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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

It seems you can find a competition for anything. Yesterday in Chicago, fleets of librarians competed against each other performing dance routines with their metal book carts. And Chicago Public Radio's Gabriel Spitzer had a front row seat.

GABRIEL SPITZER: Picture the stereotype of a librarian: horn-rimmed glasses, hair in a bun, finger to lips stubbornly shushing. Now, picture the opposite of that.

Ms. MARI BALES(ph) (Pittsburgh Steel City Kings): What you have here are sexy black pants with a gold stripe down the side, some bedazzled Elvis tops complete with color case and cummerbund, all in a flashy lame gold.

SPITZER: Mari Bales and her Pittsburgh Steel City Kings are one of five teams at the American Library Associations' annual conference for the finals. This sport is sort of like cheerleading, if cheerleaders pushed around book carts at their day jobs.

Ms. BALES: Sometimes when you're pushing them along, and you have that urge to go faster or that urge to, like, spin and be flashy, well, it's exactly like when you're in the grocery store, and you just want to run and hop on your buggy and kind of ride it down the aisle.

SPITZER: The teams have developed themes, music, costumes. Gretchen Roltgen and her teammates from Baraboo, Wisconsin, say they've cooked up some sweet moves.

Ms. GRETCHEN ROLTGEN: Wheelies.

Unidentified Woman #1: Propeller.

Unidentified Woman #2: The daisy wheel.

Unidentified Woman #3: The caped wonder.

SPITZER: Roltgen is 62 with neon blue hair, and she doesn't look the least bit out of place.

Mr. MO WILLEMS (Children's Books Author): There's a stereotype that librarians are boring, and I think they want to change that stereotype to librarians are crazy.

SPITZER: That's Mo Willems. He and fellow children's author Jon Scieszka are today's emcees. He says as book cart athletics get more competitive, not everyone plays clean.

Mr. WILLEMS: Steroids.

SPITZER: No kidding, doping allegations?

Mr. WILLEMS: That's been the big scandal this year.

Hello, Chicago.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of music)

SPITZER: Every one of the 600-plus seats is full. Each team rolls out its routine. The Des Plaines, Illinois Cart Wheels go with a Grease theme, in Pink Lady and T-Bird getups.

(Soundbite of song, "We Go Together")

Mr. JON SCIESZKA (Children's Books Author) #1: The Biblio Tech (unintelligible). I've never seen in international competition.

SPITZER: The librarians maneuver their carts into elaborate formations. They link up in long trains and turn intricate choreography.

Mr. SCIESZKA: Show what you got? 9.2.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of music)

SPITZER: Oak Park, Illinois, makes the day's most dramatic entrance, complete with swords, breast plates and Viking horns.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SCIESZKA: It's building.

SPITZER: As the dust settles, the judges tabulate the score. It's a shocker.

Mr. WILLEMS: We have a tie.

Mr. SCIESZKA: What?

Mr. WILLEMS: We have a tie.

Mr. SCIESZKA: How is that possible?

Mr. WILLEMS: Math.

Mr. SCIESZKA: Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SPITZER: The room falls silent, awaiting a verdict from the judges.

Unidentified Man #1: We're going with Oak Park as number one.

Mr. SCIESZKA: Oak Park.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SPITZER: The Valkyries mount their winners' gold book cart in triumph, a moving victory even for veteran commentators Mo Willems and Jon Scieszka.

Mr. WILLEMS: You know what? Librarians rock.

Mr. SCIESZKA: Yeah.

Mr. WILLEMS: These people have actually rehearsed this.

Mr. SCIESZKA: Yeah. I honestly did get goose bumps when the Valkyries came out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

It was just like, oh, my god.

SPITZER: With the champions chosen, the emcees left the crowd with an important message: Support your local libraries and the crazy people who work there.

For NPR News, I'm Gabriel Spitzer in Chicago.

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