Pop Culture in Libraries: Making libraries relevant to our youth or a transparent gimmick?

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Connecting with people is one of the specialties of libraries and I see no better way for libraries to connect with young people than by bringing pop culture, ‘modern popular culture channelled via the mass media that is aimed particularly at young people’, into the library in a variety of forms. When reading through the discussion questions for our 614 Twitter Chat on Culture and Pop Culture, I was quite surprised that this question was up for debate: ‘Does bringing pop culture into the library keep libraries relevant to young people or is it a gimmick young people see through?’ Hence, I decided to focus my blog this week on my overall thoughts on the topic as well on some of the tweets posted in response to this question.

My initial response, having teenagers myself and having been a teacher of teens for many years, was that teens are not going to reflect upon why libraries would be offering products, programs or services that are popular with the masses within their generation. I just can’t see them thinking, “The library is trying to lure us into visiting it by offering stuff that we’re interested in”. The word gimmick implies that the library is up to no good, deploying insincere, scheming strategies that would be obvious to any astute or skeptical teen. This idea, I thought, seemed ludicrous, but was surprised to see others’ differing opinions on the subject as shown below:

gimmicksI completely concur with @HamishEldershaw‘s view that when adults try to relate to teens using their lingo it is not well received, like the 30+ teacher who tries too hard by passing a group of students with his hat on backwards, giving a fist punch handshake and a, “Yo man, did you hear Drake’s new release. It’s rockin!” This type of approach is so transparent. However, I see libraries embracing pop culture as being a different matter altogether. Teens are coming into library spaces these days with or without library ‘gimmicks’. I can account for many teens frequenting Logan Libraries each afternoon after school to play games, use the computers, find resources or just hang out with friends in a safe, comfortable environment. If the library promotes popular culture too, word may spread that it stocks resources and runs programs that are of interest to teens. I believe this sends a strong message to the teen community that the library cares about its interests and thus welcomes teen patrons. This can only serve to promote a sense of belonging and attract more teens. And this, I believe, is certainly happening. As libraries evolve to meet the diverse needs of their teen communities, the diversity of teens visiting libraries is also evolving.

Additionally, in many libraries, Youth Advisory Groups (YAG) work with library staff to create a  library environment that is welcoming and relevant for teens. The youths within the community are the ones driving the creation, development and promotion of library services, programs, collections, publications and physical spaces for teens. In this way, the problem of gimmicks or having to use teen lingo is not relevant. Young people’s librarians/ library liaison officers are incorporating pop culture into many innovative library programs through their collaboration with YAG members. The way I see it, gimmick or no gimmick, if a library gets teens through its doors for a Comic Con in the Library  event or a Halloween Night Humans vs. Zombies Nerf Gun war, teen bums on seats for a Random Fandom Trivia Afternoon , or an increase in teen borrowers due to having a good selection of graphic novels, Manga or fangirl fanfiction  in its collection, the evaluation can only be: keep doing more of the same as you’re meeting the needs of your target demographic. I agree with @karenEyre2, even if teens were to see pop culture as a gimmick (which, as stated, I doubt they do) that doesn’t necessarily equate to them rejecting the gimmick.  Pop culture in libraries does make them relevant to our youth. 

Comments 8

  • Hi Lisa, I love your point about the Youth Advisory Group working closely with the library – my daughter was involved in one of these groups when she was younger and it was a great experience – they were able to organise lots of fantastic events which the library and local council really just facilitated by offering space, support and publicity. We were a bit disappointed when we moved to Brisbane and found that there wasn’t really anything similar here for her to continue with. I agree with you about teens not really seeing it as a gimmick too – if there is a Pokemon gym in the library my guys would be in there is a second – no questions asked!

    • Hi Sharee,
      I agree that Brisbane doesn’t seemed to have caught on to the benefits of having a YAG/ YAC within their City Council/ Public Libraries. The closest that Logan City Council has gotten to it is by setting up a focus group of young people to help them develop their 2012-2016 Under 18s strategic plan. This is a far cry from the on-going interaction and feedback of a Young People’s Librarian working with a formalised Youth Advisory Group on a regular basis. South Australia, and in particular, Mt Gambier, seem to be at the forefront of YAGing in Australia. Heh, aren’t you from Mt Gambier?!! (Wink wink -thanks exposing me to the value of YAGs!!)

  • Hi Lisa, great post. I love the idea of Youth Advisory Groups. Are they being implemented in Australian libraries? (I noticed the link you posted was Canadian). I think the existence of YAGs demonstrates how much libraries are respecting and recognising the needs of this group of users.

  • Hi lisa, As you said, many teens go to the library after the school to look for resources, use computers and play games on computers. I think then it is very necessary to bring pop culture into the library to increase young people interest in the library and provide them the environment they need.

  • Hi Lisa,

    Love your post! Your impression of a teacher talking about Drake really did make me laugh.
    I agree, there needs to be more services for teens in Brisbane. I had a look at the BCC library website when I was doing my own blog, and its really lacking! This is something that I have become interested in since teens week, I think teens can be misunderstood and its such a grey area!

    • So true. I think working with Youth Advisory Groups or Committees (or the like) is really integral in determining how libraries can better meet the needs of the youths in their community. If initiatives are presented by teenagers, on behalf of teenagers, they are bound to be much more relevant and better received.

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