By Andrew Carlos and Raymond Pun
Memes are an inescapable part of today’s online culture. The Internet is filled with memes: images, videos, texts, or ideas created and virally shared by one person to another to critique or reinforce a specific culture. They can be satirical, ironic, or graphic, and may make references to popular culture like the Batman meme you see here. Memes can also help students make important connections during your library instruction.
Today many college students are familiar with memes, and they are so popular that even the Library of Congress recently started collecting, ranking and showcasing the Internet’s most popular memes for research. But what about using memes in library instruction? In this interview, Librarian Andrew Carlos shares his experiences teaching information literacy using memes and designing creative ways to engage with students to think about copyright and participatory culture in library research.
Ray: Thanks for speaking with us! Can you tell us about your work, and how you approach memes in library instruction?
Andrew: In a past life, I worked closely with high school students. I heard so many of them mention memes and random pop culture references that I knew this was a way for me to get to know them better, as well as frame the things I needed to teach. At Cal State East Bay, we previously had a for-credit, graduation requirement information literacy course that all freshmen were enrolled in. Since the class was required, I knew I had to make the class interesting - enter pop culture and memes!
At first, I used memes mainly to illustrate points that we were discussing, such as scholarship as conversation or looking at privacy online. Eventually, I started having my students create their own memes. This turned out to be something they really enjoyed, as it was an easy way for them to show that they were able to summarize their topic into short pithy statements. I think the hardest part of teaching students about memes is to emphasize caution when browsing meme-generators or other websites that house memes—some of them can be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.
Ray: That’s interesting to get students to summarize their topics into very brief statements using memes. So, what's your favorite meme to show in a library workshop, and are "memes" ever going to go away?
Andrew: I think my favorite meme related to information literacy is the Batman slap. It’s a bit over the top, as it shows Batman slapping Robin for saying “I copied and pasted from Wikipedia”, with Batman saying “Cite your sources”, but memes themselves are an over the top thing. I like this meme because it emphasizes the fact that you should cite your sources and gets to it in a very direct manner.
I don’t think memes are ever really going to go away. Let me rephrase that - the CONCEPT of memes will never go away, the way that they are implemented may change. For example, what we often call memes tends to be the image macro - a funny image with maybe 10-15 words on it in a bold font. That is just one version of a meme - we have video memes, textual memes, etc. I think memes may evolve with time but will never truly go away.
Ray: What resources do you recommend academic librarians consider when using memes in library instruction and outreach?
Andrew: The number one source I recommend to everyone when they are trying to learn about memes and how to incorporate it into their instruction is Know Your Meme. It’s a repository of memes that is kept up to date with the latest and greatest memes. They go into the history of the meme itself, as well as provide examples of how this meme has evolved. Super useful if you are looking into making your own memes, or just curious about the history of different memes. If you are interested in learning more about how to use memes in your instruction, KQED has a great online course that goes into memes, participatory culture, and copyright/fair use issues related to memes: Making Memes & GIFs.
If you want to make memes, or have your students make their own memes, imgflip has a meme generator that’s super easy to use. Just be careful browsing through the memes (especially the sample memes)—some of them can be really triggering. If you want to be fancy, giphy has great tools to make your own animated gif, which is another form of meme—a more advanced one that is usually derived from a pithy quip from a tv show.
Andrew Carlos is the STEM and Web Services Librarian at California State University, East Bay. His research interests include emerging technology, makerspaces, user interface design, mobile technology, popular and viral culture, and information literacy instruction. He previously worked as a school librarian in a private high school, as a public librarian in a large, multi-site system, and within a law school library as a serials assistant.