The Libraryization of Pop Culture – OR – The Pop Culturizaton of Libraries.


Since when are libraries cool? Those of us in the field know and have known this for a long time, and perhaps our patronage could say the same. But the larger American Pop Culture, with all its celebrity-gossip column kitchyness, and entertainment-hungry, bookless heathens, when did they get in on the secret? The more important question: if libraries are cool, does that change something important or inherent in the culture of librarianship, the way we interact with patrons, or the type of “service” libraries offer?

I’m sure many of you read, retweeted or bookmarked the article from NPR’s columnist Linda Holmes, on this exact topic. I had been pondering the interaction of libraries and pop culture since at heart I am, or once was, a scholar of pop culture, and Ms. Holmes article really hit on some great points. Here’s what I have noticed as a new-to-the-profession pop culture historian/nerd –

I think a lot of it boils down to digital preservation. The ability and access that is offered to everyone with a scanner and some server space has/is revolutionizing the way humans archive history. Scanning The Daily Swarm the other day, one my my favorite music news aggregator sites, I noticed that words like “database“and “archive” were showing up in more than a few article titles. Information collection is not only important, as we know, it is now easy, and the public, who are getting so darn good at the internets, are taking advantage of that fact and archiving the hell out of contemporary life as we know it.

It is no surprise that the whole “free” thing is catching on too. In a culture obsessed with having it all, especially combined with the debates around the economic worth of music, the fact that there exists an institution that is founded on the premise of providing information, knowledge and access to everyone FOR FREE, is a major gamechanger.

Could we also consider the fact that perhaps Marilyn Johnson’s wonderful “This Book Is Overdue” introduced a pop culture audience to the “neo-librarian,” who looks, talks and acts more like a rock star than a stodgy professor? The superficial appeal of a workforce that is increasingly more young, hip and involved in culture cannot be underestimated. Not to mention that the neobrarians are often the ones bringing pop culture into the stacks, like my friends at the Jacksonville Public Library who have introduced a Zine collection to the circulation. (Don’t get me started on the shift of indie culture to mainstream and the effects that has had on indie media… that was my thesis topic in my former life!)

Libraries adapt and provide the services, skills and access that the culture desires and it should come as no surprise to anyone that the “media rooms,” Information Commons’, and Blogging 101 seminars are finally gaining mass appeal. Let’s ride the wave and impress the pop culture weenies with our aptitude to meet them where they are, Perez Hilton addiction and all.


4 thoughts on “The Libraryization of Pop Culture – OR – The Pop Culturizaton of Libraries.

  1. Core to it all is the way technology changes the game. The game is the old model of what a library is/should be. Insert your own definition/vision/mission. Libraries have been caught in what I call a mid life crisis in terms of dealing with technology as a whole and specifically the technological implications on services/offerings aka its mission and last but not least its staff. 45 year old hipster librarian roaming the stacks is mere window dressing. Even worse is the 55 year old director that thinks it’s cool to have a “wangsta” on staff. In one sense, I say the profession has to skew younger. Only real “G’s” need apply. But most importantly, Libraries must adapt/adopt/accept/embrace/use/learn/love/teach/create technology the way most of pop culture has.

  2. This is a really good article – with an excellent point! I’m not sure how – or when – the library thing caught on (it being pop culture friendly), but it can’t be a bad thing at all. I say embrace it and see where it takes us.

    Have you heard of this new thing called Book Swim? It’s basically a Netflix type way of paying to rent books.

    Um. You can do that at the library. For Free. Can’t get around? Many libraries now mail the book to you. I think the public needs to better understand libraries, and, of course, libraries have to keep up with the emerging technologies to keep them relevant/cool.

  3. I was recently reading through the comments on a Lifehacker article entitled How to Stay Productive Working from Coffee Shops (or Anywhere Out of the Office). I was surprised to see that more than a few people didn’t know that libraries offered free wifi AND a quiet place to study. This is perhaps evidence that many people don’t automatically think of libraries as physical places anymore (even though they might be very info-literate in online environments and make good use of digital libraries).

    On a related note, I grew so tired of seeing comments from librarians who abhor the “hipsterization” of libraries following that NPR article. I don’t actually get to witness this hipsterization because I live in Orange County, CA (Dan Savage aptly described it as a “cultural desert”), so I’ll have to take their word for it. But once you start resenting your patronage, it’s probably time to get out of the profession.

  4. It is still surprising to me to so many people don’t seem to take libraries seriously, like they are just spaces for college kids, toddler reading time, and the homeless. I do hope that those cultural sentiments continue to change, as it seems they might be.

    I agree about your observation that following this article there was some strange feedback across the blogosphere. The hipsterization of libraries can be seen as a positive or negative depending how you talk to. I think as long as people are being enlightened than it doesn’t matter how cool it it or not, and what cultural milieu they take to get there. It’s up to us to foster that change in mindset!

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