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.