What Happens When You Try To Research Kanye West At The Library
Does the Dewey Decimal system love Kanye as much as Kanye loves Kanye?
Kanye West finds his way into the social conversation every. single. day. Even my crochet-loving aunt Kathy can recite his craziest tweets by heart.
While blaring “Monster” and walking by my neighborhood library, two things occurred to me:
- How are pop culture phenoms documented offline, if real deal history books are even still a thing?
- When was the last time I’d actually been in a library?
So 13 years after learning the Dewey Decimal system, I set out to Chicago’s Harold Washington Library (Kanye’s hometown digs!) to answer all of the above for myself.
Task 1: Get a library card
While I am very proud of my love for books and my growing collection (304 and counting ????) I tend to frequent bookstores more than libraries. So the first step was to follow Arthur’s advice and get myself a library card.
For proof of residence, I printed out a paycheck and brought a copy of Real Simple magazine because that’s the only mail I even get anymore. Turns out Chicago isn’t too stingy about handing out library cards and Janine hardly looked at my file folder of documents before handing me a card. Mission one: accomplished.
Task 2: Find the books
With no Dewey Decimal card catalogue in sight, I went for the 21st Century version—the desktop computer search. I was honestly surprised to find 143 ‘Kanye West’ results. Sure, only 11 of them were books and four of those were filed in the children’s section, but Kanye definitely had a print presence.
I outlined a jumble of letters and numbers on a piece of scrap paper (sooo 90s!) and ventured down to the 2nd floor Children’s Library.
To answer the question you’re all wondering, yes, there are really four books about Kanye geared toward 3rd graders who want to learn how many Grammy’s he’s won. It even includes a helpful breakdown of how to pronounce his name: Con-yay, not Can-yee.
Did I feel weird towering over a 7-year-old scholar in the same aisle? Absolutely. I gathered my Kanye children’s books and scampered out the room before any parents could approach me.
I then spent exactly 23 minutes wandering between floors 4 and 8 desperately trying to find the enigmatic call numbers. I managed to find “Kim & Kanye: A Love Story” tucked in the back of the 6th floor, thanks to some temporary printed aisle labels.
Then I gave up. I walked up to the reference desk on the 8th floor and handed over my orange notecard to Brenda.*
*Not her real name, I just think all librarians should be named Brenda.
Task 3: Ask a librarian
I handed Brenda my notecard and confidently confirmed all the books in question were about Kanye West. She nodded knowingly.
Turns out four of the books were actually in the “restricted section,” where I couldn’t get them myself. Was I about to crack open some deep FBI Kanye conspiracy files?
She brought them back and told me I could scan them but couldn’t take them home. I handed over my fresh library card and trudged over to a table.
Task 4: Do the research
I broke my “no-technology’ rule again to Snapchat some of my findings:
Here are the highlights from my reading:
- Kanye is often compared to President Barack Obama as a role model for young African Americans.
- Most Kayne literature nods to his fashion choices. One book described it as “akin to something out of 90210” with “flamboyant pink shirts and Gucci loafers.”
- February 27, 2005 was declared Kanye West Day in the city of Chicago.
- Even from early on it was clear Kanye really loved Kanye: “As a rapper West is good, though not as good as he thinks. (No one is as good at anything as West believes he is at everything.)”
- There is a surprising amount of academic work on Kanye, including a book entitled “The Cultural Impact Of Kanye West,” which aims to “consider how West both challenges religious and moral norms [of Western Civilization] and propagates them.”
I saved the best discovery for last. Behold, Kanye’s own literary work:
He did, in fact, write the book himself, though I would call it more of a visual journey than a literary one.
Getting a library card was easy, but using it…not so much. Librarian Brenda made me feel dumb for not totally understanding how to navigate the organizational system of a poorly labeled 8-floor library—perhaps she’s (understandably) angry because book-based research is dying quickly. Even two years ago, my brother’s high school teachers had to specify that at least two of their research sources for their final term paper had to be books.
I did technically complete my mission—I can confidently say there are five printed Kanye West biographies in circulation, an icon who grew famous squarely in the digital era. But though these resources really do exist, I can also confidently say I was the only millennial I saw during my entire 4-hour escapade.
I saw a few people napping or knitting in the deep corners of the library, but the biggest crowd was in the computer lab, waiting to use the internet on an electronic wait-list.