LibPunk Essay Contest Essay: How I walk the contradictions

I’m slow on the uptake, but here’s my entry for the LibPunk Essay Contest.

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of LibPunk for a while, and trying to determine how I could be both LibPunk and a professional librarian. It’s not to say that it’s not possible, but where do I draw the lines? Well, I think the easiest line is no profanity in professional arenas. It can really hurt the message and gives people an excuse to discount my ideas. This is a tricky one though because the professional arena is sort of shifting all over, but it’s something I’m trying hard to maintain.

Really though it’s an attitude and belief that I don’t have to accept the status quo. I’m sensitive to the fact that we can learn from the past (I have studied history), but that doesn’t mean that I have to be tied to it. Too often, when I talk about ideas for the future and change, somebody will chime in with a long winded explanation of why a decision was made to do it a certain way 40 years ago without mentioning the fact that the world is a very different place now. It’s a hard line to draw – when do I stop caring about they “why” we do things a certain way? When the “why” comes off as an excuse, a justification for complacency, and doesn’t really address the problems facing libraries or librarians. Actually, I would say the tendency to always explain why things are, and accept those as a reason to maintain the status quo, is what’s holding many librarians back and it drives me up a wall. For me, LibPunk is about breaking that down. Being loud. Being snotty. Being willing to acknowledge where we need to change, that’s LibPunk for me. If I want things to change, I have to embody them.

The other thing, and perhaps this is because I just got back from SLA 2010, but LibPunk is a fine blend of the irreverent, trying not to take it too seriously, but also working for a better sense of community. Library conferences have a lot of fun to be had. We should enjoy ourselves! I love SLA and I love talking to all of my colleagues. I also think there’s a fair amount of unintended silliness that gets in the way of a productive exchange of ideas. I look around and see many librarians just floating along with the stream. They aren’t engaged, but I can’t blame them because it’s not like people are really trying to engage them. I mean, sure the leaders talk about needing the members, and the members sort of spoke up (and out) about SLA alignment stuff, but I still see an attitude of many librarians, that they just don’t want to get involved. Maybe it’s because I have no really balance between work/life, but I want to see people engaged and feel like they can effect change. LibPunk, to me, is a way to call people to arms. Unhappy? Speak up. Do something. Make your voice heard and show that you count. Yeah, it’s a struggle, but that’s life. Without doing that, you’re just letting yourself (and the library profession) be held hostage to miscommunication, misconceptions, and other people’s agendas.

The contradiction is that many people would say, “That’s the problem with professional associations.” It’s true, but that doesn’t mean professional associations are the problem. We (the members) are the reason they are that way because we don’t demand better, we don’t try for better, and we don’t engage. I’d like to think that librarians aren’t unique in their massive egos and turf wars, but we have a lot of territorial issues. Everybody wants to be king/queen, and you see factions and competing groups spring up as a result. I want a better sense of community and I will work my hardest to foster partnerships. Yeah, that means some compromises, but it’s sad to me that this idea of community is sort of punk at all.