Dewey Decimal divas
Librarians ditch their cardigans and don feather boas to compete in the Book Cart Drill Team World Championships.
The librarian from Ohio popped a wheelie on his book cart, and the audience went wild. The team of librarians from Texas wore red, white, and blue feather boas as they danced the boogie-woogie while pushing their book carts in pinwheel formation. The Delaware team outfitted their performance vehicles in silver lamé and dressed in rhinestones, as they executed their signature "wave-canon" maneuver.Skip to next paragraph
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Welcome to the Third Annual Bookcart Drill Team World Championships, where librarians in elaborate costumes choreograph spinning carts, execute dance and gymnastic routines to jazzy soundtracks, and shake their booties to shake up the public perception of the stuffy librarian.
Last weekend's world championship at the American Library Association's annual meeting is the most high-profile, but not the only, event of its kind. There are more than 200 library cart drill teams around the country – all part of an ALA image makeover and public outreach effort.
"It's all about the image that librarians are stodgy, stern, always shushing," said Caroline Langendorfer of Madison, Wis., a competitor in the previous two world championships. "Cardigans. Hair buns. I love shaking up [that] stereotype."
Taking team names like the Book Pushers (Benicia, Calif.), Dewey Decimal Dancers (Frederick, Md.), Cartwheelers (Springfield, Ill.), the Rolling Tomes (Virginia Beach, Va.), and the Las Vegas Bookies, teams march in local parades, perform at state fairs and regional festivals, visit schools to promote literacy, and compete in state-level contests. And a few fortunate teams get to go for the gold – the gold book cart, that is, at the ALA World Championship.
"This is a wonderfully weird event," said Jon Scieszka, a well-known children's book author who served as emcee and color commentator for the competition Sunday at the Washington Convention Center, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,500 hooting and hollering librarians.
Mr. Scieszka has become an unabashed book cart team groupie; together with author/illustrator and fellow drill team aficionado Mo Willems, he's made cameo appearances, in a bathrobe and crash helmet, at the previous world championship events. "It's librarians performing ballet, crossed with NASCAR, the World Series, the Olympics, and Mickey Mouse on Ice – all in an unholy combination."
The teams approach the competition with a sly wink and characteristically solid reference skills. They consult the "bible" of the movement, "The Library Bookcart Drill Team Manual." They also scout the competition in advance, watching videos of the other teams' posted on YouTube: "We did a little stealth work," admitted Janelle Wertzberger of Gettysburg, Pa. "We're librarians, we know how to do research!"
Rules are firm: teams have just five minutes to decorate their carts ("The secret is to use magnets," one contestant revealed, working like a member of a NASCAR pit crew to get her cart in shape) but the logo of the contest's sponsor, Demco, a major library materials supplier, must not be obscured. The maximum routine is four minutes, with a half-point penalty on technical ability scores for each 10 seconds over. There's also an artistic expression score from one to ten.
Teams practice several times a week for months, perfecting spins, passes, and special maneuvers with names like the Flower, Runway Promenade, Bette-Midler Walk, and the One-Point Spin.