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.

2009-12-12

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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2008-07-29

Librarians Invade Comic-Con!

Kudos to NPR for covering this angle -- I was one of the librarians attending Comic-Con this year -- and I'm delighted that the reporter chose to interview David Serchay & Eva Volin for this piece! Anyone know how many of us were in attendance? More on CC later!

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2008-06-05

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?

Absolutely.

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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2007-02-25

Scrotumgate

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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2007-02-06

Sports Matter Again

To follow-up on Susan'searlier post, I wanted to make mention of last weekend's sporting event. To back up Susan's point that sports are important to your patron's, Superbowl XLI was the third-most-watched television show in US history.

Note that I didn't say third-most-watched Superbowl or sports program, it's television show. It ranked behind the 1996 Superbowl between Dallas and Pittsburgh and the M.A.S.H. series finale (#1 watched show of all time). Yikes. That's a lot of people watching one thing. You could probably figure that a number of people who didn't watch the game were working, but I bet a lot of them did what I did and listened to the game on the radio. I've only been in Iowa for a week, but this game was huge for people out here. Iowa has no professional sports teams, and many people are Chicagao Bears (less than 3 hours away!) or even Indianapolis Colts fans (only 5 hours away!). The results of the game have been all over the media, the grocery stores, even in the stacks. I suspect people will be talking about the game through the weekend.

What does this mean for your library? Could you feasibly host a Superbowl event and show the game at your library? I'm not sure if there's licensing to worry about for the game, but you could do something like Princeton Public did with the World Cup this last year. Would people want to leave their homes to come out to the library to watch the game? Maybe. If you offered food (the YA librarians are nodding their heads) and drink (soft drinks people, be realistic) that would be a start. You could also offer 'gambling' by having prizes--such as free movie rentals if you charge, or gift certificates, or no late fees for a month, or something--for final score (you could make one of those popular Superbowl grids) and other things related to the game. You could have football computer games in the library pre-show as a warm-up for the crowd. There are football throwing games that I've seen in sports bars that I'm sure could be rented for a half-time competition.

What about the rest of you? Anyone want to throw a Superbowl party at their library?

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2007-01-22

Sports Matter

Before I changed careers to become a librarian there was one thing I could count on every Monday morning and Friday afternoon—someone would be talking about weekend sports around the water cooler. But since I became a librarian, first in an academic library and then in a public library, I noticed that my colleagues rarely mentioned the “F” word, by which I mean “Football”. This morning as I was weeding old magazines and journals at home I came across an issue of Booklist from 6/1/06 and 6/15/06 in which columnist Will Manley of The Manley Arts: The Worried Librarian writes, “In my role of chief worrier of the world, it’s important for me to avoid worrying about trivial things. For instance, I don’t care who wins the Super Bowl or the World Series. I will leave the worries of spectator sports to those who have a psychological need to assign some sort of cosmic meaning to games involving balls of various shapes and sizes.”

Fellow Librarians, this kind of attitude is a difficulty. It is especially important to care about sports if you are attempting to attract male readers. According to research from Neilsen Sports “over 60% of American households say that they have a football fan”. When I worked as a youth services librarian I once asked some middle school boys to help me make a book display. They were unenthusiastic until I told them I wanted to do a display about sports. Their eyes lit up and they buzzed about in the stacks selecting books “that kids would like about basketball, football, hockey…” When I was a young adult librarian the books I put on display about sports flew off the shelves. Sports books displays work.

February is Super Bowl time and also the beginning of Black History Month. Yesterday in the NFC and AFC title games history was made as two African-American head coaches go to the Super Bowl for the first time, Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts (Read more at Superbowl.com). Create a book display. And if you are a night-owl there is some fantastic tennis going on down under at the Australian Open, live on ESPN2 in the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps create a display featuring books about the country of Australia, tennis and Australian writers?

Even if you are a librarian who does not care about sports (and I know there are many librarians who do care about sports) bear in mind that many of your patrons are sports fans.

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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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