Is the 21st Century Library a Fad?


When I saw this Huffington Post headline – The “Pop-Up” Library: A Mini-Movement of Knowledge – I just had to respond to what appears to be almost a counter culture movement (Actually I hate to give it that much credit, but what should it be called?) within our profession – and unfortunately the media – toward making events into a “LIBRARY” when everyone knows they are NOT LIBRARIES.

I first heard about the “pop-up” fad on an Anthony Bourdain TV show about restaurants that are popping up in odd places, sometimes overnight. They offer great food – according to Tony – stay in business often with volunteers, and close about as quickly as they opened. The point being – as I understand – to spotlight good food and fun times among foodies.

The fad is apparently also filtering into weddings. You can find evidence online, and even in the movies. The recent film The Five-Year Engagement ended with a pop-up wedding of sorts. It was ‘planned’ by the bride and friends, was a surprise to the groom, but he got to cafeteria-style pick his wedding in the park in San Francisco on the spur of the moment. Cute idea – but it is the movies.

Back to the Huffington Post article by Ryan Mack (Financial Expert and Economic Commentator) that states;

On this day, May 1st, deemed by many as May Day, activists from across the country had gathered in protest hoping to breathe fresh life into the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Five hundred gathered in Bryant Park and over 300 gathered on the Brooklyn Bridge. However, these two activists in Brooklyn decided not to participate in the protests and wanted to create change in a different way.

Margaret, an unemployed librarian, and Adam, an architect looking for work, decided to create the “pop-up” library. The idea is simple. Gather as many donated books as possible (they got their original books from the Occupy Wall Street library), collect furniture from the street to paint in nice bright colors, get mugs of coffee and put it all out in urban locations throughout the community. They had carefully selected areas of the community that looked as though they could benefit from some brightening up … not only with paint and bright colors but also with knowledge. There you have the “pop-up” library.

So, here we have a perfect example of a writer – “Financial Expert and Economic Commentator” to be exact – labeling an unemployed librarian and an out of work architect giving away books left over from an Occupy Wall Street event as “There you have the “pop-up” library.” Seriously? Talk about misleading and fact distorting headlines. Mack goes on to finish a story about two enterprising and laudable people who are trying to improve peoples’ lives, not make a library.

They admit to “activating the space”, “engaging the community” and just trying to help people out – but their self labeled “pop-up library” has such an appealing label that it was too tempting for Mack to pass up and just write a factual headline that stated “Enterprising Citizens Helping Neighbors”. Their books came from the Occupy Wall Street event – which was another NOT LIBRARY.

The Pop-Up fad is becoming popular, so why not label this a “pop-up” library? Everybody wants attention! Mack hopes it goes viral, I’m sure the young people on the street do also, and stuff like this often does. But at what cost to REAL libraries? What will this fad accomplish for making libraries relevant to the community?

I know – let’s associate the vital information services that a real LIBRARY provides with a fad – they can both fade when the novelty of the fad is gone.

Fad:
A fad is any form of behavior that develops among a large population and is collectively followed with enthusiasm for some period, generally as a result of the behavior’s being perceived as novel in some way. A fad is said to “catch on” when the number of people adopting it begins to increase rapidly. The behavior will normally fade quickly once the perception of novelty is gone. Wikipedia

To me there are two forces at work here.

First, the media who is always looking for a story to make headlines because that is there business. That’s who they are. That’s how they make money. They are not going to change any time soon, so we just have to deal with that – which is why the Partnership for 21st Century Skills is trying to educate young people with Media Literacy.

Second is the lack of leadership within the profession to give direction and give a believable and understandable answer to that nagging question “Why do we need libraries in the 21st Century?” At a recent state library association conference, ALA President Molly Raphael stated that she still gets this question far too often, but she didn’t offer an answer.

Seems to me like if the profession came up with a good answer for that question, we could put it to rest. Did our 20th Century predecessors get asked why libraries were needed? Not during the first 90% of that century. So, we’ve had a couple of decades to create an answer – but I haven’t seen or heard it. Instead we’re having Oxford style debates to make light of the issues.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Is the 21st Century Library a Fad?

  1. Bringing books and libraries onto the street – out in the open where they are impossible to ignore – does a good deal more for the promotion of libraries than a blog post. I would also appeal to you to look beyond the traditional definition of library.

  2. Stacey

    I actually love the idea of pop-up libraries. It seems to me that these so called pop-up libraries will serve to remind people that real libraries exist. I just don’t see the harm in a fad that may boost people’s awareness of real libraries, and by positioning the activity of reading as a cool, community thing to do. It might also remind people of the importance of libraries as rare community spaces in the 21st century where you can connect to others through reading and disengage from the technology we are so absorbed in.

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