Tag Archives: fandomry

Reference and Response

I crossed a big item off my bucket list last month – I traveled solo (sort of) to Scotland. It’s a country that has loomed large in my imagination since I was a little kid (having read Margaret George’s book Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles at far too young an age) and it more than lived up to my expectations. I love travel and exploring new places, and this was the first time I truly felt that I could just drop everything and never, ever leave a new place.

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I haven’t, and (for the foreseeable future) I won’t (although there are some big changes coming soon…watch this space) but the memories made during this trip will live in my heart for a long time. I realize that this reverse-wanderlust has a lot to do with the ‘vacation’ aspect of all this – it’s easy to want to live somewhere when your experience consists of hotels, sightseeing and someone cooking your meals (and washing your dishes), and in my case this was enhanced by the fact that I used a fantastic tour company, so most all of the stressful elements of going to a new place were handled.

Like any adventure, the best part of my trip was meeting fantastic people. I didn’t know anyone in my group when I arrived in Glasgow, but a week later, flying out of Edinburgh, I had connected with and made new friends that I wound up spending a significant amount of time with (which is sort of a big deal, as I really enjoy my ‘wandering city streets and skulking in foreign alleys-alone time’ quite a bit.)

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Edinburgh is made for skulking

Since I’ve returned, I’ve been thinking a bit about how it is that our little crew (or clan, because Scotland), with a 15-year age-span, all engaged in wildly different work, and hailing from different corners of the country, managed to forge such a meaningful connection. It is, as one of our fellow tour-mates noted, because we spoke the same (semi-coded) language: References.

The first time I noticed it was at a castle (we were always at some incredible castle, because Scotland) when I heard, from somewhere in the pile of people, ‘Don’t Blink.’ My head shot up and I started scanning for the person who dropped the Doctor Who reference. We made eye contact and shared a smile. It was on.

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Like a fairy tale or something

As the trip proceeded we began speaking in pop culture, connecting over shared (and sometimes surprising) interests in a way that seemed like we had developed our own language of strange phrases and private jokes. Giggling, singing songs from ‘The Nightman Cometh.’ Quoting ‘Hannibal.’ (I will find my Fannibals anywhere!) Bridging the silence with gentle teasing about our own obscure favorites and clapping with joy finding out that someone else had heard of or loved something we treasure.

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You’re a master of karate / And friendship / For everyone!

It might seem like a superficial way to connect, but this introduction via pop culture lead to expansive conversations (and a sense of goodwill when opinions diverged) over the course of long bus transfers, quiet moments in hotel lobbies and amazing meals in pubs all over the country (Haggis: Delicious!) It was intensely familiar: this is how I talk with my oldest friends and family members near(ish) to my age. It was anything but shallow. These new relationships were quick, comfortable, and thanks to the miracle of the Internet, will likely last for a long while.

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Haggis! With neeps and tatties…and bacon

I think we’ve all had those moments of connection over pop culture ‘ephemera’ at work. One of the most wonderful things about working with teens is getting to witness that delighted moment of recognition when you compliment a shirt or a pin, or can drop in on a conversation about OTPs, or ask them for recommendations on books, shows, movies, or bands to enjoy (I would never have fallen in love with Bob’s Burgers or Steven Universe if it weren’t for my Fandoms group insisting that I get over my ambivalence towards animation.) I have these kinds of interactions with adults, too, but they are more often than not muted and cautious. (Of course, as generations shift and what used to be marginalized as ‘nerd culture’ becomes more and more profitable, universal, and centralized, this is changing.) What do we have to lose when we share our enthusiasm, demonstrate our expertise in the things we love, or allow others to do the same?

It’s important, and often vital, to keep a ‘professional’ distance from patrons in a public library, but professional doesn’t have to mean impersonal. Recognizing and responding to our users in this way can lead to opportunities with lasting value for everyone involved. I’m thrilled to see more and more libraries turning to pop culture as another avenue to expand their reach into their communities and demonstrate that our ‘institutions’ truly see, appreciate, and value everyone.

Many teens in our weekly Fandoms group came to their first meeting knowing they’d be walking into a room full of strangers (a major anxiety trigger no matter your age or experience level) having only met me, the librarian who geeked out for a minute over their Sherlock laptop sticker or Fourth Doctor-inspired scarf. As each new person introduces themselves to the group, they name a few of their beloved fandoms. As they do, without fail, others in the group will whoop, clap, or shout a catchphrase, and the newbie will smile, or wave, or respond with a reference in kind. You can see their tension ease. They have found a place.

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Over time, I’ll see these teens turn up at other classes and events, volunteer for different departments, or use our spaces to gather, study, or just hang out. Many of them will become library-users for life, and it all started with a simple moment of reference and response. They know that the library is theirs, and that someone who works there speaks their language, or at least is willing to learn it.

