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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Free Library of Philadelphia

I lived in Philadelphia for three years, after law school. One year clerking for a judge, two years at a law firm.

I used the library, back in the day.

And now; now I have friends who work there. Dedicated, caring, talented librarians who work in Philly because they care.

The City of Philadelphia is having budget woes, like pretty much everyone. Among other actions they are taking -- a total shut down of the Free Library of Pennsylvania.

The wording from the library website: We deeply regret to inform you that without the necessary budgetary legislation by the State Legislature in Harrisburg, the City of Philadelphia will not have the funds to operate our neighborhood branch libraries, regional libraries, or the Parkway Central Library after October 2, 2009.

More details about the closing are at the library website. Including the action that you can take.

Library Journal's coverage of the planned closings.

This is about more than libraries; as reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, layoffs of police and firefighters are anticipated. Recreation centers are also closing. Senior centers are affected. Trash is going to a twice a month pickup. More from NBC Philadelphia.

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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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Libraries: Centralized Ordering

Pam Coughlin writes about libraries and centralized ordering of materials over at Shelf Space, the blog for ForeWord Magazine.

Sometimes, I get a bit disheartened about libraries and books.* Two reasons I went into librarianship: books and information. Silly me; because the current "joke" I hear about and read is a variation of this: "you went into libraries for the books? ha ha ha. It's not about the books." So I wonder, where should I go, where should I work if a library isn't about people coming in and finding the books and information they want and need? (Another version of this: a study shows when people hear libraries, they think books, and the library reaction is "silly people!" when my reaction is "dude, the people are telling you your strength, why not build on that instead of run from it?")

Centralized selection and ordering of materials is often explained with the argument, "it frees up librarians time!" Now, no doubt there is some truth to that; but totally removing librarian input into the process? Not good; especially since I'm not the only one who went into this because of the materials. You're not "freeing my time"; you're taking away one of the things I liked, no, loved, about this job.

Anyway, go read Pam's thoughts on the issue. What do you think?

*Ty, for purposes of this post I include music and DVDs and any materials in "books." OK?

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Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

One of the latest Weekend in New York stories, found in the New York Times Travel section, caught my eye today: A Bookworm's Holiday. Author Seth Kugel gives some sight-seeing suggestions, including the current Jack Kerouac exhibit at the NYPL Humanities and Social Science Library [or, as I call it, "the big one with the lions"] and the Morgan Library & Museum, featuring "amazing illuminated manuscripts, a 1240 pocket Bible and even an original print of the Declaration of Independence," not to mention two, count 'em, TWO Gutenberg Bibles!

Personally, I'd like to sit quietly in Pierpont Morgan's
personal library for a little while. Do you think it has wi-fi?

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Those Days and Friday Nights at the Presidential Libraries

I am a people person and enjoy my work as a librarian at a public library. But working with the public has its frustrations and challenges too. It could be one of those days. One of those days when someone has spilled sticky soda on the carpet and ground popcorn into it for special effect. One of those days when the printer keeps jamming and someone has messed-up the restroom. One of those days when I have had a plethora of reference questions that consist of looking up phone numbers in the yellow pages to the point where I feel like a Bell Telephone operator in the old monopoly days. On those days, I daydream about working in an archive. Ah, the quietude and acid-free cardboard boxes and papers custom-made to fit! Oh, the clean white gloves to handle the very important papers, films and memorabilia of very important people! The pure intellectual stimulation of historical artifacts and events.

Now I get my archival fix on Friday nights with C-Span's Presidential Libraries Uncovered from 8P -- 10P (LIVE) done in cooperation with the National Archives. Last week I watched the episode on Herbert Hoover's Library. Tonight it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Library in New Hyde Park. I saw Albert Einstein's letter to FDR warning him about the dangers of Germany's experiments with uranium which led to the Manhattan Project, and Eleanor Roosevelt's resignation letter to the DAR when they barred the renowned singer Marian Anderson from using Constitution Hall because she was African-American, and listened to the radio broadcasts of FDR's fireside chats and secret oval office recordings, and much more. I thoroughly enjoyed my presidential library evening all snuggled on my big, yellow comfy couch with a bowl of chocolate ice cream and hot fudge sauce while briefly chatting on the phone with a friend...

... Hmmmm.

Chocolate ice cream is probably not allowed in an archive. Nor is it likely that chatting on the phone is allowed either. On the other hand, I have seen chocolate ice cream at my public library's programs and chatting on the phone, quietly and politely, is generally allowed.

I guess watching C-Span's Presidential Libraries Uncovered on television is a little bit like having the best of both worlds.

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Greensburg Kansas

This message is from Michelle Swain, Kansas Library Association President (2006 - 07):

For those of you who would like to help the Greensburg, KS, Kiowa County Library after the devastating tornado they suffered, the Kansas Library Association Educational Foundation has set up a fund for donations. KLA EF is a 501c3 organization and all donations are tax deductible.

The most recent report is that the library building was essentially sheared off three feet above the ground. Everything below three feet is sitting in water, making it a complete loss. PLEASE DO NOT SEND BOOKS, there is no place to put them.

