The Knockoff: Perspectives Beyond Library World

Summer breaks from library school are made for trying to recharge from a busy school year and enjoy non-library-related fiction.  But a library-minded student cannot help but find the connections between even fiction and lessons for library world.  One of my favorite reads from this summer, The Knockoff  by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza, was surprisingly relevant for how we think about libraries of all kinds in the modern technology age.

This post is part of an occasional series discussing how non-library-specific books and materials are relevant to library school students.

Read the first in this series, a review of Onward

Read the second in this series, a review of Trace

At first glance, The Knockoff presents as “just” a book about fashion magazines.  Digging a little deeper, this novel is actually a conversation about the ongoing war between analog and technology, between print and apps, between tradition and trailblazing.  Libraries are in that same conversation as fashion magazines and countless other industries.  The answer as portrayed in the Knockoff is a blending of these battling ideas: and it’s a good message for libraries.

Imogen Tate returns to her job as Glossy magazine editor after a long sick leave for treatment for breast cancer only to be met by a hard pivot into social media and technology championed by her publisher and aggressively led by her former assistant Eve Morton. The paper edition of the magazine is out and a brand new app version is in. Eve wants to disrupt the industry by being loud, different and edgy: a huge shock for Imogen and the way things have always been done.

Sound familiar?  Similar arguments have been made about libraries over the last few years. Just imagine all the click-bait titles you’ve seen (or maybe even heard from a patron):

You’ll Never Believe What’s Killing Libraries

E-books Are In, Print Is Dead!

iPads Will Change Everything

While technology has had a profound effect on libraries of all types over the years, reality has shown that some of those “libraries are dying” fears have been highly exaggerated.

As the drama unfolds in The Knockoff, it becomes clear that the solution for Glossy magazine’s survival lies not in a return to old traditions nor a leap to the future.  Rather, Imogen’s foundation of institutional knowledge, solid industry relationships, and fashion instinct sets her up for success.  She learns to integrate her knowledge with the useful tools from Eve’s “disruptive” social media techniques to create a better Glossy in spite of her adversaries who say print is dead.    

As we finish summer and head back to library school, let us take this reminder of the value merging important traditions with the exciting benefits of technology into our study of libraries.  Like Imogen, when faced with exaggerated predictions about the alleged downward spiral of our industry, we as 21st century library school students can rise to the challenge of mixing old and new.   For some advice on managing technology while in library school, check out this post from Outgoing Managing Editor Kristina Williams

What were your favorite summer reads?


Work Cited

Sykes, Lucy and Jo Piazza. 2015. The Knockoff. New York: Doubleday.

Sarah Davis is a Bilingual Children’s Associate at a public library in Oklahoma and an MLIS student at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.

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