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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Fun Friday: Trailer Park

My husband Marcus & I are mad for movie trailers, so much so that we sometimes decide to forgo an evening out in favor of queuing up 90 minutes or so of trailers at Apple. We started this little habit of gorging ourselves on 90-second mini-movies back when we couldn't afford to go out, and we just never gave it up, because it was so much fun. Turns out, it's also a handy & super-cheap way to keep up to date with what's coming to the multiplex & local arthouse cinema.

Here are some of my most recent favorites, with contextual notes for fun, reader's & viewer's advisory, and displays!

Cthulhu -- I am not a fan of horror by any means, but I have a soft spot for Cthulhu. Maybe it's because I fell in love with Michael Chabon's Lovecraftian ghost, August van Zorn, in Wonder Boys (another very fine film adaptation). Maybe it's the exuberant, extravagant creepiness of putting a cephalopodic head on a quasi-human body. Whatever, it's awesome. Plus, this film co-stars Tori Spelling, which...well, that's just classic, isn't it? Teen soap queen-turned-low-rent reality star & sometime horror princess. Bust out the Lovecraft for all those Darren Shan fans who have torn through every book in his Cirque du Freak and Demonata series!

The Duchess -- Let me tell you, Britney? Paris? Lindsay & Samantha? Ladies, you have nothing, nothing! on Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Great-great-supergreat ancestor of Princess Diana (Georgiana's maiden name was Spencer -- she grew up at Althorp, too), the Duchess was the It Girl of the 18th century, a fashion icon, political heavyweight, and object of endless gossipy scrutiny. I kind of hate that they've rebranded her as The Duchess (what, like there are no other duchesses?), because that reminds me of the willful mis-speller Fergie, and I just don't want those streams crossed in my mind. I hate it even more that Amanda Forman's thoroughly engrossing biography, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, has also been rebranded with Keira Knightley's lovely, if too svelte for the 1700s, face on the cover. I'm kind of surprised at how grouchy I am over this, but you know I'll be seeing that movie as soon as it comes out. Hello, fabulous period costumes! Forbidden romance! Intrigue! This is a no-brainer for your Gossip Girl fans.

A Quantum of Solace -- When I first heard Daniel Craig would be replacing the ultra-suave Pierce Brosnan as Bond, I made my face of ultimate skepticism. I am very happy to admit how wrong I was. Having never been saddled with the "pretty" label, he's developed his chops as a character actor, and he brings an emotional depth to Bond that I think we've never seen before. He's also far scrappier, physically -- he's got more in common with Matt Damon's Jason Bourne than any previous Bond, who has never seemed like an action hero who ever actually got his clothes mussed while fighting off five thugs at once. Craig rules, basically, and I love the new, emotionally tortured Bond. Cross-market with the Bourne franchise, and for those readers too young to see a potentially R-rated film, the new Young Bond series by Charlie Higson.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
-- Of course! Quirky, music-loving teens find true love in one crazy night in New York. There's not much in this world better than that.

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Article in RA News: Scuse me while I kiss this guy

Who doesn't love love? Summer is always a perfect time for romance, which makes it the perfect time to blatantly self-promote!

Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy: Guy-centric YA romance is the featured article in the June 2008 edition of Readers' Advisor News. I've noticed that in the last few years more and more guy-centric romances for teens have been published and become popular. My personal theory is that the books are following movies, but you can read a little more about that in the article.

And feel free to add your favorite guy romances in the comments!

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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?


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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Resource Alert: Media Heat from Shelf Awareness

I was introduced to Shelf Awareness by my e-mail subscription to Unshelved, and I'm so glad! Not only is it full of interesting news about the world of independent booksellers, but it includes a great feature called Media Heat, which tells you all about the authors appearing on TV and radio programs during the coming week to flog their latest books. This is handy for collection development, displays, and reader's advisory, and takes about 5 minutes to read and put to use. Easy & free -- I love it! You can subscribe to Shelf Awareness here.

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Request for Good Younger Teen Reads

I received the following e-mail the other day:

I read with interest your posting about Addie Swartz, as I was lamenting to my girlfriends that when I went to Barnes and Noble to buy books for my 13 year old girl, there was nothing that appealed to me or that I thought would appeal to her, an athlete with little interest in clothes, makeup and to a lesser degree, boys. When I asked the B and N staff for specific recommendations, they came up with nothing. I have never heard of the Beacon Street Girls (but will soon buy these books for my 8 year old daughter)—what books other than these can you recommend for my daughter, and for parents who do not yet want their children to read about girls having sex and other more adult topics? I just pre-read the fourth book in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, and 3 of the 4 heroines had sex by the end of the story.

Okay, my well-read friends. Please put your thinking caps on and help out your fellow Pop reader.

I recommended the following:

  • Olive's Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
  • Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit
  • Airborn & Skybreaker, by Kenneth Oppel

The young lady in question has already read (and enjoyed, I hope) the first two, and her mom said she'd check out Airborn & Skybreaker. What else can we recommend? Please leave suggestions in the comments!

A few other titles that leap to mind:

  • Sea of Trolls, by Nancy Farmer
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko
  • Hoot and Flush, by Carl Hiaasen
  • Gregor the Overlander, etc., by Suzanne Collins
  • Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman, by Eleanor Updale

Anyone out there read Ida B.? It looks like a winner, but I haven't read it.

I'd also like to take a moment to praise this mother's pre-reading of the new Sisterhood title -- good for you! And is it wrong for me to enjoy a moment of schadenfreude that the staff at B&N were not terribly helpful? Let's just call it an illustration of the difference between libraries & bookstores, and leave it at that, shall we?

Once again: suggestions in the comments!

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