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.


Thematic One City, One Book in Alameda

Alert reader and Friend of Pop Lisa Schmeiser let me know that the Alameda Public Library is doing something very cool with their One City, One Book initiative, known as Across the Pages: instead of just one book, they've chosen a theme for everyone in the community to enjoy: Mystery! They've got movie nights, murder in the library games (one of which is a fundraiser), Q&A sessions with mystery authors -- something for everyone, in other words! I love that one of the teen events features mega-popular anime Death Note, and the all-ages events include classic films like The Maltese Falcon alongside new ones for children & families like Nancy Drew. What a nice mix of new & old, and what a thoughtful combination of programs for the entire community! It fits in perfectly with the Alameda Free Library's goal, "to bring Alameda together through books, reading, and the sharing of ideas and experiences." Bravo!

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Friday Fun: Book Covers

One aspect of book production that can get the short shrift is cover design. Everyone's heard the platitude that you can't judge a book by its cover, but if that were true, why would publishers put so much effort into creating their covers? I have a only slightly secret crush on Chip Kidd, who is my favorite book designer (you can see some of his work here) as well as being an entertaining author.

But there's a lot of other imaginative people out there, like Pablo Defendini (who is also very passionate about electronic books) at Tor Books. Pablo doesn't have as much online as Chip, but here's a great example of a print he designed for Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.

Now, there are some other things I've been seeing online that also deal with book covers. A little old now, but here's a blog post from Joseph Sullivan's Book Design Review from November of last year, showcasing some of his favorite book cover designs from the year. While I'm partial to the cover for Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! (better known to many people as the movie Soylent Green), the cover for The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is just amazing.

Pursuant to that, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is part of Penguin's (through their UK office) Great Idea series. There are three series, and the link takes you to the first one. Each is twenty books, and they comprise everything from Karl Marx to Seneca to Thomas Hobbes to George Orwell. I think each and every one of these books has great cover design. They are small, hand-sized editions, and if someone wanted to buy all three series for me (a bargain at just under 300 pounds) I would love them forever.

On the more fun side of things, blogger Spacesick recently created a whole bunch of book cover mock ups, taking popular movies and creating 1960s style book covers for them. I don't know if I can pick a favorite from these. Every time I settle on one, the next one catches my eye.

For practical purposes, you can always create displays of books designed by the same person/design team. That would take some research, but could be well worth the results. Alternately, you can pick out similarly themed book design, and put them together under a "Judge This Book by Its Cover" display. For programming items, you could have people design new book covers for their favorite book. Or take a book with bad design and redo it. The possibilities are endless!

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Inauguration Parties!

Via AL Direct, this brief article from the Boston Globe about local libraries hosting inauguration parties made my little heart sing:

In Andover, the Memorial Hall Library will provide a free community viewing of the inauguration in the morning and an Inauguration Day party for students in grades six through 12 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“It’s a perfect event to have the TV on and watch what’s going on live,” said Kimberly Lynn, the teen and reference librarian. “Hopefully, it will be a fun atmosphere and people will be able to enjoy [being] together. The library is the community’s gathering place, so we’re really happy to be holding this to allow people to watch history unfold with other people."

The library will provide snacks to guests throughout the day, and organizers are planning to have a variety of red, white, and blue-themed games and prizes for the kids.


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The Real Life League of Real Superhero Stories

It took 70 years, but it seems that pop culture has finally finished digesting the Superhero and begun to regurgitate the idea in the form of stories about how weird the idea is. With this past week's progressive sample release of Dr. Horrible, the Whedon's Supervillian Mad Scientist Musical Laundromat Love Story, the release of Hancock featuring Will Smith as a drunk, disillusioned superhero, and the momentous unveiling of the first trailer for the hotly anticipated film version of breakthrough graphic novel Watchmen, stories that essentially ask "what if superheroes were, like REAL or something?" are bigger than ever.

Watchmen, which follows cataclysmic events in the life of a second generation of superheroes, some of whom inherited their characters from their parents, is very heavy stuff; in addition to giving graphic novels a much needed shot of legitimacy that has yet to wear off, it singlehandedly broke open the world of superheroes by actually exploring how the world might react if people actually dressed up in spandex and fought crime. Now, some people actually do dress up in spandex and fight crime, but we'll get to that later. The idea of Superheroes in a real world, or at least acting something like regular people without all the stilted superfriends-speak and unironic catchprases, keeps coming up again and again, from my favorite show Venture Brothers (which owes much to Ben Edlund's Tick) about the weak, self-absorbed but super-scientist grown son of a seemingly superhuman titan of achievement, to Disney's surprisingly unawful tween-targeted Sky High, about the freshman year (at a floating superhero high school that might as well be called 'Superwarts') of the son of the world's mightiest superheroes, who also happen to be high-powered real estate agents; and of course, The Incredibles, which could somewhat fairly be described as Watchmen recast as a sitcom. All these projects break one of the cardinal laws of Superheroes: no attachments other than a single love interest, and for darn sure NO OFFSPRING. Just crossing the family dynamic with the superhero tropes provides so much wonderful friction that it's certain there are superhero family dramas (and superhero family sitcoms) in development. Seriously, how long can it be before someone decides to remake The Greatest American Hero?

