Geek the Library Asks “What Do You Geek?”

Question from Geek the Library (photo courtesty geekthelibrary.org)

I like paper crafts and posted about the Foldable Me personalized paper figurines a few weeks ago. My own Foldable Me rules over our family room, and was with me when I heard from one of our Foldable Me raffle winners that her little paper doll was featured in a “What Do You Geek?” display at her library. I was curious and followed up to find out more for GeekMom readers.

It turns out this is part of Geek the Library, a national program to get people excited about making connections between their personal passions and libraries and the synergy that brews when enthusiastic geeks and treasure troves of knowledge intersect.

Kim, our contest winner, and library fan and informant, is a Children’s Librarian (aren’t you feeling warm and fuzzy already?) and mom to three geeklings. I got info from her and from the sponsoring group, OCLC, a library cooperative that strives to support libraries by increasing efficiency, innovation, and collaboration. With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, OCLC sponsors the Geek the Library program, which helps local libraries to use high-quality marketing and outreach materials to connect with community members to express their enthusiasms in terms of “I geek ____”—with each person filling in the blank with their own individual passion. Once people are talking about their passions, they can explore how the library supports and enriches opportunities to grow in their geeky pleasures. In turn, as we all become friendlier with our libraries, we use them more, educate others about their charms, and defend their honor against library bullies who would cut funding.

The Geek the Library campaign invites everyone to “get your geek on” and “share what you geek,” and complete that phrase “I geek ___” — the answers are shared on the website, along with a story or video describing the delights of our geekery. Anyone can order a preprinted shirt or a customized tee that proclaims the objects of our geeking.

If you are lucky enough to have a library participating nearby, you can join the portrait gallery of geek specimens recorded in a gorgeous palette of black and geek. One library had two photo shoots: the first, the usual suspects of librarians, civic authorities, and similar library denizens. When such eye-catching geek posters were displayed from that episode, people were so enthusiastic that a second shoot was scheduled and the queue stretched across the lobby–you can see photos at the Geek the Library site and at the Waterford Township Library Facebook page.

I asked Kim, a participating librarian, and Linn Edvardsen, who helps coordinate the program at OCLC, to answer some questions about it.

GeekMom: Tell us a little about Geek the Library and how you got involved.

Kim: I’ve been a Children’s Librarian for over 15 years, and am the mom of 3 geeks-in-training. Geek the Library is a movement to raise local awareness of public libraries. OCLC supplies publicity materials nationwide, and then we tailor them to our own libraries.

GM: What do you geek? Has involvement with the organization affected the way you pursue your passions?

Kim: Oh my goodness, so many things: I’m a “classic” geek. I love science fiction and fantasy. I play RPGs, have boxes of comic books in my basement, play with Legos, Skylanders, and have even more boxes of action figures (I’m old enough that my Star Wars figures are originals). I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface.

GM: I understand you set up a display of your own geek passion, Batman, at your local library. Can you describe that for us?

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Kim: We’re using one display case to showcase staff geeks—a new one every two weeks. That’s been a lot of fun, seeing what else everyone puts in the case. Batman was the focus of my display, since that’s what’s on my Geek the Library poster, but I wanted to share all my passions. I love the concept of I-Spy books, which make you study the whole page. I’ve done other I-Spy style displays and it seemed like the perfect format to make anyone who glances at the case see everything. I collected a bunch of different stuff from home, then spent three days staring at it, trying to come up with rhymes. The final stanza directed people to go find my poster. It’s full of a sampling of my action figures, dice I use in RPGs, Legos, some Skylanders and Webkinz, and, of course, lots of Batman books and videos. Lots of colorful objects. I even included the Foldable Me I won from one of your contests. The case is in the front lobby, and circulation staff say lots of people stopped to look at it. Mission accomplished!

GM: What has been the most pleasant surprise for you with Geek the Library? What has been the biggest disappointment or let-down? Has anything made you burst out laughing? Which of the “I geek…” slogans on the GtL website is your favorite?

Kim: Biggest surprise? How much fun it’s been. I think this has really engaged our community. I love looking at the different posters decorating our building. Not so much “burst out laughing” as “Interesting–I never would have guessed that based on their looks.” My favorite slogan isn’t on the national site, but I have several here at Waterford—especially those who took the effort to bring in props for their Geek. I think the biggest let-down was when I was at a community event and so many adults still thought “geek” was a bad term.

GM: Do you have any tips for our readers who are interested in libraries, geeking, or Batman?

Kim: Support your local library! If there’s something that interests you, ask the staff—if they don’t know where to find information, most librarians I know would be happy to find out. Don’t be ashamed to be passionate about something—that’s what being a geek is all about. (Just ask the women who run this website. )

Linn Edvardsen, Program Manager for Geek the Library also answered a few questions for us.

GeekMom: What, overall, is the goal of Geek the Library? How does a library become involved? Can just anyone nominate a library to participate? How did the concept develop?

Linn: The overall goal is to get the community talking! Geek the Library takes a light-hearted approach to the very serious subject of library funding. Over the past four years, Geek the Library has helped hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. get attention and start important local conversations about the value of the library and the need for funding. Libraries use the campaign as a springboard to actively engage their communities by making new and personal connections–Geek the Library takes the message out of the library and encourages a community dialogue. It starts with ‘what do you geek’ and builds from there. Talking about what people geek, what they’re passionate about, and how the public library supports it really brings the community together.

The campaign is open to all U.S. public libraries—regardless of size or resources. Printed materials, online templates and other resources, and ongoing support are provided for free. Libraries can get more information about the program at get.geekthelibrary.org.

GM: When did Geek the Library start, and how long will it continue? Is it growing or changing, or does it just do the same activities at all libraries in all places?

LE: OCLC partnered with [communications agency] Leo Burnett in 2009 to create the concept. It was important to develop something that got attention and helped libraries start conversations. “What do you geek?” is an amazing ice breaker and it gets to the heart of the matter: Whatever you are passionate about, the library supports it. We piloted the campaign with libraries in Iowa and Georgia in 2009-2010, during which we confirmed that the campaign gets attention, raises awareness and encourages action.

Since we opened up the campaign to all U.S. public libraries in August 2010, we’ve enrolled over 1,000 library locations. We are very thankful for the continued support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has allowed us to extend program enrollment through June 2014 (with support through June 2015), and provide robust support, including one-on-one assistance.

GM: Do you have a favorite response (story, video, poster) so far? Have any of them made you laugh, cry, shout, or meet a new friend?

LE: There are so many great stories from local campaigns. Most library participants localize their campaigns to include local people, and the result is a wonderful story about their community. One good example is Chelsea District Library in Michigan. This library partnered with a local photographer (who ended up doing the majority of the work for free) and produced hundreds of unique posters highlighting what the community geeks. It’s amazing to see!

GM: What do you geek?

LE: I geek the American Dream!

Check out the photos below and go to geekthelibrary.org to share your passion. Tweet your geek declaration to GeekMomblog or post your geek portrait on our Facebook page. And support your library!

Kay works with engineers, scientists, and programmers as a writer and editor, which she prefers over working with muggles. When sufficiently caffeinated, she geeks out over words, communication, biology, needlework, and recreational sports. And, of course, chocolate. Her children _may_ have been exposed to D&D at a too-young age, but they continue to play happily to this day.