by Samantha Mairson, courtesy of Infospace
First: What is a Meme?
The term “meme” rose to prominence in the 1990s, accompanying the rise of the internet and personal computer. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “meme” is a noun that means an idea, behavior, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.
It can also mean an amusing or interesting item such as a captioned picture or video that is spread widely on the internet. “Memes are often harmless images with funny text over it,” says to Michael Levenson, a Boston Globe reporter.
Richard Dawkins, a British scientist, first used the term “meme” in 1976 book The Selfish Gene to mean “a unit of cultural transmission”. When he created the word, he sought a monosyllable that sounded a bit like “gene”. “Mim” was a root meaning mime or mimic, and “-eme” a distinctive unit of language or structure.
January: “Hey, this is library” #thisislibrary
Is the library an appropriate place for loud protest?
With the library’s reputation for being a place of quiet study and contemplation, and its role in promoting civic discourse and freedom of speech… there’s no easy answer. This student staged a protest of his own, and the internet community responded.
Have you been in a library when a protest occurred in the space? How did people react? Does anyone enforce the expectation of quietness? Or is the “sshhsshh”ing librarian gone forever?
Regardless, you should know – the year of memes kicked off in a library.
February: “Libraries are for everyone” @Hafuboti #librariesR4Every1 #librariesresist
Blogger Harfuboti, in a February 2, 2017 post called “LIBRARIES ARE FOR EVERYONE,” gained traction with a grassroots messaging campaign for libraries. The content exploded in library-related social media circles.
The images – which we’re calling memes due to the design style of the content and the enthusiastic way it spread in the culture – were intended for wide distribution. The creator explicitly stated a Creative Commons Attribute/Share Alike license for the work, and encouraged people to download, share, modify and have fun with the work. It was quickly reprinted for buttons, T-shirts, and coloring pages. The memes were made available in seventy-eight different languages.
This content spread along with tags such as #librariesresist which rose to popularity after the January 20th inauguration of President Donald Trump. The controversial executive order – Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States – or the “travel ban” had taken center stage in mainstream American media at the end of January.
The American Library Association responded on January 30, 2017 with a statement saying that the ALA opposes new administration policies that contradict core values of professional librarians. The messaging of Harfuboti’s images enforced the position of the library professional community toward inclusivity, and Twitter indicates that circulation of the meme picked up speed throughout February and March.
March: Beauty and the Beast Hits Theaters (March 17, 2017) #beautyandthebeast #library
With the March 17, 2017 release date for the new adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, memes circulated widely in library-loving communities. Anyone who admired the library in the original Disney animated film was left to wonder: how would the library be represented in the live action film?
The film starred Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the beast. The movie grossed $1.264 billion in the box office. As of December 2017, that makes it part of the top ten highest grossing films of all time according to Box Office Mojo.
Meanwhile in Saskatchewan … on Wednesday March 22, budget cuts were announced including a $4.8 million overall cut to rural and urban library systems. #SaveSKLibraries began the next day with a Facebook group that attracted 500 members in the first 8 hours, according to Headtale, a librarian blogger involved with the advocacy work. Which leads us to …
April – “Save Sask Libraries” and National Library Week (April 8-14)
Within a month, the grassroots campaign to save libraries in Saskatchewan gained serious ground. Headtale’s post A TIMELINE OF MAJOR EVENTS IN THE #SAVESKLIBRARIES CAMPAIGN #SKPOLI #SAVEDSKLIBRARIES documented the progression of the advocacy work.
On April 10, 2017 memes became part of the messaging when Canadian politician Eric Olauson accidently sent an inappropriate response to a constituent complaint about the library cuts. The response was accidentally sent as “reply all” to a larger audience and he requested a background check on the email sender.
Meanwhile back in the U.S., the American Library Association kicked off celebration of National Library Week. Librarians responded to budgetary concerns about cuts to funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (#saveIMLS), and also to Ivanka Trump – when she tweeted her support for libraries. By May, ALA released a statement applauding a $1 million increase in funding for IMLS.
May: Goodbye Comey #FBIDirector #notNixion @RichardNixonLibrary
Remember when the director of the FBI got fired? Yup, that was May (9th, to be exact). When the Richard Nixon Library tweeted their reply to current events, it picked up speed in memeland.
