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.


Grown-Ups on Facebook: Bad Idea Jeans?

The NY Times has this nifty weekly column, called Cyberfamilias. I love that, in part because we sometimes call my Dad The Paterfamilias, and I just think working Latin words into everyday conversation is funny, and in part because our age is such a perfect one for portmanteaux. Also, every time I see a word ending in "-familias", I think of George Clooney in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? shouting about being the "Got-damned paterfamilias".

Where was I? Oh yes, Cyberfamilias. How appropriate that my introduction to the column was this gem, "omg my mom joined facebook!", which details the mortifying process of a mother of teenagers attempting to join her daughter's online world, only to be coolly and thoroughly rebuffed: "everyone in the whole world thinks its super creepy when adults have facebooks.”

Looking at my own anecdotal evidence, I'm starting to think she's right.

I have a MySpace, which I signed up for thinking it'd be a good way to keep in touch with the teens who use my library. Turns out the teens who use my library aren't all that interested in being friends with me on MySpace -- they're perfectly cordial in person, but they seem to regard The Internets as their world, not mine. At any rate, I haven't logged in since January, at least, and I don't foresee logging in anytime soon. I may delete it, I may not. Turns out, it's a nice way to find long-lost friends from high school.

I think what it comes down to is that often in libraryland, some of us who are into technology (and I am most certainly including myself in this category) suffer from what Marcus calls "Oooh, shiny!" Syndrome -- we are like magpies, hunting down and hoarding up anything new that we think we can use to better connect with our patrons. This is not intrinsically bad, but when we adopt a technology without thinking through how we're going to use it, or how much time it will take to make it yield the results we're hoping for, we are setting ourselves up to look really stupid.

I'm not arguing against experimentation, or trying things out, and certainly not against chucking our field-wide terror of Not Doing Things The Right Way. I'm just saying that just as "Oooh, shiny!"-itis is not intrinsically bad, neither are all of the nifty little (and not-so-little) technological innovations intrinsically useful for us.

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Thank You, OLA SuperConference!

I'm here in Toronto, my favorite city in the world, attending the Ontario Library Association's Super Conference (believe me, it is super in every sense of the word -- super-sized, superlatively organized and super-interesting) and have finally come down from the amazing high of presenting to over 160 people at my morning session on pop culture, called (natch) Pop Goes The Library. This was a teen-centric presentation, but as I was putting together the slides (to be uploaded to www.popgoesthelibrary.com/talks/ola2007.pdf as soon as I get home & get my hands on Acrobat Distiller) for it, I realized that as much as I love focusing on teens & pop culture, that's a really easy sell. I almost prefer the challenge of selling my more traditionally-minded colleagues on pop culture's importance to library service. Maybe next year! Anyway, this was a wonderful experience, and I want to thank my Convenor, Kate Morrison, and my OPLA liaison, Maria Politano, for making the whole process of being a speaker move so smoothly.

UPDATE: I uploaded the handout. It's available here.

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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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