Navigate to the link below. Contributions can be made with a credit or debit card through PayPal, or you can print the PDF form and send a check or money order. All donations should be unspecified, so their FEMA and other relief aid will not be affected.


Thank you to everyone who has expressed a desire to help one small town in Kansas recover and rebuild their library.

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YALSA -- Virtual Library Legislative Day

National Library Legislative Day is May 1st & May 2nd; it's a chance to go to Washington DC and advocate for libraries.

Can't make it? Then participate without the travel, with Virtual Library Legislative Day. Full information and links are at the YALSA Blog. So go over, check out the links and the talking points, and get read to call, fax and email.

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What's In Your Future?

If you live on the East Coast, your library cannot miss this conference: The Mid-Atlantic Library Futures Conference: Imagination to Transformation. It is May 7 and 8 in Atlantic City, NJ; full details are here. Also, check out the Conference Blog, which has even more information.

In a nutshell, this forward-thinking conference is looking beyond the "library world." To quote their blog, "We decided to seek out visionaries from all walks of life and bring them together with a small group of colleagues from our field to begin a discussion that will impact libraries well into the next decade. We imagined a morphing of information, inspiration, and imagination that will transform the way we look at our future. With such lofty aspirations, we recognized we also need to build a solid foundation that will serve as a concrete plan with which to move forward."

This conference also has multiple groups and states working together; it is sponsored by Delaware Division of Libraries, New Jersey State Library, PALINET, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Library Development and Services, and West Virginia Library Commission.

As a note to those of you from out of state: Atlantic City has a great airport.

Sadly, I will be unable to go (even tho I really, really, really, really want to) because of other commitments. Please, let us know if you'll be able to attend and please report back!

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Wine and the Library

Even if you're not much of a drinker, you've probably heard the name Gallo, as in Ernest and Julio Gallo, founders of the largest winemaking company in the world. Ernest Gallo, passed away at the age of 97 earlier this week.

SO why mention this here? Well, this quote is the kicker:
Using $5,900 they borrowed and a recipe from the Modesto Public Library, Ernest and Julio rented a ramshackle building, and everybody in the family pitched in to make ordinary wine for 50 cents a gallon -- half the going price. The Gallos made $30,000 the first year.
These two brothers knew nothing about making wine, but used resources available at their local library to start what would become the largest winery in the country. If not for the library, where would these gentlemen have gotten their inspiration?

What will your patrons find this week at your library? Do you have any potential Gallos among your patrons?

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My Runaway Love for Ludacris

Longtime Pop readers may remember that I've blogged about my admiration for rapper Ludacris before, and I've been meaning to blog about the greatness of his current #1 single, "Runaway Love" since I first heard it and saw the video back in December. Now that Luda has won Grammys for his current album, Release Therapy, and a previous single, "Money Maker", I've got a keen reminder of why I like the guy so much.

  • "Runaway Love" is a YA problem novel in song form! He released the song, with guest vocals by Mary J. Blige (who I also love, in spite of her continuing habit of referring to herself in the third person, which is both weird and unsettling -- like, does "I" not exist in her vocabulary? Does she have a split personality? What is UP with Mary, Mary?), paints vivid, disturbing pictures of three girls whose family situations are so horrible that they feel "there's nothing left to do but grab some clothes and pack / she says she's 'bout to run away and never come back."
  • It's not just a problem novel, it's one designed for reluctant readers! What does Patrick Jones tell librarians looking for books to appeal to reluctant readers? Pacing, pacing, pacing. The story has to grab the reader (er, listener) and not let go. Character development? Not so important. Part of what's so great about this song is that in a few strokes, Luda makes sure you know these girls, how hemmed in and desperate their lives are. Complete lyrics may be perused here.
  • Like libraries, Luda wants to make a difference. The guy is sincere, and he's funding and putting his name behind a wonderful initiative, The Ludacris Foundation: Helping Youth Help Themselves. What a great potential partner for YALSA! The Ludacris Foundation provides programs like Luda Cares, Hip Hop Culture, Healthy Living, and Stand Up 101, all geared towards meeting the needs and interests of disadvantaged youth.
  • He is so adorable it makes my eyes hurt. It's shallow, but true: Luda is a looker.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: is he available to be a guest speaker at Annual 2008? That would rock.

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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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The Current Democracy of Pop Culture

Fascinating NY Times article on pop culture's dependency on user involvement. It's not just about voting for a singer on American Idol, though. It's about voting to continue the fascinating, potentially soap-operatic storyline of your favorite character/singer on American Idol:

“Voting is actually incredibly easy and therefore not that meaningful,” said Michael Hirschorn, executive vice president for original programming and production at VH-1, which plans a voting-based show of its own, “Acceptable.tv,” this spring. “I don’t think there’s a desperate hunger in the public to grab the reins of artist development.” He added: “But I do think there’s a desire for a deeper emotional connection to artists.” [emphasis mine.]

I'd go even farther than that -- there's a desire for deeper emotional connections, period. I think that's a major part of what drives the success of sites like MySpace, YouTube, and Flickr -- people are trying to connect with other people. The internet is a much warmer place than it was even 2 years ago. What are libraries doing to participate in that trend? How are we using these tools to help our users fulfill their desire for deeper connections with the world around them?

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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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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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