource selection and cataloging. It's about programming. It's about becoming a community center. Books? Oh, they will disappear soon. People buy what they want at Amazon. How many libraries really support readers advisory?

Yet, people are crying out for readers advisory and to talk about books. Look at the popularity of GoodReads, Shelfari, LibraryThing. Any of those could have been -- should have been -- library ideas. Because people still want books, and want to talk about books, and want suggestions on what to read next. Most front line library staff know this, as do those of us librarians who went into librarianship because of books. The most popular programs I go to at library conferences and workshops are about books.

Do we need shout-outs, like Fuse said?


But we also need to "shout out" ourselves, about our unique ability to be book matchmakers; more so than bookstores, in that we have old books and new books, popular books and niche books, and so have a bigger selection of books for people to read. We need to keep up with what books are out there -- by reading reviews, both professional and informal; by reading books that are readers guides. We -- not an age on a book -- are the best help to someone who is looking for the right book for a child. And we need to let more people know that.

To show just how much we fail at letting people outside the library world know what we do, take a look at Ypulse's great book preconference (aka where I would go if I won the lottery tomorrow.) Yes, an amazing line up...but where are the YA librarians, talking about readers advisory and handselling books and booktalks and letting people know about how librarians figure into publishing? We have something to offer!

Back to the topic of age banding:

To start, no, the proposed UK system is not the same as what some publishers do here in the US (the smallish for ages 8 to 12 on the back of a book). The proposal is for the following categories: 5+, 7+, 9+, 11+ and 13+/teen.

Using an "age band" for a book is deceptive. It appears to be helpful -- to match the book to the reader. But it's as deceptive as talking about "boy books" and "girl books." Books are much more than a book for a particular age or gender. Readers have more subtle and complex needs than that. And yes, labelling books can create a backlash, with kids refusing to read because something is too babyish. I've also seen, again and again, parents and teachers view books as no more than a "checklist" item to prove a child's genius and maturity, so there will be some who say "I have an 7 year old but I want the 13 year old books because my child is gifted."

The truth is there is no one book that is a match for every 8 year old. And adults who want that simple match are fooling themselves; books are not school uniforms or clothes. Each 8 year old is different; and to get that book for that child, you either need to do a lot of reading yourselves or to find a professional who has done that reading to help match book to child.

* My interpretation of Rosoff's defense of age banding is she sees it as a way not to censor but rather to assist adults who know nothing about children's books who want to buy something for a child. I agree, that is a problem; but I disagree that the solution is to label books in the way proposed, and would argue that it would cause more problems than it solves.

Cross posted at Tea Cozy.

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free yourself from stereotypes!

A Hipper Crowd of Shushers

Okay, I'm going to get up on a soapbox for a moment.

I know many people would look at this article and go, "Oh, cool, coverage of how librarians aren't all like that dreaded stereotype." But I read articles like this, and I still want to throw the article across the room, with as much force as possible. Do you know why?

We're exchanging one stereotype for another.

Why are we so eager to be pigeonholed into another niche? Just as many people don't respond to librarians because they're thinking of the glasses, bun, and shushing, there are just as many people who won't respond to tattoos, pink hair, and loud voices. Yet we're so desperate not to be seen as fuddy-duddies that we're swinging too much to the other side of the spectrum, where you have to be cooler than cool to be a librarian.

I love being a librarian. I love talking about books. I love answering questions. I love reading blog posts and using del.icio.us and sending text messages. But I'd never consider myself a 'hipster librarian'. For one thing, since I joke that I'm mentally twelve years old, I know I'll never be cool enough to be a hipster librarian. But also, there's a part of me that delights in doing the unexpected, in going against the crowd. I was a teen in the early nineties, so when everyone else was listening to grunge, I was listening to show tunes. Instead of hanging out at the mall, I was reading.

When I see a group all eager to promote one way of being a librarian, I'm not going to follow that crowd. I may do all the things they do, but I don't look like they do. And that's okay, you know? For both them and me, our outward appearances don't affect the tasks we do, the service we give. I just hate the thought that in some minds, appearances and performance are linked, and the only way you can be a cool librarian is to have an eyebrow piercing or go out for drinks that are identified by Dewey call numbers.

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If you read only one post about Scrotumgate (in addition to Sophie's post, of course!), read Thoughts on the Great Scrotum Kerfuffle of 2007 by pixie stix kids pix. (The blog is written by Kristen McLean, "a designer, writer, and children’s book ringleader who lives in Boston, MA. She is also the Executive Director of The Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) a non-profit trade association for the children’s book industry."

Thoughts... is the post I was planning to write. And it shows the type of journalism that should have been practiced by The New York Times and assorted other newspapers and blogs etc.

It's a long post; but it is not a wordy post. McLean sets forth the timeline of the Kerfuffle, documenting each step with a link to the report, website, list serv or blog. She then breaks it down into the following observations:

"Words are powerful." And scrotum isn't the only word; the other word is banned. In essence, as McLean documents, what was going on at LM-Net was that "librarians were having some lively debate and strong feelings about the most recent Newbery winner. This is nothing new." Julie Bosman of the New York Times reported this debate as meaning "the book has already been banned." As McLean says in her brilliant post, "Give me names, details." Read her full post to discover just how many of those who participated in the debate, or were quoted, are not buying the book for their libraries (this is her source; while I don't want to repeat all the wonderful work & links done by McLean, that article is a must-read for those following this story.)

"Read the entire book before offering an opinion". Part of the reason I haven't weighed in more on this is I have yet to read the book. One of the more interesting series of comments I've read is that the character who initially uses the word is, basically, an old drunk (now in AA) who would have said balls or nuts instead of scrotum. Yet then another person says, hey, that may all be true but he is also someone who has been to Paris, appreciates this and that...and in other words, yes, would have used the right term. Anyway.

"What you say on a list serv may come back to bite you in the scrotum later." I'd add to this that it's equally true of blogs. Before you giggle at the foolishness of people who were misquoted, think of your own posts and comments; could they be taken out of context? What about any interview you give with a reporter -- could an offhand joke or comment be the sole thing she uses?

I've just given the quick recap; please, go read it in full. It's thoughtful, it's well documented, it covers all sides. And it has a scientific illustration!

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Is THIS What It Takes To Get To the Front Page of the NY Times?

Seriously? Kill me now. There are almost no words to describe how annoyed I am by this whole meaningless kerfuffle. And so many others have done such a good job talking about tempest-in-a-teapot it all is (thank you, Fuse #8, for this roundup). I mean, first of all, how is "scrotum" hurting anyone? It's a dog's scrotum, by the way, not even a human scrotum, and even if it were a human scrotum, how, exactly, is that bad? Half of the human race has a scrotum. The other half has boobs. Big. Deal. This pearl-clutching silliness (and make no mistake, that is exactly how this situation makes us look, like a bunch of prudish, "well, I never!"-ing schoolmarms circa 1912) is the diametric opposite of the kind of publicity we need. But there's room to be irritated at the usually admirable NY Times, too. What, was it too hard to pick up the phone and call one of the well-informed people at ALSC? Too inconvenient to quote Frederick Muller accurately? If you'll excuse me, I'm off to order a Neighborhoodie with "Scrotum & Boobies" on it. If you say it enough times, it sounds like an old-fashioned English dessert.

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