Recasting the Library: From “Shh!” to Fun

When one thinks of a library, probably the first word that comes to mind is “Shhh!” Popular culture has long posited libraries as the domains of strict librarians who enforce quiet and regimented learning. Like in this commercial for Slim Jims where Macho Man Randy Savage bursts into a library and blows stuff up to save kids from the oppressions of education within a quiet library with a strict frumpy librarian:

Or in this scene from the movie UHF where Conan the Barbarian becomes the Librarian, angrily responding to a patron looking for help and killing another who’s late returning books:

Or the Librarian Ghost from the film Ghostbusters who shushes and then scares the titular characters right out of the library:

In Citizen Kane, the library portrayed in the film is an echoing shadowy place policed by a stern, no-nonsense librarian with nothing besides a large statue of the tacturn founder behind the information desk and a dark room used by guests to read through only the librarian-assigned sections of the library’s documents.

Of course, these examples, like most commercials and films, is a caricatruatizion of its subjects, but they’re based around the public’s perception of the overall environments of libraries. A location where knowledge is accessed and gained, primarily through utilizing the library’s reference materials, but also a domain ruled over by a tyrant where the patron’s decorum is enforced, not by axe wielding ghost librarians, but still enough to suck out any fun from the learning process.

As technology has advanced where information through personal computers and smartphones can be freely and quickly accessed, the importance of the library’s reference materials has been replaced with another function, that of instruction, mainly in information and technological literacy. Additionally, with this technological change people have gone from information and media consumers to collaborators. What once took expensive printing presses and video crews now can be done instantously from a smartphone that, depending on the make and model, is increasingly cheaper than the former technologies. That is why libraries have and should move towards a more active model to match, offering a place for patrons to familiarize themselves with the technology with a helpful librarian who abdicates the despot’s crown for that of a fellow peer, who shares their knowledge with the technology and the morays of information literacy, as both parties experiment and learn. For in this world where information and technology seem to move at the speed of light, with things like TikTok, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, LiDar, etc. it’s next to impossible to delineate between master and apprentice and instead both are comrades in learning. The librarian is an upperclassmen to the patron’s underclassmen, showing them the ropes of past technology and how to be informational literate, but both are partners in the journey into the future. Gone are the barriers “with teachers at the front of the room and students at their desks,” (Vangelova, 2014) that kept students and teachers/librarians disconnected and regimented like in the past, allowing for interactions that approach more of a personal nature where learning is symbiotic. In fact, by adopting this more open model of library, students can become teachers to each other in both the rules of the library and the tools within, thus taking a load off librarians and teachers from having to be overbearing police and instead focus on facilitating learners based on their needs.

By shifting towards Makerspaces and other collaborative spaces where the fun parts of learning: socialization, experimentation, and collaboration; are allowed to flourish in an active and egalitarian environment. As a place where new technologies can be experienced without breaking the bank, libraries of course can create more informed users of the technologies that can enhance their voices. Also, it can serve as a place for patrons to better understand digital and information literacy in a safe place instead of online that can lead to pitfalls into echo chambers of hateful misinformation and misleading advertisements.

Sources Used

Digital Promise. (2016, January 28). The library as a gateway to 21st century skills. Digital Promise. https://digitalpromise.org/2016/01/28/chicago-public-library-the-library-as-a-gateway-to-21st-century-skills/

Doctorow, C. (2013, February 25). Libraries and makerspaces: A match made in heaven. Boingboing. https://boingboing.net/2013/02/25/libraries-and-makerspaces-a-m.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Vangelova, L. (2014, June 18). What does the next-generation school library look like? KQED. https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/36326/what-does-the-next-generation-school-library-look-like

Welles, O. (Director, Producer, Writer) & Makiewicz, H.J. (Writer). (1941). Citizen Kane [film]. RKO Radio Pictures.

Reitman, I. (Director, Producer), Aykroyd, D., & Ramis, H. (Writers). (1984). Ghostbusters [film]. Columbia Pictures.

Kirkwood, G., Hyde, J.W. (Producers), Yankovic, A. (Writer), & Levey, J. (Writer, Director). UHF. Orion Pictures.

ClassicCommercials4u. (2008, December 4). Slim Jim commercial with Macho Man in a library from 1993 [Advertisement]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CL3Z6Lajzw4

1 Thought.

  1. I have always been fascinated by the portrayal of librarians and libraries in popular culture. It was nice to watch the videos you collected for this post. Your ideas for the future are spot on.

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