Libraries learning from retail: Interview with Oxford’s indie music mecca, Truck Store

This is the third in a loose trilogy of blog posts exploring libraries and music: previous features include a guest post by Stewart Parsons of Get It Loud in Libraries and an interview with rapper-educator Professor Elemental. Today, we’re joined by Carl Smithson, the manager at Truck Store, an amazing indie record shop in Oxford, England.

Truck Store, Oxford
Truck Store, Oxford

After attending the Foyles Futures workshop on next-generation book retail in London, I’ve become increasingly concerned with design and atmosphere in libraries. Great service and effective presentation of collections are vital for any 21st century public library.

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Dirty Library Trilogy, part 2: Readers’ advisory at the World’s Freakiest Bookstore

In the second of three features pushing the boundaries of what librarians can learn from pop culture, we take a visit to Melbourne bookstore Polyester Books and talk readers’ advisory with one of the most provocative booksellers I’ve ever met.

Polyester Books – the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Freakiest Bookstore’ – spells trouble. It did from the moment I discovered it.

I was visiting Melbourne for the first time and a friend recommended an alternative bookshop at the far end of Brunswick Street in Fitzroy.

I had no idea where this was, so on a visit to the State Library of Victoria, I asked one of the youth librarians to help me find it. She googled ‘Polyester Books’ on a State Library computer terminal and we were both immediately confronted with the store’s incredibly NSFW logo.

As Polyester proprietor Jo Emslie puts it, “If that sign upsets you, don’t look around our shop, ‘cos your head’s gonna explode!”

Polyester Books, Melbourne
Polyester Books, Melbourne

Yet Polyester’s commitment to supplying all kinds of books, DVDs, zines, art, and periodicals is deeply relevant to the mission of 21st century librarians. I dropped in to the shop for a browse and was impressed to find the likes of obscure Austrian novelist Hermann Broch on the shelves alongside the more eyebrow-raising fare. 

So what can librarians learn from the World’s Freakiest Bookstore?

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Dirty Library Trilogy, part 1: Drink your way to better librarianship

This is the first of three blog posts exploring the very limits of what librarians can learn from popular culture.

I often end presentations and workshops with the challenge: “What’s the naughtiest thing librarians can do to promote literacy today?”

 ‘Naughty’ doesn’t mean dangerous, inappropriate, or damaging – but in a profession sometimes misrepresented as staid and conservative, and so often at the mercy of local government bureaucracy, it’s important to remember that public librarians are firebrands – that public libraries are innately subversive institutions, born of the radical notion that every single member of society deserves free, high-quality access to knowledge and culture.

So being “naughty” in the name of literacy might involve kids smashing up fruit inside your library; or playing real-life versions of video games among the shelves; it might involve zombies besieging kids and teens within your building.

 In the ‘Dirty Library Trilogy’, I’m going to try and push the boundaries and see what libraries can learn at the far reaches of pop culture…from the battling broads of the rollerderby rink to the barrooms of the world. 

So…could we drink our way to better librarianship?


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