However, as the Incredibles explored a bit, there is enormous potential in the ridiculousness in the world of Superheroes, or, as Warren Ellis and boingboing have redubbed them as a result of DC and Marvel attempting to enforce their recently-renewed 1979 'Superhero' trademark, Underwear Perverts. One of the most inspiring films in this area is the underappreciated Mystery Men, based loosely on a spinoff of misunderstood genius Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot Comics. There's a scene in Mystery Men where the main characters are auditioning potential new members of the team; and the parade of goofballs and their elevator pitches about their superpowers (The Waffler carries Truth Syrup, which is Low Fat) looks to me like a really fun idea for a library program. Have a panel of superhero judges to see superhero auditions, or give kids time to make their own costumes and form their own super squad and shoot a commercial for their services, with awards for awesomeness, ridiculousness, and outlandishness. With the right group, that could be an absolute blast. Maybe you could even get a real costumed hero to come inspire the audience.

Because there are real-life superheroes, of course. You may well have heard of Angle Grinder Man, who freed the booted cars of London, or heard Terrifica on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, a woman who protects the drunk girls of the bars of NYC (and has an arch-nemesis, Fantastico). Mexico has Superbarrio, protector of the weak and organizer of labor rallies, and here in Michigan we have FoxFire (not a web browser), who helps those in need as part of a shadowy organization known only as the "Nameless Few". Some of these people are bringing attention to their cause, others are tongue-in-cheek but not entirely kidding, some are sweetly earnest, and others are downright serious. If you can stand a bit of a web time warp (and a well-intentioned but not very comprehensive resource), you may wish to check out the World Superhero Registry to see if a caped crusader is available in your area.

Regardless of intent, the superhero is here to stay, and these ideas have left their Marvel & DC cradles and made the leap into the real world. They're even spilling out of their rightful place on the Graphic Novel shelf and storming Dewey's fortress of Solitude. In addition to numerous scholarly works about superheroes, a new book coming this october explores the plausibility of Becoming Batman and what it would realistically take to reach Batman's level of martial arts and technological prowess. Next up is a book about parenting twins, and how to activate their wonder twin powers.

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Mr. Nostalgia and Little Miss Back Again

OF COURSE you remember Mr. Men. And Little Miss. Tiny, square paperbacks on a rack in the grocery store's impulse zone. You had to have one every single time you went to that grocery store, too. And maybe your mom started taking you to Price Chopper instead because they didn't have a Mr. Men rack for you to whine about, so you never got that copy of Mr. Muddle until years later, when chasing your other lost childhood dreams on eBay, when you thought to look for Mr. Muddle, but eBay only had cookie cutters, because of course the damn things are still in print after all these years! So you remember Mr. Men.

The 43 Mr. Men books and the 30 Little Miss books haven't actually been continuously in print since they were first published starting in 1971, but they have come back several times in support of various television treatments over the years. The second to last time this happened was in the late 90's, when a pretty lousy Mr. Men and Little Miss show was produced by French children's animation studio Dargaud-Marina, shown on Britain's Milkshake! kid's show block, and then localized for the US and brought into local syndication in the US in 1997. That show wasn't very widely aired in the US, but it was enough to bring the books back into print, just in time for the new parents of the oughts who loved the books as kids in the 70's to see them on impulse racks and buy them for their own kids, finally achieving closure on those old price chopper wounds.

It appears that the closure market has been enough to keep the books in print for the past 10 years. In the meantime, Adam Hargreaves, the son of original author Roger Hargreaves, has kept the series going a bit, creating 6 new Mr. Men and 7 Little Misses, many of them odd promotional tie-ins, such as Mr. and Little Miss Birthday, created for the 35-year anniversary of the first Mr. Men book, which Adam was also responsible for as a little kid when he asked his dad what a tickle looked like.

And now, another new cartoon based in the Mr. Men and Little Miss universe has arrived, and this time, it's really great. The Mr. Men show is produced by Renegade Animation, producers of the quite wonderful and underappreciated Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, which attempted to introduce the completely awesome japanese girl rock band PUFFY to US audiences with some success. Renegade also developed the very strange live action / animation hybrid telefilm Re-animated, which spun off the not-exactly-beloved Out of Jimmy's Head. Renegade does a lot of work in Flash, which allows them to cut out overseas tweening studios and produce whole shows in house. Their New Mr. Men show is vibrant, stylish, well-written and fun, and while they may be playing just a little fast and loose with the canon, they've added some fun new ideas into the show. For example, each character now comes complete with a catchphrase ready to infiltrate elementary school conversations; Mr. Bump's expletive of choice is 'Poopity-poop!', and Mr. Rude's catchprase is "You want X? I'll give you X! *loud fart*." The new show also features an awesome title song, which is reminiscent of the awesome theme song from Lauren Child's wonderful Charlie & Lola, written by Søren Munk and Tom Dyson of Northwood.

