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.


Magic at Any Age, Indeed!

Thank you, Anastasia Goodstein! As anyone who reads YPulse knows, you really get teen culture, and your recent opinion piece on the value of adults reading Harry Potter gives a much-needed boost to a sorely misunderstood (and lately lambasted) area of publishing. I particularly like your broader point, towards the end of the column, that by engaging with popular teen culture in addition to popular culture aimed at grown-ups, you're part of a growing & healthy social trend:

That a lot of pop culture appeals to both kids and their parents has only helped improve parent-child communication. What's more fun than going to a bookstore at 9 at night with your kid to get the new book you're both dying to read before bedtime?

Well, exactly. My mother sometimes bemoans the fact that she just can't keep up with pop culture as a whole anymore because it's so fragmented. She remembers a time when pop culture meant three networks on TV, a selection of radio stations, and the newspaper. There was truly a national mass popular culture, with some regional variations. It's true that popular culture is segmented into almost more niche interests than I can count; it's also true that thanks in large part to online culture, more and more niche-dwellers are finding kindred spirits and joining other niche-interest communities, from music to sports to movies to literature to fetishes to politics to fashion. I think we're learning to make the fragmentation work for us as a society & as a culture. Now how about making it work for us in libraries?

Some ideas, beyond the usual Reader's Advisory tropes (and they're good ones, but there's something more out there, right?), most of them shamelessly lifted from periodicals & for-profit emporia I like:

  • R.I.Y.L. (Recommended If You Like) -- this is one of my favorite features of one of my favorite music magazines, CMJ New Music Monthly. Every album review ends with a list of three or four musical acts or concepts, some of them tongue-in-cheek. For example, at the end of a review of Green Day's American Idiot, the reviewer might write, "R.I.Y.L.: Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, The Ramones, singing in a fake English accent." (Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong, who is from California, generally sings as though he were The Adenoidal Lord of the London Guttersnipes. I'm not sure why he does that, but Joey Ramone used to sing that way, too, so maybe it's just a cherished pop-punk tradition.) My point, and I do have one, is that we could do this with our music collections, too. What's stopping us from slapping a sticker with R.I.Y.L.s onto CD jewel cases of lesser-known bands, to help boost their circulation? Why shouldn't we do the same with DVDs?

  • Staff Picks -- we see this at book, music, and movie stores all the time. It's so easy & cheap to do, and we should include every staff member's selections -- janitors, student assistants, cataloguers, librarians, administrators, whoever -- just set up a shelf next to the circulation desk (hello, impulse shopping!) put a big, colorful sign over it that says "Staff Picks!" and then encourage staff members to write 1 or 2 sentences about what's so great about their books of choice, posting the comments immediately below the books (which should be displayed face out, so that their lovely cover art is shown off to its best advantage).

  • Patron recommendations & reviews -- I'm thinking of something along the lines of the customer reviews feature at Amazon.com. I've been told by the IT gurus at my library that there is a module of our catalogue software, Innovative's Millenium, that would allow patrons to write reviews of catalogue items, and I really hope they install it. I think this would make the catalogue not only more interactive (a good thing), but also more user-friendly (an even-better thing). If you prefer a more low-tech route, encourage enthusiastic patrons to write brief (no more than 250-word) reviews of their favorite new titles for the library newsletter. They get their names in print, you provide a service to the wider community, and you look like the responsive, interested people you are -- everyone wins!

Any other ideas floating around out there? Anyone got a new & interesting (or old & interesting) niche-interest connecting method that's working for them? Let's hear about it!


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