The LIS field is filled with pop culture images, seen and learned by our students. Learning about these images relevant to our students is indeed a task worthy of our time. We are preparing student to enter a profession with their own identity as a professional; pop culture may provide a useful tool in equipping them to do this successfully. We surveyed library students across the country to discover the LIS images they knew before starting their LIS studies and those they know now. Then we looked at sources, to discover what images they are drawing from their student life, and specific lessons they learned. Instead of turning our backs on this imagery form popular culture, we can focus more deliberately on shaping it to meet the needs of the profession and the students, to help this process of entry to the profession.
Popular culture is everywhere around us, evolving and changing as it both leads and reflects important cultural images and values. We are inundated with images on every potential topic, including bratty misbehavior of both Jersey Shore kids and Beverly Hills housewives, the need to argue about tiny issues in big dramatic ways in a kitchen, a design studio, a house, a rehab center, or a desert island. We also see images of the happiness and sense of belonging we can have if we use Apple products, drink Starbucks coffee, or eat Dunkin Doughnuts - fitting the image they project.
Being fluent in pop culture means we are able to participate in a wider range of riffs and parodies of the very cultural images we see. The in-jokes and references we knowingly laugh at while watching The Simpsons make us feel like we understand the behind-the-scenes or secret information as we recognize references to hundreds of movies, TV shows, and other popular images. The fun of watching the US Olympic Swim team lip-synching video of "Call Me Maybe" on YouTube is only surpassed by the humor of then watching dozens of others groups doing the same thing and sharing the same experience, including the Harvard Basketball team, the Australian cycling team Orica-GreenEDGE, the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders, US Army Infantry Soldiers in Afghanistan, and even a painstakingly word-by-word dubbed together version of President Obama "singing" along. Chronological age is transcended in popular culture appreciation while watching Sesame Street where we can learn to count, hone our skill at color recognition, and pick up some important words in Spanish - all from pop culture Muppet stars like Ernie, Big Bird, and Grover, along with pop culture human stars like Katy Perry, David Beckham, Alton Brown, Sally Ride, Jim Parsons, Peggy Fleming, B. B. King, and hundreds more.
Dismissing popular culture as irrelevant misses the point entirely; by its nature it is prevalent in the lives of people, including our students and all members of the LIS profession. The LIS field is ffilled with pop culture images, seen and learned by our students. Learning about these mages relevant to our students is indeed a task worthy of our time. We are preparing student to enter a profession with their own identity as a professional; pop culture may provide a useful tool in equipping them to do this successfully.
In this study, we wanted to learn about the LIS images our students know. We surveyed library students across the country to discover the LIS images they knew before starting their LIS studies and those they know now. Then we look at sources, to discover what images they are drawing from their student life. As educators, we can take this information and use it to help students build their own vision of themselves as professionals. Instead of turning our backs on this imagery form popular culture, we can focus more deliberately on shaping it to meet the needs of the profession and the students, to help this process of entry to the profession.
An increasing number of students, particularly younger students, are very familiar with a variety of pop culture images learned from a variety of different media formats, particularly digital. "The digital world in which young people have immersed themselves is endlessly varied, constantly changing, user-centered, and never, ever boring" (Ronayne, Shayne, and Nguyen, 2012, p. 23). Using that world, with all the accompanying pop culture symbolism and imagery will help students to connect their interests with the classroom work, resulting in a more positive learning experience for everyone. We want to help our students build a professional identify for themselves; providing information is the best tool we have - but it must be relevant and useful to the student. Integrating an understanding of pop culture can be a useful tool.
Librarians Using Pop Culture
The job of a librarian is to convey information. To effectively do this, we need to be able to connect with the patrons, understanding some of their interests, the way they think, and some of their references. Additionally, librarians need to be sensitive to the idea community members can go many places for information; a library is merely one of their choices, so the environment needs to be welcoming on a level they will appreciate.
Librarians across the country are using pop culture images to connect with patrons who might otherwise be uninterested in the library. As with technology, it is important to stay ahead of the curve, not merely following along after it happens. Before Psy's Gangnam Style video hit the American popular culture, Dora Ho was telling librarians about K-pop, a blending of South Korean music and drama (2012, p.11). Librarian Annie Keller and her teen anime group created a library anime prom, blending and twisting the pop culture images of a regular high school prom with the anime. "[T]eens were encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters from Japanese animated films ("cosplay"); compete in a video game tournament playing Halo 1, Halo 2, and One Piece Grand Battle; dance to popular J-Pop music spun by a deejay; purchase raffle tickets to win an anime prize basket; and vote for the King and Queen of the Prom" (2006, p 304).
Librarians are using pop culture images to provide instruction to patrons. Springer and Yelinek have used the pop culture reality show Jersey Shore as a tool to engage students in that traditionally deadly dull library instruction session college students may be required to take. "Regardless of the popular culture topic, being willing to try different teaching methods is crucial for using popular culture in information literacy instruction (2011, p.85) Librarians at University of Florida developed a program to teach incoming freshmen about the library, using the Alternate Reality Game (ARG) Zombies vs. Humans (Johnson, Buhler, and Hillman, 2010). In previous years, the librarians have put together other outreach programs with pop...