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.


Interview with YALSA President Sarah Debraski

Newly inaugurated YALSA President Sarah Debraski was kind enough to answer our burning questions about pop culture, YA librarianship & lit, leadership, and parenthood. (Questions are in bold, answers are in standard text.) Thank you, Sarah!

1. As YALSA president and a mom, what kinds of pop culture do you find time for? Movies, music, trashy TV?

Thanks to Netflix and Tivo I still manage to squeeze in quite a bit of tv and movies. My husband and I are really hooked on watching entire tv shows on dvd. This spring we watched Twin Peaks (I had not watched it when it originally aired and was totally taken in by it.) I admit to also being in the midst of watching 21 Jump Street and the Bob Newhart Show. The Office, That 70s Show, How I Met Your Mother, Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, Futurama, I love them all. It would be embarrassing to list any more than that, so I'll just say that we watch tv every night and I don't even consider it a guilty pleasure, it's just a plain pleasure.
Movies I see much less frequently, the most recent were Juno and The Queen (liked them both.)

As far as music goes I generally do not listen to much that's popular and you might even say I'm stuck in the past. I love Neil Young, Pearl Jam, and the Beatles. But I also like Ben Folds, The Decemberists, and Band of Horses.

Since I am the mom of a three year old I will tell you that I also watch Thomas the Tank Engine, Curious George, and occasionally Bob the Builder or Caillou.

2. What do you see as libraries' role in shaping and expanding pop culture?

As purveyors of media tie-ins libraries are intrinsically linked to pop culture. I think that libraries can show people (of all ages!) how interconnected cultural phenomenons are and how pop culture isn't something new (So You Think You Can Dance vs. American Bandstand --everyone wants to dance on tv!). More importantly, pop culture is a valid part of our overall culture, so it is imperative that libraries work it into their collections. Pop culture certainly includes books, too. The cover of this week's Entertainment Weekly has Twilight on it and a big feature on Stephanie Meyers. How can libraries ignore pop culture when we are part of it? By being part of it and encouraging trends, libraries can definitely shape pop culture.

3. What's one piece of advice you have for all YA librarians?

You don't have to act like a teen to get along with teens. You're an adult, they know it and you know it. You can be approachable, friendly, warm, but don't try to be something you're not (good advice for YA's too!)

4. What's your favorite YA novel and why?

This question hurts me because how can I choose just one?? I love Sarah Dessen, Shannon Hale, Sharon Shinn, Rob Thomas, The Cure by Sonia Levitin, anything set in a boarding school, and the Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden. The Marsden books are exciting and terrifyingly real. I love them because not only are they good stories, but also because Marsden doesn't talk down to his audience. His books inspire you to think about topics that are difficult, uncomfortable, sad, and scary. To wrap that up in a package that is also such good storytelling is the mark of a very good writer, I think.

5. Can you share some tips on family/work balance -- it's unusual (and inspiring!) to see a parent of young children so involved in our profession at the national level.

Thanks, Sophie! I did leave my job when I had my son three years ago, and now I have an eight month old daughter as well. It was a hard decision for me because I very much wanted to be at home with my kids, but I didn't want to let go of my profession. Remaining involved in YALSA turned out to be a good balance for me. I've carved out "work" time at home and my husband supports my involvement by staying at home when I travel. The best tip I can give to anyone would be to accept having a messy house. Seriously, when I have a few minutes to myself I sit down and read a book rather than pick up toys. I do a lot of work at night, but I always take time to sit down at the end of the day and watch a little tv and then read in bed. I'm still dedicated to my profession and right now I'm serving teens by being part of YALSA's leadership, which in turns helps others working directly with teens.

6. The theme for your presidential year is going to be Engaging the YALSA Community. Can you talk a little bit about how you chose that theme, how you hope to see it build on past YALSA achievements, and what successes you think it will set the organization up for in the future?

I started thinking about this theme when our membership numbers were growing by such leaps and bounds. I was considering all the different people I know in YALSA, some of whom I'm very close to. I thought it was interesting that while two people might both call themselves YA librarians, they might have very different careers, depending on so many factors--size of library, community, budget, administrative support, geography, etc. I also started thinking about YALSA members who don't work in traditional libraries--authors, online educators, consultants, and so on. I thought it was neat that YALSA could bring all these people together with a common goal of serving teens well, and I wondered how that could be built on. I wanted to make sure that YALSA could reach out to all its members, no matter what their role in young adult librarianship might be and I wanted it to go both ways--YALSA reaching out to members, members reaching out to YALSA. So, that's how Engaging the YALSA Community came about. I think YALSA already enjoys a high level of commitment from its members--witness our active committees, filled e-courses, and active discussion lists. The fact that we offer ways for members to be involved without attending conference is also great. This year I'd like to see that expanded upon and encourage people to become even more involved. I think it will definitely set up our organization for even greater success. Members will be invested in the association's growth and success and YALSA will continue to be the authority on young adult librarianship.

7. Being an active member of ALA and YALSA requires commitment and time. Some librarians have to persuade employers that it is a good investment of their time and their library's professional development dollars. What talking points would you suggest to librarians looking to convince their employers of the benefits of YALSA involvement? What are some of the things you think YALSA can do to help involve those librarians who cannot afford to travel to two ALA meetings a year?

The two most important things I would tell an employer are:
  • investing in employees is logical--you are investing in a staff who will make your library the best it can be, it's an investment that returns to the library, the community, the teens
  • young adult librarians often work in isolation;building a professional network is invaluable in terms of support and knowledge sharing

YALSA offers opportunities for those who can't attend conference in the form of discussion groups and interest groups, the blog, and the listservs. (Additionally, for those who wish to serve on a committee but can't attend conference, ALA policy allows 1/3 of a process committee to be made up of virtual members.) There are also opportunities to publish with YALSA. During my year I'm hoping to see more online social networking for our members.


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