Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Popular Culture in the Academic Library: Community Building


When I was a fresh out of grad school librarian, I didn't realize that embracing popular culture things - I use "things" for lack of a better umbrella term - as outreach and community building was in anyway abnormal. 13+ years into my career, I know it was very unusual back then and is still sadly uncommon now. Here are some of the things I currently embrace and/or have embraced in the past:

  1. Gaming events in the library. In the past I've hosted Humans vs. Zombies, a Super Smash Brothers tournament, and board game events at more than one library. The video game tournament wasn't as successful for relationship building, but every single other event I've listed was a huge success for the library. We got to know the students/faculty/staff of the school and they got to know us.
  2. Graphic novel collections. My first library job in higher ed was at a college that specifically worked with students who have learning differences (ADHD/dyslexia/etc.). For so many of those students, and students I've worked with since, the library represented what they couldn't do well. Sequential art, on the other hand, uses different parts of the brain for processing than what we use for reading just words. My first graphic novel collection was a way to reach out to students and to get them in the library. It worked so well that I've created similar collections everywhere else I've worked.
  3. Popular press fiction and nonfiction collections. I've been lucky to work with a lot of popular culture scholars in my library career. From the biomedical humanities professor who studied film to the Cormac McCarthy scholar and beyond, I was responsible for collecting works of and about popular appeal "things." That's the traditional reason for academic libraries to have such collections. But I saw the crossover appeal to pleasure reading/viewing/etc. in those collections at a school with no other source of books/movies/etc. in walking distance. 
  4. Service to consortia. Two of my three library jobs in higher ed were at libraries that participated in large consortia: OhioLINK and Delaware Libraries. Smaller schools are typically net borrowers, so having popular music or movies or books can help even out the imbalance.
  5. Board game collections. This is my most recent endeavor, and it's still fairly unusual for an academic library to have a circulating board game collection, but it's one of my favorite things I've done. It started out purely as an outreach maneuver. We have a group on campus called "Campus of the Nerds," and I was seeing them in the library a lot anyway. Creating the board game collection was a way to support a new student club, but it's also been a great tool for getting to know faculty and staff and other students. We've even gotten suggestions for board games to add, and getting any kind of request from our community is rare even when we solicit requests.
I know I've beaten this particular drum before, but it's a big thing for me. Community building is key to all libraries, and it's not just about the services we provide. Academic libraries of all makes and models could easily add these kinds of collections and this kind of outreach. You know what? Let me fix that sentence: all libraries should embrace these kinds of collections and outreach.

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