LibPunk! What’s that?



Golf Punk, originally uploaded by bugmancx.

Sarah Glassmeyer, a hero of mine, recently blogged, as she is wont to do, about LibPunkRockStars. What the hell is a LibPunkRockStar? If you haven’t read her post, do it right now. I particularly like her analysis of the rockstar librarian phenomenon. This is my favourite part:

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 feedback (ha!) loop has been bugging me for years, and I’ve been struggling with how to articulate my displeasure with the whole thing. It’s sort of a “don’t hate the player, hate the game” deal. I don’t hate rockstar librarians, but the term makes me roll my eyes a lot, and I really think it’s silly in a bad way. Sarah articulates my reasons for disliking it way better than I ever could, but that’s why it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Which then leads us to LibPunk. No, not thatLibPunk, the LibPunk Kathryn Greenhill coined and defined as, “Open, collaborative enterprises based on not making money, but often on increasing social capital or extending knowledge.” This is based off of Edupunk and Steampunk. (As an aside: I don’t get the hubbub around Steampunk. It’s not really punk and it’s just meh.)

Sarah does a pretty good job tying it back to the punk ethos and DIYstuff, but really her call to arms is a little too nice for me. Yes, I want to see more subverting the system. Unconferences, open source projects, alternate forms of discourse are great and needed. I think there is a critical mass in that direction, but I also think it could go further.

There is more to punk than listening to the Ramones or Green Day. Lots of people like those bands and I would hardly call them punk, and that’s OK. There are lots of people who are probably intrigued with LibPunk but aren’t really willing to offend anybody. Punk doesn’t necessarily have to be angry like Crass or Iron Lung, but it has to have a sense of empowerment, irreverence, and, perhaps most importantly, be in opposition to something – anything. Punk did not develop in a vacuum. It’s meant as an opposition to the norms, but it’s also fun and snotty. It makes me sad that LibPunk is not snotty as it can be, but really, how many librarians are really snotty? Arrogant? Oh yeah. Self assured? Totally. But snotty? Not quite. We need more snotty librarians!

Right now, affixing “punk” to the end of stuff is sort of like “GolfPunk”. What does that even mean? How is it punk? Does it make it cooler than just being mainstream? That’s not really punk.

So what do I see as LibPunk? I see it as a feeling of empowerment. You see those “rockstars” at conferences, writing papers, doing stuff that gets them the groupies? Nothing is stopping you from doing it, too. Sure, you might not be speaking at the big conferences, but with the internet there’s always an audience. Just get your message out there. Feel empowered to try new things and make a stab of it. Really DIY stuff. The other thing is to keep it local. What’s your community? Do you want to take over ALA or SLA? That’s going to take more compromise than something smaller and more nimble. Do you even need organizations? Not really.

So just go out and do something. Nothing’s stopping you but yourself.

4 thoughts on “LibPunk! What’s that?

  1. I don’t think I have ever said that I was a punk–if I did, I’ll tell you right now that I was a poseur.

    But I have been inspired by punk and its DIY ethic and its noisy esthetic, and I always love it when librarians just decide to do stuff outside the usual structures of committees and so on.

  2. Steve, I don’t think many librarians are really going to go around calling themselves punk. (I don’t really because compared to “the punks”, I’m not.)

    I want to see more DIY librarian stuff. I would prefer to see it be a little more punk in nature, perhaps aesthetically, but definitely with the snottiness. I think there’s a level of anger against the system right now that can actually do something. I want it to happen.

Leave a Reply