February 17, 2018

Hollywood Is a Verb | Programs That Pop

OED courtesy of University of Wisconsin–Green Bay Cofrin Library

OED courtesy of University of Wisconsin–Green Bay Cofrin Library

“Don’t you love the Oxford dictionary? When I first read it, I thought it was a really, really long poem about everything,” said David Bowie in 1999. In “Hollywood Is a Verb: Los Angeles Tackles the Oxford English Dictionary [OED],” more than 60 programs engaged Angelenos through conversation and events to illuminate how dictionaries enrich our lives today. The title of the program, jointly presented by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), was inspired by L.A. artist Ed Ruscha and his paintings of the same name.

A deep dive

This is the latest installment in an experimental program started in 2013, when the library and the foundation developed an annual monthlong initiative designed to consider a classic text through the lens of Southern California. The first iteration, Whatever Happened to Moby Dick?, explored the 1851 Herman Melville classic. Its success prompted the library and the foundation to follow up a year later with a monthlong series focused on Homer’s The Odyssey. The L.A. Odyssey Project concluded with a marathon reading of The Odyssey, which featured more than 185 participants including celebrities and readings in English, Polish, Latin, Hawaiian, and Homeric Greek.

This year, LAPL and its foundation partnered again for Hollywood Is a Verb, with programs held throughout March at the Central Library, the branches, and cultural venues across the city. These highlighted the enrichment of the English language through incorporation of words from other cultures and emphasized the contribution of readers worldwide in creating and developing the dictionary. They considered not only English words but words in other languages as well as Los Angeles slang and colloquial expressions.

Defining the terms

A call to participate went out in fall 2015 to libraries throughout the system, with the goal of having at least two libraries in each of the system’s six regions participate. Staff were asked to create programs and conduct outreach into their communities. Fourteen libraries came on board. One librarian from each location was selected to serve as a representative at an OED event committee meeting in January.

At the meeting, foundation staffers introduced the project and presented their vision. Librarians shared exciting ideas from all levels of the organization, including children’s, young adult, and adult divisions. Each participating library was asked to prepare a final list of activities and dates. The foundation discussed budget and offered funding to cover presenters and refreshments. To evaluate the program, librarians planned to track attendance and identify and report on the most popular plans at their locations.

To promote the program, the foundation and LAPL developed OED landing pages on their websites with program and event information. Hollywood Is a Verb–branded flyer templates were created and customized by the libraries to promote their events. Both the library and the foundation heavily used their social media channels.

Living language

Hollywood Is a Verb launched with a schedule of programs that included conversations with acclaimed writers and thinkers, dictionary-inspired puppet shows, poetry workshops and readings, dictionary-themed improv sessions, art projects, word game tournaments including a life-size Scrabble competition, and a celebration of Dr. Seuss.

Program highlights included From the Valley to Valyria: Word and World Building in Hollywood with David J. Peterson, a linguist and language builder who created languages and dictionaries for Game of Thrones, Defiance, and Thor: The Dark World, and a conversation with writer Jamaica Kincaid and linguist/author Sarah Ogilvie about the cultural complexities of the OED.

Music included “Strange Sounds from the Bookshelf,” a concert inspired by William Strunk and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style and the OED performed at L.A.’s Hammer Museum by the new music collective wasteLAnd and incorporating eggbeaters, typewriters, clattering teacups, and other un­expected instruments.

Among the most ambitious programs was an all-day event at the Central Library celebrating words, language, and communication and encompassing an unprecedented dual-language Spanish/English spelling bee.

Throughout the month, the foundation collected Los Angeles–specific words on Twitter and at lfla.org/oed for a highly idiosyncratic Southern California Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. Living online are a time line, created for the occasion, of California words entering the Oxford English Dictionary; a specially commissioned short film featuring word definitions provided by local students; and an essay on the peculiar mechanics of the OED’s creation and perpetual re-creation written by linguist and USC professor Edward Finegan.

Paul Montgomerie is Hollywood Area Manager for the Los Angeles Public Library

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.