When Kathryn Greenhill coined the term LibPunk, she was basing it on the (then) new EduPunk movement which was characterized by a DIY ethos and a rejection of government and corporate interests in the classroom. What did that mean for librarians? She suggested “Librarians using non-proprietary products and groupings not based on institutional alliances to practice their craft and communicate their practice? Open, collaborative enterprises based on not making money, but often on increasing social capital or extending knowledge?” Yep. Sounds good to me. She also included examples like the LSW and John Blyberg’s SOPAC as DIY groupings and enterprises.
I don’t disagree with those ideas and examples at all. I would like to expand and build upon them, though.
Stick it to The Man?
Let’s unpack the “rejection of…corporate interests” piece, shall we? I think there’s a lot of anger in the library community towards vendors, and rightfully deserved in some cases. However, I don’t hate vendors because they are giant corporations. I don’t hate vendors at all. I get frustrated with some of their business practices and services, but I’m not anti-profit or anti-corporation. I would welcome a friendly and collaborative relationship between vendors and the library community…a symbiotic relationship, not a parasitic one.
That being said, I am very excited about the fact that we have reached a time when the technology available and skill set of members of the library community are such that we can replicate some of the sources and services traditionally provided by vendors – replications that will hopefully be less expensive to implement and more user friendly since they are developed by librarians for the library community. LibPunk means leveling the playing field between vendors and libraries.
I jokingly said in the LibPunk FriendFeed room that I need a LibPunk name, much like Wu-Tang Clan members have special group nick-names. Much to my surprise, someone suggested “Fearless”. Y’all, I am not fearless. Actually, I am wracked with phobias. There’s the traditional ones…heights, flying, closed spaces, clowns, that rats are going to come up through my sewer pipes in the middle of the night and eat my face off when I sleep, public speaking, that clowns are going to come up through my sewer pipes in the middle of the night and eat my face off when I sleep …you know, the fears that everyone has. But, really, deep down, I am a very shy and private individual that cherishes quiet and prefers to have a distinct lack of drama in my life. Just about everything I do publicly (including writing this blog post) scares the crap out of me.
Start the Commotion
So, no. Not fearless. I just happen to possess an apathetic response to the opinions of others. That just appears to be fearlessness since (I believe, anyway) so much of what people do they do because they worry about what others will think of them. It’s not your fault, really. After hundreds of thousands of years of being the naked ape with little natural defenses except “sticking with the group”, the human brain evolved to value “stick with the group” behavior. It’s not an easy thing to go against the grain and stick to your guns in the face of seemingly everyone and everything telling you to do otherwise.
I bring this up because, when people think “punk”, they probably think of people with mohawks and safety pins in their noses. While I’m personally past the point of facial jewelery made with sewing supplies, I think LibPunks need to embrace standing out and being more of a spectacle. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not in the rebellion for rebellion’s sake business. I’m just tired of people saying “oh, I wish things could be different” and then not doing anything to actively work towards that difference. I also do not like to see people not stand up for themselves and just take it from the vendors because they assume that there is no other option. Like all political theater, at times LibPunks will have to adopt a slightly more aggressive stand and public posture so that people will feel more comfortable moving towards their way of thinking because they think they are being moderates. That’s just the way the game is played.
It’s important though that you be your type of spectacle. I mean, yeah, you could chain yourself to the Elsevier booth in the ALA exhibit hall and start chanting. (I AM IN NO WAY ENCOURAGING OR SUGGESTING THAT ANYONE DO THAT, btw.) Spectacles don’t have to be huge though. They just have to shake things up a little. Write a blog post. Form a collection development consortium. Speak up at a meeting and say, “From this point on ‘We’ve always done it this way’ is no longer an acceptable reason to do something.” Whatever feels true to you.
That last part is key. As someone who has spent time as the flavor of the week spectacle, you will find that – believe it or not – not everyone is going to love everything you say and do. It’s shocking, I know. But it’s okay. Disagreement and debate (especially well reasoned, thought-out debate) are good things. That means that people are thinking and thinking is always good, even if the other person ends up on the other side of the issue.
How to Win Friends and Influence People, Except, You Know, the Exact Opposite of That
My point is, you can’t start letting yourself depend on the accolades of others to get fulfillment from your activities. Sometimes people will love you and sometimes they will be greatly annoyed at you. You won’t be able to please everyone, so you might as well please yourself. And be able to live with yourself. So, to be a LibPunk, you need to really figure out who you are, what you believe in and then do everything you can to live up to that idea and ideal. When you have a solid inner core as a polestar, the difficulties of the myriad grey areas that we must navigate become easier.
LibPunks also need to fight their own battles. This is not a movement to join because you want another ribbon on your conference badge or because all the “cool people” are doing it. You need to do what you do in the name of LibPunkness because it’s something that you genuinely care and feel passionate about. You will lose friends. And possibly harm your career. Or otherwise seem to jack things up in your life so bad that all you have is whatever it is you believe in. So you best be sure it’s something that you really want.
Once you set down the path, you will make mistakes, make no doubt about that. But as Frank Wilczek said, “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems.” LibPunk is messy and has many dead ends and requires lots of do-overs. Mistakes are okay because that means at least you’ve tried something. Action is always better than inaction. And if you’ve stayed true to yourself when doing it, there’s nothing broken that can’t be fixed.
Level the playing field. Be a spectacle. Be true to yourself. Make mistakes. That’s what being a LibPunk means to me.