Librarians Are Punks Too

When I first saw that Henry Rollins was going to be a keynote speaker at this year’s ACRL meeting in Indianapolis I was even happier that I was going to be there. A couple of years ago I might have been surprised to find this punk rock icon at a library conference but now I think this makes perfect sense. There are punks all over library-land.

This is probably not a coincidence. I can only speak for myself but it is not the case that I grew out of punk and became a librarian; as far as I’m concerned, its the same identity. Just like with punk, I do this because I love it and I think its important. Also, despite the stereotype of the shushing librarian in sensible shoes, there is something anti-authoritarian and even confrontational about being a librarian. Librarians fight censorship and celebrate banned books. We fight for access to information as a human right. Our archivists organize the public record and keep sunlight shining on our civic processes. We opposed the Patriot Act when others were silent and we look at Google and say, we’re still better.

Furthermore, a library is a fun, exciting and supportive and community. To be honest with you, I never really cared for most punk music and I was always dismissive of thinking of punk as simply fashion or lifestyle. The people, however, are amazing and inspiring and it is largely due to the punk community that I think I turned out to be thoughtful, open-minded and conscientious. Similarly, it was the rad people I met in the library that made me seriously want to work in one. Librarianship is an entire profession built on helping and sharing; of course it’s a place that attracts great people.

There is one thing I learned from punk that I would like to see a little more of in libraries and that is an embrace of DIY (Do It Yourself) as an ethos. There is actually already quite a lot of this particularly coming from library school students. I’m thinking, obviously, about In the Library With a Lead Pipe, Hack Library School, the Library as Incubator Project and LibPunk. So my concern is not actually that librarians are not interested in doing this but that there may be structural issues that are blocking them. Librarians are already taking the initiative to start projects and build communities but too often it feels like these are extra-curricular. What if librarians were as empowered as their patrons are by the library? Some institutions are already taking advantage of the amazing energy and talent they have on staff but it remains untapped at others.

That being said, one thing that I like about libraries that always bugged me about punk is that, well, not everyone at the library is a punk. It is often pointed out that, for a bunch of people committed to individuality, punk can be a little (or very) homogeneous. One of libraryland’s real strengths is its ability to have a common purpose while fostering and celebrating diversity. Punks could stand to learn a thing or two about this at the library.

Watching Rollins give his presentation was amazing. I wondered what angle he would take and I shouldn’t be surprised that he took all of them. The Twitter back channel contained several comments indicating that he was actually a librarian for his efforts to preserve the material culture of punk. I agree with this but I would also flip it; librarians are punks.

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