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Deep Thoughts December

Even in the best of times, I’m an over-thinker (or catastrophist, or self-obsessive, or worrier, or weirdo, depending on your point of view.) The events of this year, specifically this past month, have only added to my list of personal, local, national and global concerns, as they have for almost everyone I know. I haven’t felt like writing or reading. I’ve been working myself to exhaustion in an attempt to quiet my mind (shift the entire adult fiction section to accommodate new genre shelving by moving 30,000 books, by hand, alone? LET’S GO!) but now that quiet, steady haven of a project is done. With a program planning deadline looming (and loosely-formed, disconnected thoughts about how, maybe, we need to slide a bit away from STE/A/M stuff and back towards focused and engaging information literacy work…) I find myself sinking into the helpless hopelessness I’d managed to forestall through repetitive physical labor. I usually find solace in the knowledge that this work, in the library and with teens in particular, makes a difference.

Except what if it doesn’t? As a person plagued with an ever-present, vague uncertainty, the validity of my work and the pride I take in it was one of the only things I never had occasion to doubt. This train of thought is terrifying.

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You, me, and everyone in 2016

When I tell people what I do, I get, from some people (colleagues, loved ones, strangers), a reaction can only be described as a sort of pity, mixed with revulsion. (Try saying “Ew!” and “Aww!” at the same time. That’s the face.) It makes me smile. I say that I love working with teens because I love to learn. I learn from teens every day.

When I first started our Fandoms United! group in 2013, it was easy to just wing it in terms of content: There was so much to cover, whole universes to unpack, and a lot of history to bestow. But, as I’ve said before, having weekly sessions with no plan will quickly sap your will to live. At a year and a half in, with no organizing principle, we had run out of stuff to do, say and watch. I was reaching, and they knew it. When our third year started, I announced that each month would be themed and that they would decide on the specific content of each week within said theme. It has worked beautifully: It’s easier to plan and the teens like knowing what’s coming, when their favorite topics will be celebrated, and how they can contribute and lead.

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The teens haven’t caught the reference yet.

Because I cannot resist alliteration, in making that first monthly schedule I sought a ‘D’ theme for the holiday-shortened month of December and decided to try something different: sessions where we could discuss the ideas, topics, and controversies that permeate fandom life: Deep Thoughts December. For the first run, we talked about shipping and remake culture (featuring my low-key and oft-repeated rant about how the Patrick Swayze canon is sacrosanct and that his films should never, ever, EVER be remade. Don’t @ me.) using a broad outline I generated after some research, which was then handed off to a teen, who would lead and guide the conversation. We began each session with a brief reminder that all views were welcome and personal attacks would not be tolerated. I also offered teens who did not wish to sit for an hour-long discussion the option to grab some cookies to-go that no one opted for (over the years I’ve learned that snacks should usually be served in the middle, not the beginning of programs.) The sessions were wild successes of the ‘let’s do this every week’ variety. (An attempt to spin-off Fandoms into a social issues discussion group didn’t fly – but we did try last fall. I’m think the time is right to try again.)

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The Ew/Aww face…

While some may not be articulate, I’ve found that most teens are thoughtful and hungry to voice and share their opinions. Many are not given (enough) outlets to do so as peers, in conversation with adults. I don’t know if that’s ever been untrue. When I get the ‘Ew/Aww face’ from others, or sense an incredulity when I talk about the things I have learned about from teens (including many of my own favorite ‘fandom-y’ things, to say nothing of breathtaking insight on the world at large) over the years, I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Teens are people. For every ‘bad’ one there are a dozen fantastic, intelligent, caring and motivated ones. Just like, you know, grown-ups.

Facilitating spaces where teens can be themselves, exuberantly engaged in and/or with the things they love, and taken seriously at the same time is one of the most valuable things I do for my teen patronage. It is transformative. (There is a thing about the intersection of pop culture, libraries and communities here that I don’t have the energy to cover right now. I’ve done presentations on it and, believe it or not, it starts with me riding a camel. Yes. Definitely not enough energy for that right now.)

Knowing what December is for, our Fandoms group was eager to dive into a new slate of Deep Thoughts. This time I let them select the topics: they came up with minority representation in pop culture, and the collision of canon, ‘fanon’ and speculative theory. They are not messing around (or making it easy to prepare for, not that I mind.) and it’s no surprise. (We started this first session with sincere acknowledgement that very few of us in that room endure systemic racism in our daily lives, and so carry distinct forms of privilege into the conversation)

Teens know what’s going on. They know that they will very soon have to choose in which ways they interact with and impact the world. It’s my job to help them, how and where I can, to be ready and, in their own way, to be brave. It’s not something I take lightly. I’m not as worried about the future as I might be when I remember that these teens will have a hand in shaping it.

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Snack time: Like this, but not cute

If I see that future, of course. It may depend on if I continue to survive the mid-program snack-grab stampede without serious injury. There have been some close calls.

