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Case study: Librarians do Gaga

Sarah’s case study comes from Chapter 12: professional involvement & career development

Librarians Do Gaga” was inspired by “Neutra Face: An Ode on a Typeface” ; the long, bleak Seattle winter; and listening to way too much Lady Gaga on my walking commute to classes. It was a rough quarter: I was working two part-time jobs while taking an overfull course load, stressing about the dismal job market, and dealing with some personal crises as well. I desperately needed to do something fun and creative—or at least more fun and creative than using XML to build a thesaurus of Cylons . When I heard that iArts and iWrite, two student organizations at the University of Washington iSchool, were hosting a film festival, I knew this was my chance. I wanted to dance, I wanted to sing, I wanted to educate, I wanted to get the line “When it comes to search, if it’s not tough it isn’t fun” in there somewhere.

I wrote the lyrics over the span of a few weeks, mostly on my walks to and from class. My friend and colleague Laura Mielenhausen, who’s substantially more vocally talented than I, agreed to put together the audio track. I borrowed a camera from the IT Help Desk (free), baked cookies to bribe my classmates to dance for me (virtually free and probably unnecessary), and asked my professors to take a five minute break from grading to sing and dance for me (free, and they probably would have paid me). I edited the video over the course of about a week on the iSchool computers using Premiere Pro (free for use by iSchool students).

There are a few reasons I think the video has been so successful:
1) We’re having fun. I didn’t pressure anyone into appearing, although I may have wheedled a little. The video could never have been made without the help, support, and goofiness of my faculty and colleagues. When I was applying to UW, I had no idea that the faculty were so willing to take themselves lightly (even if they took the profession seriously)—but I soon learned the truth of the matter. Everyone there is enjoying themselves, and it shows.
2) It was released at a particular pop-culture moment. Lady Gaga was everywhere in May 2010, and the combination of librarians and Lady Gaga was evidently delightful to quite a few people.
3) It was smart. I worked hard to make the lyrics educational as well as funny. One of the iSchool’s mottoes is “We make information work” and it was important to me that I live up to this. It wasn’t until the second week of a class on information literacy instruction that I thought of including Mike Eisenberg’s Big Six information literacy skills in the rap at the end. The response to this has been enormous. I’ve received requests from teachers at all educational levels to use the video in their information literacy instruction.
4) It promotes modern libraries and librarianship. The shushing “Marian the Librarian” is the easy stereotype, but it doesn’t reflect how terrifically fun most librarians are. The vast majority of library professionals I’ve met have been enthusiastic, passionate, friendly people who wouldn’t shush a flea. The video showcases our creativity and our sense of humor, and it was greeted by fellow professionals as representative of our library-nature and our commitment to teaching others.
5) It has reasonably good production values. No, I didn’t have a professional-level video camera at my disposal and there are some bits of editing that I wish I could re-work, but the audio is clear, the lyrics are intelligible, and the camerawork is steady. This is really important: if your video is unwatchable or unlistenable…it won’t get seen or heard.
6) And let’s face it: who doesn’t love girls in glasses?

I can’t say that “Librarians Do Gaga” has changed my life. It certainly turned my last month of grad school into a wild ride, but it didn’t get me a job or make me tons of money. What it has done is given me professional exposure beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve gotten emails from librarians in Australia and the British House of Lords; my video has been played at high school career fairs and the closing sessions of international conferences. Members of the UW faculty and the MLIS board of directors have taken me under their wings as their mentee. I have a network of experienced librarians that I can turn to for professional advice, and I’ve been asked for advice myself—that’s why I’m writing this!

And my closing advice is: Love what you do. Let your creativity shine. Use all the talents you have from your life and your professional training to make something you’re proud of. Become part of the conversation. You are the future of librarianship—so let your voice be heard!

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