Organization Theory PDX

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Seattle Public LIbrary and Tupac


For Summer 2005, Seattle Public Library added to its book discussion groups a unique forum. Inspired by the interest and demand at the University of Washington for its course The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur, which addressed books the rapper had admired and social realities, the library adopted the readings for a book discussion group. The rap star died eight years ago and leaves behind a fanbase that continues to grow. The success of this program is an example of the practice of several organization theories covered in Mary Jo Hatch’s text Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives.

I Get Around at the University of Washington and Seattle Public Library

Georgia Roberts is a graduate student in the English Department at the University of Washington. She created the course on Tupac after realizing that in nearly every aspect of her coursework, she would find some relevance to the rapper. It had become a joke to her and her colleagues until she realized that Tupac could be a useful learning model because of his interests in politics, religion, and cultural theory. Roberts developed the course after being approached by the Comparative History of Ideas Program at U of W. Not only did the 400 level course bring together his fans at the school, but also students of business, biology, and religious studies. “We studied Tupac’s ideas alongside Nietzsche, Frantz Fanon, and other writers and philosophers and looked for connections. The students challenged each other’s assumptions about categories like race, class, and gender” (Texts and Tupac). The course quickly developed a waiting list and has been offered for the Summer 2005 quarter. Seattle Public Library saw the curiosity for the program and approached Roberts to lead a discussion group..

Seattle Library is not Strugglin’ for patrons

Hatch discusses in her book how population ecology theory permits an organization to develop focusing on the environments perceived interests and needs. This theory reinforces the necessity for user-centeredness when creating programs so that the patron feels welcome and accommodated. Successful organizations evolve throughout time to consistently oblige customers, in this case patrons, and validate its usefulness.

In addition to population ecology, one may see how postmodern organization theory applies to this program. Hatch states: “One postmodernist idea for redressing the imbalance [of power] is to give voice to silence. This means seeking greater levels of participation by marginalized members of organizations such as women, racial and ethnic minorities, and the oldest and youngest employees” (46). One may substitute the word patron for employee in this statement. This program may have sought to empower the “disempowered” by introducing literary works which had inspired Tupac.

By combining the defining elements of these theories, one may see the program’s success may be attributed to the following:

Patrons saw the program as legitimate. Participants included teachers, parents of teenagers, and fans. The varied audience represented members from inside hip hop culture, as well as those who were interested in learning more about it.
Advertising for the discussion group was widespread. Roberts’ course at the University of Washington received so much attention after a student took the initiative to post the syllabus online, that the library was able to take advantage of it as well. The poster for the program featured graffiti style artwork and Tupac’s portrait making it easily recognizable.
The reading list is composed of significant works, including: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, and The Prince by Machiavelli. Without the unifying theme of Tupac (or Roberts, for that matter), I am not sure that the program would have been successful.

Holla if You Hear Me at Seattle Public Library

It is clear that Seattle Public Library has so far been successful in making this program a flourishing one. It has been legitimately accepted by Tupac’s fans and has had media attention and praise. How can this be a positive example for our prospective libraries? I am motivated, personally, to bring my unique perspective so that I may be a positive example in encouraging patron participation.

When asked what she thought Tupac would think about the discussion group at Seattle Public Library, Roberts replied “[Tupac] says, ‘I don’t think I’ll change the world, but I guarantee that I’ll spark the brain that will change the world.’ As someone who studies literature, I’ve always believed in the transformative power of reading to spark and ignite social change. So if people are encouraged to read by his example, well, I think he’d see that as a cool thing” (Texts and Tupac).

Sara P.

Hatch, M.J. (1997). Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.

