". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, July 23, 2010

Libraries: The Next Pop Culture Thang!

From the Library Link of the Day:

A local news story skeptically questioning whether libraries are "necessary" set off a response from Vanity Fair, and a later counterpunch by Chicago's Public Library Commissioner won her support from such diverse, non-library-specific outlets as The A.V. Club and Metafilter, and from as far away as The Guardian.

Call it a hunch, but it seems to me that the thing is in the air that happens right before something — families with a million kids, cupcakes, wedding coordinators — suddenly becomes the thing everyone wants to do happy-fuzzy pop-culture stories about. Why?

Libraries get in fights. Everybody likes a scrapper, and between the funding battles they're often found fighting and the body-checking involved in their periodic struggles over sharing information, there's a certain ... pleasantly plucky quality to the current perception of libraries and librarians. Yes, it plays a little ironically against the hyper-stereotypical buttoned-up notion of what a librarian is, but the sense that they're okay with getting mad in public — like Chicago's Public Library Commissioner did — gives library people a spark they might not otherwise have.

Librarians know stuff. You know how the words "geek" and "nerd" have gone from actual insults to words used to lovingly describe enthusiasts? Well, if we haven't gotten past venerating people who don't know anything, we've certainly reduced, I'd argue, the degree to which we stigmatize people for knowing a lot. This alone might not make libraries cool, but it takes away from the sense that they're actively not cool. More specifically, they live in the world of information, and are employed in part to organize and make accessible large quantities of data. If your computer had feet and a spiffy personality, you see.

Libraries are green and local. This is where there's a lot of potential appeal for the same people who like organic produce and reusable grocery bags. You can pretty easily position a library as environmentally friendly (your accumulation of books and magazines you are not reading is fewer trees for the rest of us, you know), not to mention economical (obvious) and part of your local culture. This is the part of the potential appeal that's anti-chain-store, anti-sprawl, anti-anonymity, and so forth.

Libraries will give you things for free. Hi, have you noticed how much hardcover books cost? Not a Netflix person? They will hand you things for free. That's not an especially hard concept to sell.

"Open to the public" means "some days, you really have to wonder about people." This is where you get the spark of an idea for TLC or somebody to do some goofball show called The Stacks, which follows a small local library through funding problems, trying to get book clubs started, whatever. When your building is open to the public, that means open ... to ... the ... public. And you know what's a little unpredictable? The public. This is where you might get your drama. (When I was in college, the information desk used to post the best questions it received, one of which was "How long do you cook spaghetti?" I suspect many libraries have similar stories.)

There seems to be a preposterous level of goodwill. Quite honestly, I feel like you can go on YouTube and act like a complete goof (in the best way), and if it's for libraries, people have that same rush of warmth that they used to get about people who had sextuplets, before ... well, you know. Before.

I don't know whether it's going to come in the form of a more successful movie franchise about librarians than that TV thing Noah Wyle does, or a basic-cable drama about a crime-fighting librarian (kinda like the one in the comic Rex Libris), or that reality show I was or that reality show I was speculating about, but mark my words, once you've got Old Spicy on your side and you can sell a couple of YouTube parodies in a couple of months, you're standing on the edge of your pop-culture moment. Librarians: prepare.


K. said...

Right: The public's most dependable and trustworthy source of information is not necessary.

Library systems in areas with affluent taxpayers rarely have to worry about furloughs or cutting back hours because taxpayers have shown time and again that they will pay to avoid that, regardless of the economic circumstances. The computers in the Redmond branch are in such heavy use that there's a time restriction. That says something.

Foxessa said...

It's been like that here from before the internet hookups -- then it was with newspapers. People lined up before the doors opened to sign up first for the dailies and weekend editions of the NY Times, London Times, Daily News, etc.

Now it's the computers with internet access.

The worse the economy gets the more users there are for all the services, but the staffs, resources and funding for the libraries are constantly cut. We waged a nearly 10 month war with mayor Mike to stop the new draconian cuts that would have closed many of the branches and cut back severely on the hours of the rest -- on top of a series of draconian cuts that had already taken place. There was farkin' nothing to cut!

That so many voters turned out to put the pressure on let us win this one. This time. For now.

Love, C.

New Orleans Ladder said...

Mon, you guys haven't lived until you've worked in the Quarters in Nola during The Library Convention.
I believe that may have been the first convention back post flood too! Anywayz, they're insane, all over da'place. Watch out!

Foxessa said...

Editilla -- I played a very minor part in the ALA's choice to hold that annual convention in New Orleans.

Librarians are always ready for a party. We are very social animals, and have great senses of humor -- even when actually working as librarians, which I'm not any longer, other than volunteer work.

Love, C.

K. said...

It's true: My father is a very funny guy and -- at 82 -- always ready for a get-together.

Foxessa said...

Which contributes greatly to our desire and delight in helping people.

Love, C.