The original tweet performed well above average for the library’s twitter account and kicked off a social media conversation that looked like 2.1K comments, 40K retweets, and 58K likes.
June: Summer Reading, and Then Some
By June, the birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and America was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.
At this point in the year, the search engine’s riverbed of library-related memes became pretty dry. My methodology for this article abides by the search formula: “[month] 2017 library meme”. For June, the search yielded much of the same generic library meme content that circulated months prior.
If you tracked library internet memes in June (or the rest of the year for that matter), you might conclude that librarians have an obsession with 3 things:
- Getting their books back
July: Game of Thrones returns, premiering July 16, 2017
Game of Thrones Season 7 premiered on July 16, 2017 and the meme community surrounding libraries responded using images from the popular HBO series (based on the books by George R. R. Martin).
Memes can be a useful bridge between information resources, current events, and library members. If librarians expand their marketing tactics to include meme mastery, as the Lego Librarian bloggers suggests in the July post Library Etiquette and Meme Marketing, there could be positive impacts for library perception and library engagement. The best memes are relatable.
The library community should also continue to meme amongst themselves. Memes can open the door to professional relationships sparked by a shared sense of humor.
August: The Eclipse
Memes can also be a great way to correct information in a funny way! August brought excitement about the eclipse, which took place on August 21, 2017. Many libraries formed strategic partnerships with science organizations or ordered eclipse glasses for viewing the major event.
Some libraries, such as Kansas City, did not have access to such glasses! They created a post on Facebook with original, captioned graphic content that got people laughing, and got other libraries talking. In the post comments, one librarian says, “Brilliant! Modifying it to use at my library.”
When libraries are activating marketing strategy in the social media sphere, humor is a valuable tool. Responsive libraries know how to meme.
September: Banned Books Week (Sept 24-30), Cat in the Hat Librarian
September brought banned books week – and huge media hype surrounding the “Cat in the Hat Librarian,” or Liz Phipps Soeiro. The Massachusetts school librarian publicly rejected a donation of ten Dr. Suess books from the First Lady, Melania Trump.
The librarian crafted an editorial in response to reject the gift and the response blew up in mainstream media. Key reasons for the rejection included concerns that other underprivileged school districts might be better served by the gift, and secondary concerns that Dr. Seuss books “are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes” and she cites articles to support the assertion.
The comments responding to her rejection are mixed. The mainstream, however, responded with memes (largely unkind), and to show hypocrisy, featured earlier pictures of the librarian dressed up as the cat in the hat:
An important lesson is that memes can get political – and they can get personal. September also contained Banned Books Week, when libraries celebrate intellectual freedom and encourage people to read banned or challenged books. Memes can carry a stark, deliberate call to action.
October: Back to School
October brought folks back into school full swing, and memes can become part of library displays.
November left librarians expressing gratitude for a lot of things, but also heating up over the net neutrality debate. A statement released by the American Library Association spoke to the concerns:
“Preserving net neutrality is essential for equitable access to online information and services and thus a vital concern for our nation’s libraries. Now that the internet has become the primary mechanism for delivering information, services and applications to the general public, it is especially important that commercial Internet Service Providers are not able to control or manipulate the content of these communications. Libraries, our patrons and America’s communities will be at risk if the FCC repeals all protections contained in its 2015 Open Internet Order with no plans to replace with any enforceable rules. We strenuously disagree with the FCC’s actions and will continue to advocate for essential net neutrality protections.”
December: Net Neutrality
In December, the FCC voted on the proposed net neutrality order, marking the beginning of a debate that’s sure to rage on in American courts come 2018.
What’s Next in 2018?
What else will 2018 bring in the land of library memes?
Memes are a powerful tool for communication. They provoke conversation and internet buzz. Librarians need to regularly harness the power of memes to communicate the value and ethics of the profession.
Intellectual discourse and reflection – the bread and butter of what a library does, and what civic society needs – might start with a laugh.
Did we miss a library meme from this year that you loved? Please share in the comments!
Samantha or Sam, I like to be surprised. My goal here is to promote, capture, and express the Syracuse iSchool experience through digital media and design-oriented blogging. At the iSchool, I'm an LIS student and I work as a program assistant for the Enrollment Management Team. My love for libraries brought me here, and I aspire to work in a great library. When I'm not working or schooling - food, fitness, and family are my priorities.