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.

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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2008-03-29

Single In Library Land

Cynthia of Library Garden asks an interesting question: Library Jobs: Single People Need Not Apply?

Cynthia looks at it from the point of view of a part-time worker being asked, "can't you get insurance from your husband's job?"

From the point of view of a full-time worker (and, like Cynthia, a refuge from the corporate world) my answer is that being single in libraryland requires financial sacrifices. And I wonder at a profession that either requires these sacrifices, or (more likely) assumes that they will have a "traditional employee" where the library salary is a second income going into the household.

I think it is fairly safe to say that, due to finances, I will never afford to own a home in NJ again* or to adopt a child, unless I either win the lottery or get married or become the next JK Rowling. In other words, get more money. For the first five years as an MLS librarian with a full time job, I lived at my parent's home because rents in Ocean County were so high, I did not have a boyfriend or husband to share rent, and I wasn't prepared to do the ramen noodle/laundromat lifestyle again. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

But I do wonder, based on the report about the working poor in NJ, how families that are not two income do it. And why should people take a job, such as librarianship, knowing that if the worst thing happens -- death, divorce, unemployed spouse -- they have chosen a career where it will become a problem to pay a mortgage and put food on the table? Knowing that they can never say to a spouse, stay home full time with the children, pursue your dream of being an artist, homeschool the kids? Basically, that with an education (something which the report recommends to escape being the working poor), you will forever be working poor? Or, at least, for a hella long time.

* I used to be a home owner; sold it when I went back to library school. Sometimes I wish I hadn't because my mortgage with taxes was less than $800. I know! Back before the real estate market exploded.

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2007-07-16

Harry Potter

As I read the various articles about Harry Potter, the book, the movie, etc., I think, huh, it's rather funny; Harry Potter is not only expected to defeat Voldemort, he's also expected to single handedly change the reading habits of the entire world.

And while there is more about the reporting on & reviewing of HP that I want to post about it, I'll hold off for now. For example, why is it OK to so totally bash HP, JKR, and the readers? I've read comments and posts and articles that treat the book, the author, and the readers in a way that I rarely, if ever, see other books & authors & readers treated. It's as if they're the Paris Hilton of the publishing world (except, with panties and no arrests.) Meaning, JKR is so rich that it's OK to bash her, her work product, and her readers.

But, what motivated me to comment was this great post over at The Longstockings. My favorite line, to the bashers? And in the name of all I cherish, stop trying to ruin the fun for the rest of us. Which is ANOTHER odd thing; rarely have I seen people so intent on ruining the reading pleasure of others, by both talking down about what they read and getting read to spoil the ending out of meanness.

My favorite point, because I totally agree: Who cares if people don't read novels? (*Ducks under desk to avoid flying objects*) Okay, clearly I do, because my friends and I write them and I'd like that to be an economically viable profession. But honestly, no one is suffering a deficit of fiction or stories, thanks to this handy little moving-picture machine we all have in our homes.

As you know, I don't play sports. So, whenever I read about what people do or don't do for pleasure and entertainment, about their own personal choices, I try to imagine, what if they were talking about me and what I choose. So, instead of all the cries about people not reading novels, imagine the complaints about people not playing sports. Here's the thing: WE CANNOT FORCE PEOPLE TO ENJOY DOING SOMETHING THEY DON'T ENJOY. There will always be a percentage of people who don't like doing what I like doing; in this case, read novels.

But guess what? We're not going to convince anyone that reading novels is great! fun! if we bash their reading choices. And, of course, as it becomes clear with all these "people don't read enough novels" nonsense, what the writers really mean is that we are supposed to "read novels that are literary and worthwhile and not Harry Potter or chick lit or science fiction." So, not only are these writers insisting that readers must enjoy reading novels, they must enjoy reading a certain sort of novel.

And, speaking of novels, what's wrong with people reading nonfiction for enjoyment?

And, as you know from my intro at the top of the Tea Cozy blog, I'm more about the story than the books (tho I don't post enough about the movies & TV I watch.) So I loved the nod of respect to other ways that people get story.

Anyway. Enough of my Monday Morning Rant. Time to get ready for work.

Cross posted at A Chair, A Fireplace, And A Tea Cozy.

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