Sunday, August 30, 2009

When good jokes go bad

My 11 year old son told me this joke about a year ago. In his version it was just “a guy” who walked into the library. I laughed.

Now, seeing this video, I feel a bit annoyed. Not only has it become an ad for Mercedes (!!!), but instead of the humour coming from a fairly inoffensive notion of libraries in “popular culture”, we’re being invited to laugh specifically at social stereotypes. Shame really.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Promoting the library: some thoughts on who shouldn't be responsible for PR

So much of what we’re doing in 525 is learning about technologies that can help information managers improve the ability of their users to access and use information, and maybe to encourage new users too - especially in public libraries. Coming from a marketing background, I find this aspect of the course really exciting.

The underlying assumption of course, is that librarian/information managers should try to encourage information use. This contrasts with an image of librarians in popular culture as custodians of knowledge, reluctant to share it or have it sullied by users.

I’ve just found (such serendipity!) my old copy of Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose.’ It’s one of my favourite books, and one in which a library plays a central role. But in this medieval library, there is no “push” - technological or otherwise - to bring readers and information together. Instead, the librarian is instrumental in a deadly (to several of the characters) scheme to prevent anyone from accessing the library’s collection.

This clip from the 1986 film of the book shows two of the characters finding their way into the “hidden” library and discussing why the books are hidden away.

While I don’t like the film nearly as much as the book (can’t quite help myself wondering when Sean Connery is going to raise an eyebrow and say “the name’s Baskerville, William of Baskerville), I do like the atmosphere in the labyrinth.

This notion of librarian as custodian and protector of knowledge carries through literature and popular culture, and while Eco’s librarian is an extreme example of custodianship and the obsession with knowledge - being prepared to kill to prevent readership, Sienfeld’s Mr Bookman (sic) is content to merely intimidate.