Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, and John Klima. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


Good Press for YA Lit

We here at Pop have complained about the "all YA books suck" newspaper stories.

So it's only fair we say, Way to Go Seattle! Cecelia Goodnow of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer had not one, not two, not three, but FOUR articles about teens and books, and not a nary "YA books suck" article amongst them.

For your reading pleasure:

Teens buying books at fastest rate in decades (interviews actual authorities in the field)

If you're looking for tasty teen titles to satisfy, check out this menu (which highlights YALSA's Best Books list)

Is young-adult fare too mature for some of its readers? (respectfully points out that YA may be ages 12 to 18, but not all books are for all readers)

and Top Trends in Teen Literature

And just when I thought it couldn't get any better --

Entertainment Weekly highlights the YALSA Alex Awards in an online column, Kids Corner.

What great coverage!

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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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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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