Fandom Foundation Films ‘Fail’

When your teen community asks for something, you should do all in your power to provide it. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that (the same holds true for pretty much any of us, anywhere, engaged in public service.) We have a fantastic Fandoms group that, up until this point, suspended for summer each year. For the first time, the teens who attend that weekly program asked for it to continue over the long, hot, sweaty break. (Yeah…I’m not a summer person.)

I’d love nothing more to carry on with our weekly ‘pop culture book club’ year-round, but it’s not so easy to find new ways to approach fandom-ry each and every week (as fast as our culture moves, it’s not that fast, especially when you are limited to a PG-13 and under version of it.) As I’ve said before, it can sort of drain your will to live. I wanted to find a way to honor their enthusiasm, though, so I proposed that, instead of our usual meetings with its familiar agenda (gather, decompress, catch up, share news, dive into the days topic/viewing) we might do a film series instead. The teens were ALL about it – Perfect! they declared. I gave them two options: A summer of documentaries or a summer of classic films. I presented the choice neutrally, hoping they’d opt for the latter…Without any prompting from me (I swear!) they chose classics, much to my delight. My brain started turning thoughtwheels instantly: A movie for each decade that reflected contemporary fandom! If I selected the films carefully it would be fun and insightful and in keeping with the spirit of the program these teens love!

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For fun: Why did I pick each film?

Now, having done this job in this place for a while, I reminded them that, in fact, most of them would likely be absent for the bulk of the summer – jobs, assignments, camp, travel, the challenges of geography and transportation in regards to their homes vs. the library…I practically never see most of these teens at the library once school is out. Ah, no! they insisted. They asked for this and I was giving it to them! They would totally, definitely, 100% turn up for this!

They didn’t. (You saw that coming, of course.)

Of the 30 or so teens who come each and every week to our Friday Fandoms United program, maybe 4 turned up to Fandom Film Foundations with any sort of regularity. A few other film-loving teens turned up from time to time, but in terms of audience size, this program was not what you’d call a success, at least not in relation to our own high standards (developed over a decade, with the benefit of multiple Teen staffers running things and with libraries in very close proximity to schools…any success we have is tied up with these privilege factors.)

However, in terms of the quality of experience…this program was a home run! We know because we’ve heard raves from the teens who attended (and I’m always sensitive to cues that they might only be saying nice things because they recognize my own personal enthusiasm and don’t want to disappoint me…this wasn’t that), kudos from parents, and intriguingly, the post-program circulation of our selected films and the speed at which we are running out of our Classic Films by Decade bookmarks and a few requests from parents and other adults for a ‘guide’ so they can replicate the ‘class’ at home, at their own speed. (I’m totally going to do that now that our other summer programs are winding down.)

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I was so excited for this one!

The What & How:

  • Select a classic film from each decade that reflect common tropes/archetypes/themes prevalent in contemporary fandom.
  • Start with a 5-10 minute librarian-led talk/instruction session before each film on what the ‘foundational’ ideas that link the classic to fandom, touching on the production history of the film, collaborators as well as the state of film in each era, etc. – research that was a joy for this film-obsessed librarian to do…
  • Toss out a few questions for viewers to consider as they watched, along with a half-sheet flyer with the key ‘thinking points’ for each participant.
  • Snacks, of course.

Will we do this again? Maybe…?

Things to improve on/adjust if there is a ‘next time’:

  • Summer Friday afternoons are not great, even though it works so well for Fandoms -> Change to a weekday evening, where we’ve had more success with our Book Into Movie series…or maybe the weekend, in the doldrums of winter?
  • Accept that new initiatives sometimes take time to grow -> Create a ‘family guide’ so program can be replicated at home, as well as adult-area display and try to create a buzz and build excitement for a second run in the future..
  • There wasn’t enough ‘brand-recognition’ with an unprecedented program -> See if school film club people are interested (and active enough) to advise on/promote future iterations and spread the word.
  • Consider converting into a family program -> This might require different, more kid-friendly films…a challenge when connecting classic films to modern fandom culture, which is increasingly not PG or G-rated.
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I’ll never do a bullet journal…

Do I wish I had just said no when our Fandoms-ers asked for a 9-weeks-long film series over the summer, having guessed correctly that most of them, sincerely wishing for more Fandoms while simultaneously agreeing that our traditional meeting structure was too much to continue over the summer, wouldn’t be there in the end? I could have said no, and it wouldn’t have been a big deal…

Nah. You have to give them what they ask for, after all. Asking for something is not easy (usually) and you have to honor their bravery and celebrate that fact that they are comfortable enough with you and their place in the library to do so. You also have to try to not get too down on yourself if the teens don’t (or can’t) turn up. It’s not exactly failure (there is a difference between failure and disappointment.) It’s another learning opportunity and a chance to improve.

I’ll still tease them about it when Fandoms starts up again in a few weeks, though…

UPDATE: For now, I’ve made a guide/syllabus for the program geared to families, converting my speaking notes into questions to consider, and gathering the suggested films from each decade’s bookmark to create a display for the front of the library, just in time for the Labor Day weekend:

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