Five Things: November 30, 2023

_ONE

ALA Report Looks at Millennial, Gen Z Library Usage, Media Habits | Andrew Albanese

Noorda reports that younger Americans are “reading books, buying books, and visiting libraries,” but the findings also point to the wider media world they engage with on a daily basis. “Not only are Gen Z and Millennials engaging with books, but they are also engaging with other forms of media,” Noorda said. “They are gamers, readers, writers, and fans who are comfortable with malleability between media categories and forms.”

I selfishly love that this research builds on the Immersive Media & Books 2020 Consumer Survey I helped develop while running The Panorama Project, as it continues to put books in a broader media context that’s often missing in other book-centric research. Most readers aren’t single-minded “bookish” consumers, especially younger generations, and publishers’ business models need to evolve to meet consumer preferences and demands.

Too many publishers ignored the market share they were losing to self-published authors in key genres for years, partly because it was difficult to measure, and few consider other media as primary competitors for readers’ attention and money. One of the advisory board members for the initial research project proudly mentioned how they didn’t let their kids play video games until they were adults, and most of the publishing industry still has no understanding of how much bigger the gaming industry is.

As a result, libraries have been treated more like pirates than valued partners for discovery and revenue, despite plenty of research over the years proving otherwise. Books are the easiest medium to engage with legally without spending money, and there’s more of them published every year than there are readers willing and able to buy them, so library lending should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. And yet…

"I'm with Big Library" t-shirt
“I’m with Big Library” t-shirt from Library Futures

__TWO

Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves | Fobazi Ettarh

“Vocational awe” refers to the set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in beliefs that libraries as institutions are inherently good and sacred, and therefore beyond critique. In this article, I would like to dismantle the idea that librarianship is a sacred calling; thus requiring absolute obedience to a prescribed set of rules and behaviors, regardless of any negative effect on librarians’ own lives.

For many years, long before I was aware of the term, I was very guilty of “vocational awe” when it came to librarianship. Libraries are invaluable institutions with an exemplary mission to support intellectual freedom, and public libraries are arguably the most important of them all because they aspire to serve all members of their community — regardless of age, gender, politics, etc.

I bought into the idea wholeheartedly for my first few years at Library Journal before reality started to chip away at the notion. When a misguided interpretation of neutrality started to find those aspirations being inequitably achieved again, I was left more shocked than awed, and the varied response to book bans across the country have me feeling even more jaded.

Exemplary mission aside, librarians are just people. Some are very good at their jobs, and some are not. Lately, we’ve seen that no matter how good and/or well-intentioned most of them may be, external forces are actively working against them, forcing quiet compliance at the risk of being fired (or worse), or having to find a new calling. That some see librarianship as a calling is part of the problem, and that’s where the dangers of vocational awe come in, which Ettarh does an excellent job of unpacking.

___THREE

Yahdon Israel Pulls Back the Curtain on Publishing | Sophia Stewart

Israel himself came to S&S without a traditional publishing background. Though he had long been deeply involved in the literary world—he served on the board of the National Book Critics Circle and the selection committee for the Aspen Words Literary Prize, taught at CUNY’s MFA program and the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and founded the Literaryswag Book Club, among other endeavors—he had never before worked at a publisher.

I don’t know Israel but his story is an interesting one, particularly the idea that someone with his background qualifies as an outsider in publishing, presumably because he’s Black. There are dozens of white women with similar resumes and connections working all across the industry, and most publishing jobs are filled through connections made in literary circles and MFA programs, especially in editorial. It’s a fundamental reason for the industry’s ongoing lack of diversity. Jumping straight into a senior editor role is definitely unusual, though, and I’d pay good money to hear the whisper networks’ take on that.

That said, his approach to acquisitions is noteworthy and worth spotlighting, and he’s 100% right that it brings something unique to the industry because he could have simply done the norm and stuck to the traditional channels he was already part of. Of course, being courted by the CEO and high-profile publisher presumably comes with some freedom to experiment, but you still have to be willing to use that power, so kudos to him, and fingers crossed that it becomes a more common practice amongst other influential gatekeepers.

____FOUR

Content Intelligence, Deconstructed | Tyler Moss

Analytics tools make it possible to measure almost anything (at least anything that doesn’t violate GDPR compliance or broader privacy laws). The hardest part is often defining what’s most important. After all, data merely tells you what happened, not necessarily why it’s important or what you should do next.

Good content marketing is a rarity. I don’t even like half of what I’ve written over the years, and I consider myself to be better than average at it! Clickbait headlines and SEO-driven copy; trendjacking; misinterpretation or outright misrepresentation of data; unkept promises in underwhelming white papers you have to sign up via email to read. In those scenarios, pageviews is often the main KPI, driven by the belief that chasing scale is the best way to find an audience.

While I wasn’t expecting to be blamed for my lack of interest in baseball, this insightful bit of content marketing (written by a former WD colleague who moved to the dark side) also does what it’s advocating for. Data-informed, never data-driven FTW!

_____FIVE

TikTok Roman Empire Trend Shows How Pervasive Misogyny Informs Historical Record | Casey Haughin-Scasny

It could be another harmless internet fad, except for what it implies about the way history is passed down and constructed. The trend demonstrates how popular perceptions of Rome rely on an interpretation of history that many scholars now recognize to be actively harmful, both to our ability to understand the ancient past and to our society at large.

If you’re like me and not on TikTok, rarely think about the Roman Empire, and didn’t get the joke behind Jason Momoa’s SNL skit a couple of weeks ago, this is a good read. It reminds me of the Spartan fad a few years back, and Haughin-Scasny does a great job unpacking why this kind of historical revisionism is a cultural cancer.

We truly live in stupid times.


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