OR: Rockstars and Punk Rock and What Does It Have to do With Libraries?
This post is an attempt for me to coalesce some thoughts that have been bubbling in my head for a few weeks now. It’s going to be messy, but I want to write them out since the next few weeks are going to be crazy busy with moving, new job and such…Also, after this post, I’m going on a blogging hiatus, probably until late-April at the earliest.
A few weeks ago I went up to Northern Indiana with my parents to house hunt. And, because my future co-workers are all super nice, they toured my parents around while I was doing administrative stuff and then we all went out to lunch together. At some point during the day, someone took my parents aside and said, “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but your daughter is a Rockstar Librarian.”
My parents were…puzzled. (And amused. Oh, the jokes flew fast and furiously that weekend.) They are not librarians and I think they are still somewhat mystified by my job and librarian culture in general. By this I mean that I don’t think they have fully reconciled me, my friends and our jobs with the librarian stereotype. To their ears, “Rockstar Librarian” seems like a contradiction in terms.
So what do we mean by “Rockstar Librarian”? Well, I don’t mean “Rockstar” in the hard partying, groupie having, tattooed and leather pants wearing, sunglasses at the reference desk because they’re hungover SEXDRUGS&ROCKNROLLWOO sense…although I do have librarian friends that fit that mold. (Well, I don’t think they’d be hungover at work…but at conferences, though? Um…) I think that’s what my parents assumed my future co-worker meant and why they were so amused, since by most objective standards I am a total dork.
When I (and others) say “Rockstar Librarian”, I mean Rockstar in the celebrity sense. For better or worse, some librarians become “famous”…I don’t really want to name names (especially since every flavor of librarian has its own rockstars), but you can probably think of a few off the top of your head. These are the people that we raise up…we listen to their conference presentations (and it seems like they always get a conference session approved), read their articles/blogs/tweets, give them awards and otherwise admire them from afar and get a little fanboy or fangirlish about them. And rockstar status is not a function of age…some of the people that I consider Rockstars are nearing retirement age.
(Oh, that reminds me. With my move to Valpo, I will be leaving SEAALL and now only have one opportunity a year to stalk a certain southern gentleman and legal history scholar. Well, it’s probably for the best…restraining orders are so embarrassing. )
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have Rockstars. Librarianship as a whole will never make progress without a few individuals out on the bleeding edge, trying (and failing) at a variety of things so that the rest of us get ideas and know what works and doesn’t. The Rockstar Librarian phenomenon is not without its drawbacks, however. Given the size of LibraryLand, only a rarefied few can be “Rockstars” which risks that the conversation and future will be shaped by only a few voices. There’s a huge danger of professional librarian discourse becoming one giant echo chamber.
I don’t blame the Rockstars. I’m sure that there are some out there that are just writing what they write or saying what they say for the “fame.” But for the most part (myself included if you want to include me as a Rockstar in my minor corner of LibraryLand), most of the Rockstars are just the ones who try something new (or try a twist on something someone else has tried), and then aren’t shy about telling others about it, either through writing or presentations. Which brings me to the bigger problem with Libraryland Rockstars…
Okay, check it…here’s my sure to be controversial and a little insulting theory about Library Rockstars. Every profession has its rockstars. Library Rockstars are especially pernicious because, well….how can I say this? For the most part, the Captain of the Football team or Head Cheerleader did not grow up to be a librarian. Many – NOT ALL – librarians are a nerdy bunch who aren’t comfortable with the limelight and are more adept at being followers than leaders. I think there’s a self-confidence issue where librarians don’t believe that they could ever do the types of things that Rockstars do. So they don’t try something unless a Rockstar said to do it, the Rockstar membership becomes more insular and pretty soon we’re all caught in a vicious cycle. This is how some ideas that, frankly, are stupid and impractical get touted as the Next Big Thing in librarianship because a Rockstar said it and the masses think, “Well, if X said it, it must be the cool thing to do! My library needs one those ASAP!”
This is absolutely maddening to me.
EMBRACE YOUR INNER ROCKSTAR, PEOPLE.
Part of why I get uncomfortable at being labeled a “Rockstar” is that I know that I really don’t have any special skill set. I’m not being completely modest…I know I’m a good writer, especially when it comes to blogging (which is may or may not be for everyone), I think I’m good at connecting tools with practical uses, and I’m not shy about talking about it. But it’s not like I’m making Lead into Gold here, is what I’m saying. Anything I can do, anyone else can too. I just blog about it.
Another reason I’m uncomfortable with Rockstar status (both mine and others) is that I am more interested in what people do in the day to day. I’m good at “Library 2.0 theory”, but I don’t feel like I accomplished much in my day to day job at UK. Budget and staffing issues have resulted in a dead blog and facebook page and I never did get to implement most of my ideas. I’m hoping that changes at my new job since outreach and digital initiatives are a major part of the position, but until that time I feel like a fraud every time someone calls me a Web 2.0 expert. “Wouldn’t it be neat if we could…” discussions are great, but what are you doing now? While it’s important to be forward thinking, the daily grind and serving the patrons’ and library’s interests are much more critcal. Out of all the LSW’s Shovers and Makers last year, my absolute favorite was my friend Anna’s profile. That’s what makes her a Rockstar to me.
Speaking of being a Rockstar, I got a lot of attention from my recent LibPunk Mentorship blog post. LibPunk is an idea that I’m really intrigued by and want to spend some time in the coming months thinking about, fleshing out and attempting to get some action items out of. (Hmmm… ‘action items’ don’t sound very punk rock, do they?) I, of course, did not make up the word/concept. I got that from my friend Kathryn Greenhill, who in turn based it on Jim Groom’s Edupunk.
All of it, however, is based on no-front-modified Punk. Punkrock Punk. It’s more than just than three cord music or spikey hair or safety pins through one’s nose…it’s a lifestyle choice. A quck perusal of the Wikipedia entry on Punk Ideologies says:
Punk ideologies are a group of varied social and political beliefs associated with the punk subculture. In its original incarnation, the punk subculture was primarily concerned with concepts such as rebellion, anti-authoritarianism, individualism, free thought and discontent. Punk ideologies are usually expressed through punk rock music, punk literature, spoken word recordings, punk fashion or punk visual art. Some punks have participated in direct action, such as protests, boycotts, squatting, vandalism or violence….
One notable attitude common within the punk subculture is the opposition to selling out, which refers to abandonment of personal values in exchange for wealth, status or power….
The do it yourself (DIY) ideal is common in the punk scene, especially in terms of music recording and distribution, concert promotion, zines, posters and flyers…
Despite my previously mentioned dorkitude, I am punk at heart. I may look sweet and innocent, but I got an anti-authoritarianism streak a mile wide. (Okay, actually that my not be a huge secret.) I’m also all about the DIY (read: unconferences and blogs) and anti-selling out (again: not a huge secret.)
I think we are at a really magical time in libraries where being punk makes sense. Prior to the Internet age in general and the past few years of open source and web 2.0 advances particular, it was difficult for librarians to work together, discuss issues outside of professional in-person gatherings and replicate services provided by the giant infovendors. (And while I still maintain that vendors aren’t automatically evil, I do think that they’ve been making some questionable decisions lately that librarians should be mad as Hell about and vow not to take anymore.) I’d love to see more:
- concentrated efforts to get vendors to change policies
- open source projects
- unconferences and loosely organized professional development
- open access scholarship (and, particular to my corner of libraryland, support for the Free Law Movement)
- alternative forms of professional discourse – podcasts, zines, and even cartoons!
Can one be a LibPunkRockStar? I dunno…but I’m going to try.