Be radical in your actions, not just your words.

This week I had a long discussion at KALX about how meaningless the term hipster is. Basically the trend setters are out there doing things, expressing themselves, and living their culture. They are too busy making it happen for themselves to call themselves a hipster, in fact they will tell you they aren’t if you call them one. The people who call themselves hipsters, aren’t really because they are in the middle or end of the trend tail.  Of course this is also a big part of youth culture, and as you age you get moved out of the cycle.  (This is why I hate people calling my record shopping hipsterish because I’ve been doing it for 20 years, and will be doing it for the rest of my life. It’s not a fad.)

This also reflect something we tell our DJs all the time – let your music do the talking. Don’t tell the listeners how good something is, the songs will communicate that on their own so just play good songs. It kind of reminds me of a common argument I have were people tell me The Clash are the most punk band ever, but of course it’s actually Crass (pictured). The only thing the argument achieves is that I think the other person has a skewed (read: commercial and superficial) view of punk, and they think I’m just trying to be obscure.

Last night when I got home from the radio station, I saw some people talking about R. David Lankes’ talk at the University of Toronto – “Radical Librarians”. Actually, I first saw people talking about how the term “radical” had been diluted and is meaningless. In the library world, this doesn’t surprise me. Very much like hipster and punk. People who call themselves radicals, want to set themselves apart from the rest of the crowd but that’s not actually radical action. No, the real radical librarians are out there doing shit, changing and breaking things, and probably on the fringes of some professional discourse because they don’t have time for our navel gazing.

So a lot of librarians I really respect and admire were crying foul of Lankes’ lecture last night. The main issue is that Lankes crossed a picket line. I guess that’s radical in a bad way.

Lankes’ response shows the security he has as an established, white, male LIS faculty member. The sort of statement I’ve only heard from other “thought leaders” who seem to work in a rarified world.

I admire his surety in himself, but really it strikes me that Lankes probably doesn’t see how his actions reflect his intent. He wanted to bring the good word about libraries, to librarians, but it also means crossing a picket line. Something a lot of people, particularly radicals who care about equality, would not consider. Another way to show the value of libraries is to advocate for our colleagues, and protect access to education and knowledge for our whole community. That would be radical.

Then Jacob Berg highlighted Lankes’ abstract on Twitter:

Look at the Twitter discussion. People rightfully roll their eyes at Lankes’ referencing the protests in Ferguson and the Arab Spring. I just listened to the talk, and I would say there’s really not much of a connection to those uprisings. There’s actually not much radical in the content. Lots of self-effacing jokes and personal anecdotes, regular trotting out the “Canadians are nice” joke, a call to librarians to look beyond our closets of books and see our value to our community as services, and encouraging our profession to think about really how to be open promoting knowledge in our communities. Tara Robertson, a librarian who I respect a whole hell of a lot posed this question to Lankes:

You should go read the exchange. Lankes responds and it’s overall respectul. If anything it seems that he didn’t realize that people would react to his crossing the picket line.

The reason I’m blogging about this incident is that it just highlights a kind of tone deaf obliviousness that I’m just tired of in the profession. It also touches on something that came up in a recent blog post by Andromeda Yelton on the future of libraries and how they need to look beyond panels of regular (mostly white, mostly male) suspects. One of the many reasons I respect Yelton is because she does hold herself accountable, responds to critics, and does work to bring about the change she (and many others) want to see.

I personally am tired of being told what the future of my profession is going to be like when I’m trying to make it happen myself. I am tired of the “sage on the stage” being a white guy who seems to know how everything is, but their version of the state of things doesn’t really reflect mine or many of my colleagues.

And I’m tired of people proclaiming we’re a cutting edge, radical, progressive group. We’re not. We have our moments, but really it’s hard for us to get out of our bubbles and our comfort zones and really take a stand on things like equality, access, and diversity. If we really were? Our conferences on the future of the profession would be way more diverse – diverse in gender, ethnicity, race, background, everything. Instead, they tend to be established “thought leaders” who are entrenched in the current way of doing things (or jumping for shiny corporate speak). One reason I became a librarian was for the democratization of information, that’s my story, and these echo chambers aren’t helping that.

So I want to thank Lankes for responding to his critics. I want to thank Librarian Twitter for the very thoughtful conversation. I also want library leaders, particularly white men, to listen and give space to other voices. I learn best about these sorts of things when I listen to the people actually affected. We could also probably use something like Cecily Walker’s idea of diversity training for the profession. We need it.

And really – stop talking about how radical, progressive, punk, whatever you are and just be it. Make shit happen, listen to your conscience, and listen to others because that’s really how we’re all going to move forward.

One thought on “Be radical in your actions, not just your words.

  1. You know, I followed along on that conversation because I was trying to grok what the reaction was about. I grew up in the rural South, and have effectively lived here my entire life. I have absolutely no reference for unions at all, not really. I mean, I have read the history of labor movements, but as far as it being a living concern, my experience is completely missing any referents. If I had been in Lankes’ shoes, I may have crossed a picket line simply because I have no emotional or intellectual model for what that _means_ to people. I wouldn’t have done it out of any principled stand, but out of raw and unknowing ignorance.

    Which of course, makes me more deeply consider the number of other things I’m probably doing out of raw and unknowing ignorance.

    I have no idea if I’m a thought leader, a radical, or what…but I am trying, every day, to be better.

    Thanks for writing this,

Leave a Reply