Reaching New Audiences | NYCC Professional Day 2017

With record-breaking attendance, estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, the 12th annual New York Comic Con (NYCC), held October 5–8, in a move to support its diverse and ever-growing body of attendees, this year extended its regular programming efforts by partnering with nearby businesses and institutions, offering events outside its central location at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan.

Among the show’s new affiliates, the New York Public Library (NYPL), bringing some 1,000 librarians and educators to its iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman building on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue on Thursday, October 5, for an entire day of professional workshops and panels on everything from comics and gaming to publishing, advocacy, and innovative library and school programming.

LEADING THE CHANGE: (l. to r.) librarians Liz Hughes, Jen Griffing, Michael Buono,
and (moderator) Helen Crosson

Drawing on the American Library Association’s “Libraries Transform” initiative, the afternoon panel, “How Pop Culture Topics Can Transform the Conversation at Your Library,” moderated by Helen Crosson, library director, Half Hollow Hills Community Library (HHHCL), Dix Hills, NY, articulated the value of using pop culture in the library as a way to strengthen community ties and bring in new patrons. “Libraries are all about change and communities,” said Crosson, who is uniquely positioned to speak to the issue of transformation, as she is currently leading her own library through the process of a major rebuild.

Speaking to a rapt audience, she said that one way libraries transform is literally to “take a building and tear it down.” She encouraged library staff to be “really brave” and inform community leaders about the “value of public libraries.” Accompanying Crosson were panelists Liz Hughes, children’s librarian, HHHCL; Jen Griffing, YA librarian, South Huntington P.L., NY; and Michael Buono, digital strategist, Patchogue-Medford Library, NY, all of whom agreed that pop culture brings people together, creates real-world connections, and shows the library in a new light.

Some favorite and free-of-cost programming ideas included a game of Broadway Jeopardy, cupcake wars, and an evening of cosplay. “What we can do on the cheap and make it be the best it can be,” urged Crosson. Buono, who primarily works with teens at his library, stressed the importance of being vulnerable and taking risks, despite the awkwardness that accompanies the “first time of trying something new,” and always to instill team-oriented thinking in young people, which he says helps when teaching them about such issues as disaster preparedness. “Children,” quipped Hughes, “there’s no limit to what they’re into.”

Librarians themselves can also transform. Know your audience, the panelists said. Promote the collections with displays, and make your presence known through participating in programming events. Crosson then opened up the conversation to the audience, who shared all kinds of ideas for drawing people and especially families into the library:

  • Storybook trick or treat
  • Recycling old items, “what’s old is new,” and creating journals and scrapbooks
  • Life-size board games, such as Clue, was a big hit for one librarian
  • Children’s Minecraft, a very popular choice
  • Fandom programming
  • Family square dancing

A concern raised by one librarian but understood by many was how to develop programming with limited room. Crosson and Hughes had a few ideas, including taking off the backs of bookcases and rearranging furniture to open up floor space. But most important, Crosson said, is for librarians to engage their administrators, relate their concerns, and work with colleagues to reach and propose solutions. To administrators, she said with conviction, “Just. Say. Yes…. We have to figure out how to get to yes,” even if an idea sounds absurd. You’ll never know until you try it.




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[photograph by John Sarsgard]

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