The new show's sketch comedy format and clever expansion of the already-strong property make for a very funny cartoon, and the show's official blog shows why; the team is taking the property and the funny very seriously, and it's clear that they are engaged in putting out a great product. They're also soliciting ideas from fans in the comments of their blog, and with the perennial appeal of these characters, a Mr. Men and Little Miss character design contest could be a pretty cool library craft program for kids and a hearty does of nostalgia for gen X parents.

As Mr. Nervous says, I think this is the end.

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I've had the idea for this post for a while. In fact, my notes are dated February 22 of this year, although the links seem to indicate that my thoughts stretched into March on this. It all comes from the good people over at Entertainment Weekly's Pop Watch (an essential pop culture site). They found some old videos on YouTube of Sesame Street clips. These are all clips that I remember from my youth, much like the Pop Watcher who posted them. They are:

Making crayons
Girl Takes Llama to the Dentist
That Cantalope who sang Bizet's Carmen

(Ed note: that cantalope always scared me to death as a kid; it still gives me the shivers)

This got me thinking about a quote I say all the time. (quick aside: I constantly pepper my conversation with snippets of dialogue from television, movies, music, etc.; I suspect it's annoying to people who don't know what I'm talking about, but I'm helpless to stop) The line is: "You feed, I'll water."

NO ONE knows where this comes from. It reminds of when I started college and was talking to people about Schoolhouse Rock, and I got back blank stares. Then I went and bought the video tapes (yes, I went to college before there were DVDs, kids) and played them for people, which seemed to help jog their memory.

The line I remember is from a PSA about sharing. Two kids are fighting over feeding a rabbit...well, let's do some research and get the tale better told than I can:

But when kids do watch TV, after school and week-end mornings, they'll soon see some new 30-second spots illustrating nonviolent and positive solutions to conflict situations. Developed by the United Methodist Church, the Disciples of Christ and the Church of the Brethren, the "Children's Growing Spots" are available locally and on the network. "The Rabbit" goes like this:

Two children:
"I'm gonna take care of the rabbit."
"I wanna do it."
"We can't both do it. go!"

"What would you do?"

"I know. You feed, I'll water."

"When two people want to do the same thing, one idea is to divide the job and each do part of it."

"Tomorrow you feed and I'll water." "Deal."

"And that's a good way to share."

This article originally appeared in Media & Values Issue #10 / Winter 1980

Interesting that I found this article that was published nearly 30 years ago. I remember this ad clear as day. (I'll hang myself out to dry here: I always reimagined this ad with my BFF and I in it since it seemed like something we would do) But I've yet to meet someone else who knows this ad. Do any of you remember it?

Do any of you have any books from your childhood that no one else seems to remember? How about a reading club of 'forgotten' books? Or a programming item where people talk about their favorite books that no one else knows? Or perhaps even a display of things from your childhood tied to books in the collection? The ideas are endless.

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Ocean County Library's Diversity Cookbook

As some readers may know, I work for Ocean County Library and every now and then I just have to share something they are doing. OCL has a Ocean County Library's Diversity Plan, and part of that plan is, of course, programming.

Which leads to two questions: Getting ideas for an awesome, successful program; and not reinventing the wheel. Personally, I'm a big one for not reinventing the wheel; so I'll go thru old calendars, take a look at other libraries Google things, and find ideas that I then tweak for my library. (Other times I get great inspiration for a program, like this one. But even with being knowledgeable about what other libraries do, there are still unanswered questions like "how long did that take" and "what was really involved" and the like.

OCL's answer? The Diversity Cookbook. No, not food (tho honestly, when I first heard about it, that's what I thought.) It's a cookbook of great, tried and true diversity programs. Find a recipe, such as this one about Potato Chips. But here is where OCL adds that something extra; anyone can add a add a programming recipe. It's not limited to OCL staff or to OCL programs. Which means you (yes, you) can go now and add a program. The Diversity Cookbook is a great resource not because of OCL programs, but because it can be a place for all library programs; it's a resource whether you are looking to find a program or looking to share a program.

Just a few quick explanations; going with the "cookbook" theme, the "add a recipe" section is a form that asks for "ingredients" (what you need to make the program happen), directions, etc. And yes, there is a place for your name and your library.

If you want to see the Diversity Cookbook in action, and learn more about how it came into being, OCL will be presenting it at ALA in DC on Saturday at 10:30. It's called Connecting People, Building Bridges: Diversity Knowledge Database (under ALA/ Diversity.) (Right now, it's in the PDF at page 59).

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But It's Such A Good Program!

Over at Tea Cozy I posted about the myths surrounding the use of quilts in the Underground Railroad; Farm School has a nice list of resources but being a Jersey Girl my favorites are from Giles R. Wright, Director of the Afro-American History Program, New Jersey Historical Commission; check out this interview and this specific critique.

So, how many quilt programs does your library have during Black History Month? And what do you do to address the critique of the quilt theory?

Edited to add: Monica Edinger's thoughtful views on Appealing Myths.

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