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.


Learning from Radio

Now that I am schlepping Nell to daycare, myself to work, and then both of us home on a regular basis, I have a longer commute -- maybe 30 minutes each way (I know, cry you a river, right?) -- and I listen to the radio the whole time I'm in the car. Often, the radio is tuned to NPR, because in the last few years I have become a ravenous news junkie, but an average of 3 out of my 10 weekly trips, I'll tune in to one of the many stations the Philadelphia area has to offer and see what's playing.

Lately, actually, I've been homing in on two stations, desperately hoping to hear one of my favorite songs of Summer 2006: "Crazy", by Gnarls Barkley, "SexyBack", by Justin Timberlake, "Ain't No Other Man", by Christina Aguilera, and "Promiscuous", by Nelly Furtado (featuring Timbaland). These stations are 97.5 WPST and Wired 96.5. WPST's interstitial ads are always talking about the PST Loyal Listener Club and their Totally Interactive Night Show, and now that I've seen just how interactive their night show is -- listeners can IM, e-mail, or call the DJ, the show includes call-in games, and there's even an in-studio webcam for the truly stalkerish among their listeners -- I'm thinking that there are some useful takeaways here for libraries. Probably not the webcam, though.

  1. Members Only: Libraries already have an analog to radio's Loyal Listener Clubs -- these are our patrons, users, customers, borrowers, whatever you want to call them. [Actually, I quite like borrowers. I'm using that from now on.] Why don't we offer small prize drawings year-round for our members? These don't have to be big things. Fine amnesty, movie tickets for two, free water ice, modest gift certificates to local emporia, books, whatever! Be creative -- think about what mini-prizes get people in your community excited & talking amongst themselves. Make a banner advertising the promotion, encourage all borrowers to update their phone numbers upon checkout, and schedule a weekly drawing. Do this for 6 months. See what happens. I think your borrowers will really, really dig it.
  2. Interactivity: Libraries are, as the kids say, totally interactive once you get inside the building, but what about those would-be borrowers who can't get to the library during its regular business hours? Or those who would rather just interact electronically? Think of PST's Totally Interactive Night Show as a musical analog to your reference, reader's, and youth services. Do you offer IM reference for any age group? Do your library's web pages offer, right up front, a set of ways to get in touch with your staff and get what they need? Shinn the DJ does. Do you regularly post photos of your programs & events? PST does. Think about setting up a free Flickr account -- it's so easy to use -- and then don't rest on your laurels. Promote the heck out of it, in person-to-person interactions, and on your website.
  3. Don't Guess! Ask And Listen: Another local station, 88.5 WXPN, is a listener-supported station (meaning they hold quarterly begathons to raise money for their freedom from commercials). It was my favorite station in college and for several years afterwards. After a few years of wandering in the wilderness of frankly boring, homogenized, droney music (which no doubt they thought was what their listeners wanted to hear), they have come roaring back to much of their former greatness with a truly various playlist. I think XPN's return to excellence has everything to do with their decision to ask their listeners what they really want to hear, and then listening to that feedback, and airing it. The station honchos mine monthly online survey results (this month's is closed, but check the Sounding Board again next month), lively discussion boards, comments to a frequently updated blog, and feedback from a rebranded All About The Music Festival for information about their listeners' and members' habits, tastes, and interests. Guess what? Those tastes are far more varied and deep than those well-meaning but wrongheaded honchos previously thought! Long Tail, anyone? (btw, Chris Anderson's session at ALA was excellent and inspiring -- I have notes, and will post them here. Eventually.) Let's not wait for people to tell us what we could be doing to meet their needs and interests more accurately & more swiftly: let's ask good questions, and really listen to those responses.
  4. Go Where They Are: This is totally stolen from Stephen Abram's presentation on Millennials at ALA (again, yes, I have notes, yes, I'll post them. Eventually. Baby, remember? I like spending time with Her Cuteness & her {equally cute} daddy more than I like typing up notes from my generally illegible scrawl.) All three radio stations in my modest survey are constantly out & about in the communities they serve, making their friendly, musical presence known at events as varied as a bead show, an artist's talk, and fundraising 5K (XPN), clubs and car dealerships (Wired), and a variety of happy hours and retro dance parties (WPST). What community events does your library attend & set up a booth at?


  • At 4:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Loved this article and I believe you hit it spot on at the end when you mentioned what the radio stations are up to and where they are.

    -Bryce Clemmer
    Online Radio Redefined


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