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.


Sports Matter

Before I changed careers to become a librarian there was one thing I could count on every Monday morning and Friday afternoon—someone would be talking about weekend sports around the water cooler. But since I became a librarian, first in an academic library and then in a public library, I noticed that my colleagues rarely mentioned the “F” word, by which I mean “Football”. This morning as I was weeding old magazines and journals at home I came across an issue of Booklist from 6/1/06 and 6/15/06 in which columnist Will Manley of The Manley Arts: The Worried Librarian writes, “In my role of chief worrier of the world, it’s important for me to avoid worrying about trivial things. For instance, I don’t care who wins the Super Bowl or the World Series. I will leave the worries of spectator sports to those who have a psychological need to assign some sort of cosmic meaning to games involving balls of various shapes and sizes.”

Fellow Librarians, this kind of attitude is a difficulty. It is especially important to care about sports if you are attempting to attract male readers. According to research from Neilsen Sports “over 60% of American households say that they have a football fan”. When I worked as a youth services librarian I once asked some middle school boys to help me make a book display. They were unenthusiastic until I told them I wanted to do a display about sports. Their eyes lit up and they buzzed about in the stacks selecting books “that kids would like about basketball, football, hockey…” When I was a young adult librarian the books I put on display about sports flew off the shelves. Sports books displays work.

February is Super Bowl time and also the beginning of Black History Month. Yesterday in the NFC and AFC title games history was made as two African-American head coaches go to the Super Bowl for the first time, Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts (Read more at Superbowl.com). Create a book display. And if you are a night-owl there is some fantastic tennis going on down under at the Australian Open, live on ESPN2 in the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps create a display featuring books about the country of Australia, tennis and Australian writers?

Even if you are a librarian who does not care about sports (and I know there are many librarians who do care about sports) bear in mind that many of your patrons are sports fans.

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  • At 1:51 PM, Blogger Kathy said…

    I ditto what you said! I am a school media specialist and I always incorporate sports themes in what I do every year. I am personally a huge baseball fan and have done a number of contests and book displays and bulletin boards about baseball. Every year I also do a question of the day revolving around the NCAA basketball final four. I use a map of the US and we do geography questions based on where the NCAA teams are.
    Even ALA sponsored a promotion with Major League baseball.

  • At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have to agree, being a teen librarian myself. To keep even girls interested in reading (who may be very involved in school sports) it's important for librarians to keep up on what's happening around the world. I enjoy tennis a lot, not football as much. I always watch the superbowl though. I'm glad for this post, it reminded me to make a football display for the boys & girls who will be watching!

  • At 4:30 PM, Blogger Little Willow said…

    Too funny - I am not a sports fan, by and large, and I just made a sports booklist a few days ago at a friend's request! Great minds think alike. :)

  • At 1:51 PM, Blogger Tom said…

    You'd be surprised how many closet sports fans there are out there in library land. I'm actually surprised that Will Manley would say something like this, because normally I find myself in agreement with most of the things he has to say (sometimes much to my chagrin).

    Not only is an awareness of the cultural importance of sports a big part of understanding American pop culture, but it's also a fantastic ice-breaker with other nonprofessional members of your library staff. Being able to talk about the big game on Sunday gave me an instant rapport with our building and grounds staff at a previous workplace that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

    Sometimes there's an element of genuinely snobbishness at work, but other times people may not talk about sports in the library simply because they've been unconsciously conditioned not to bring it up in a "serious" workplace setting. To be honest, I've found the same to be true about a lot of pop-cultural elements in academic libraries -- it wasn't until I had some fanboy coworkers that I myself felt comfortable about expressing my love for comics and graphic novels at work, but now I can have conversations with anyone there on the topic.

    I remember that one of my cubicle-mates was vocally against organized sports, so when I first started working there I did my best to hide the fact that I was a Red Sox fan until we ended up in the postseason and it was impossible to contain my enthusiasm. Well, the darnedest thing happened -- over the course of that playoff season *he* ended up becoming a baseball fan as well!

    While Will Manley is undoubtedly right that there are more important things to worry about than the previous night's box scores, practically speaking there's a lot to be gained from keeping one eye on the sports page. Ludology (the study of play) is becoming a big thing in academic circles, so even the "serious" scholars should be paying attention as well.

  • At 10:57 PM, Blogger bookwoman said…

    I work in a small public library, with only two men on staff (one of whom knows little if anything about sports). This morning, as soon as the first staff member walked through the door (a woman in her 70s), we were deep in discussion about the Colts-Patriots game, and how happy she is to see Tom Dungy going to the Super Bowl. Sports talk is our staple early morning conversation while getting the library ready. And none of our delivery guys gets out on Mondays without an extensive recap of the weekend events. And I won't even go into the havoc that the Olympics wreaks on our schedules. But then again, we are considered an odd little library.

  • At 6:47 PM, Blogger melissa said…

    Great post! I'm totally in favor of taking a greater interest in sports, and I hope this has raised some thoughts in other librarians' minds.

    BTW, next year Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults will be doing a sports list. It'll be a great resource when it's released.

    And I'm one of those bleary-eyed people who have been watching, and loving, the action at the Australian Open this year.


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