Texts and Tupac. (Winter-Spring 2005.) A&S Perspectives Newsletter. Retrieved July 15, 2005 from

The Seattle Public Library: Library News Release Detail. Retrieved July 15, 2005 from


  • This program is an example of how great things can come from open-mindedness and a willingness to find value in unexpected places. To many people, Tupac’s music is considered a bad influence on youth--promoting violence, drug use, and objectification of women. A common complaint is that there are few positive role models for African-American youth today. This program not only reached out to a group of people who might otherwise never attend a book discussion group, it took an individual who is often seen as a negative role model and transformed him into a positive model. I first read Machiavelli and Maya Angelou in college. Tupac’s literary interests and the library’s willingness to showcase them, gave people who might never think of going to college a piece of that same education.

    Idealistically, I believe that libraries can be places for positive social change. Instead of trying to get kids excited about the role models we think are positive, we can look at the things they’re already excited about. Tupac isn’t the only celebrity with literary inclinations. Mandy Moore recently re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. Miguel Batista (Toronto Blue Jays pitcher) is a published poet. The success of the Seattle library’s program should inspire us to find similar unexpected value in other role-models kids have chosen for themselves.

    Amy Maule

    Amber, J. (1997, June). Whose hip-hop is this? Essence. 28(2),150.

    Pitcher Turned Poet. (2004, Oct). Writing. 27(2), 4.

    By Blogger amy, at 10:05 PM  

  • Sara,
    I thought you made some excellent points tying together the relevancy of the Tupac reading/discussion group and population ecology. What struck me was the fact that they used Tupac and not some local artist such as Kurt Cobain to focus the programs on. It is interesting that the interest and growing fan base proved their choice to be a great one for the area. I thought this went well with the idea from Hatch that "What interests the population ecologist is not one particular organization seeking its own survival via competition for scarce and critical resources (the resource dependence view), but rather the patterns of success and failure among all the organizations that compete within a given resource pool" (pg. 81). This theory suggests to me that perhaps other reading groups or programs on different artists were tried and failed because of the lack of interest. It would also be interesting in several years time to see whether the interests and needs will have shifted to a completely different focus or type of program.
    I agree with Amy that using the library "as a place for positive social change is ideal". It is a very good point to keep in mind that we must be aware of the interests and needs of the community we serve and create programs in accordance with them.

    By Anonymous Esther, at 2:12 PM  

  • Sorry, I forgot to add my
    Hatch, M.J. (1997). Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.

    By Anonymous Esther, at 2:21 PM  

  • I think this makes an excellent case for applying more PoMo analysis to what's going on in libraries these days. Combining Tupac's work with works of so-called classical authors and philosphers causes a distinct shift in the reality of what and who are the contributions/contributors to important literature.

    I really think that some of the core curriculum developed by Roberts is applicable to other, more urban, populations. I also enjoy how Roberts' program flies in the face of some of the more traditional values ascribed to educational and library environments--choosing an artist such as Tupac is a distinct and important shift toward constructing a more powerful and open learning environment.

    In addition, installing and implementing programs such as this provides an important way for library programs operating in more urban environments to gain the social legitimacy necessary for outreach to more marginalized communities. More programs like this can make a huge dent in the rift between the residents of a community who can gain the most from a library's services and the residents of a community who actually use those services.

    I am definitely going to keep thinking about this as I move through SLIM, I really want to take another look at this when I get to future classes about special populations.

    Thanks for bringing this fascinating program to my attention.


    By Anonymous Allie, at 7:48 AM  

  • “When asked what she thought Tupac would think about the discussion group at Seattle Public Library, Roberts replied “[Tupac] says, ‘I don’t think I’ll change the world, but I guarantee that I’ll spark the brain that will change the world.’ As someone who studies literature, I’ve always believed in the transformative power of reading to spark and ignite social change. So if people are encouraged to read by his example, well, I think he’d see that as a cool thing” (Texts and Tupac).”

    Your post topic is an excellent example of how libraries can inspire people to think and read. By making the connection between a popular performer and thought-provoking literature, we can bridge the gap between “high” and “low” culture. It has been an age old argument in libraries about what should be acknowledged and what is beneath us. I believe the library can have both and it could be a valuable asset to society.

    In the future, more people would start to deeply value the library. Riding on the bus, I might start to hear conversations connecting bell hooks and the new Loretta Lynn album or comparing Karl Marx with reality television. Book discussion groups would have to be held in arenas and would sell out faster than the Superbowl. Libraries could help people to think critically by exposing them to other ideas or works that may seem too “intellectual” or “complicated.” In a context that is familiar like popular music or movies or television, it becomes easier to digest and more engaging.

    Hatch describes the Post-modern “technique” of collage as stimulating “surprise by juxtaposing incongruous images that unleash powerful ideas and feelings capable of provoking the viewer to change his or her accustomed ways of seeing and experiencing the world” (1997, p. 54). She is referring to the art of collage but it makes an excellent metaphor for this discussion group. By “juxtaposing” Maya Angelou with Tupac, they have created a new way of looking at both. The trend for libraries to focus on user needs has some fearing they will be providers of mindless entertainment and the book will become irrelevant. This example shows that it is not a matter of either/or but of becoming creative in our approach to attract users and keep them reading and thinking.

    Hatch, M.J. (1997). Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.

    By Anonymous jennifer w., at 6:46 PM  

  • Sara,

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. This demonstrates how one library is responding to the interest of its patrons. I agree with Jennifer W's comment that this is an example of the effort to "bridge the gap between 'high' and 'low' culture." Some rap lyrics are actually good poetry, but people often overlook this simply because of the packaging and perhaps because of the audience of rap listeners (youth and minority people).

    My friend wrote a paper on Tupac's feminism in college. I think that other music genre's and other popular works can be similarily deconstructed in the academic arena. Everything has the potential to be deconstructed in a thoughtful way. For instance, for one of my English assignments in college, my professor encouraged us to deconstruct advertisements or the colors on the public buses (wouldn't you know one went by at that exact moment and its stripes were yellow and brown). My point is just because something is popular does not mean it is not worthy of academic or intellectual discussion.

    Romance novels and rap cds are just as worthy of occupying library shelves as the works of Shakespeare. The key factor when deciding on a library's collection is not "Is this a scholarly or highly regarded work?" but "Does this meet the demand of my patrons and reflect the community in which I work?" If a library's collection does mirror its patrons, these patrons are more likely to use the library and support funding for the library. Seattle Public Library is an innovator in drawing in the public with this Tupac series. Other libraries would be wise to model this example and take a more organic, responsive approach to its patrons.

    This is an example of not only population ecology, but also institutional theory because the Seattle library is adopting their community's value of diversity and bringing voice to the voiceless (minority groups, etc).

    By Blogger OrganizationTheory, at 7:13 PM  

  • That last was posted by me, Sarah V. Still mastering the technology

    By Blogger OrganizationTheory, at 7:15 PM  

  • Sara,

    Your post is mightily thought-provoking! After reading it, and many of the comments posted by others, my mind remains churning with other possibilities for pop culture subjects that could be harnessed and employed to reign in the interest of all sorts of library users. I am swimming in genre ideas...and as Allie pointed out the PoMo juxtapositioning of otherwise unrelated ideas to create new ideas. What would libraries need to juxtapose in order to create a meaningful dialgue among its patrons?

    I appreciate that SPL has acknowledged its community in this new light. Other organizations have acknowledged the interests of their communities in similar ways--I am reminded of the university that, in the mid-nineties, offered a course based entirely on the films of Keanu Reeves.

    Not only is it important to consider the needs and demands of the library's community when developing programs and selecting collection materials, as Sarah V. stated, but it is also important to consider how that community might expand outside its present boundaries. That is what makes our position so unique--we have to see into the future, in a way, to envision all of the possibilities (good and bad) that exists within the various groups we serve. To visualize this is the first challenge. Making practical use out of it is yet another.

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