10.30.2011

guerrilla librianship meets the occupied wall street journal

From the Occupied Wall Street Journal #3:
Howard Zinn is here. Dominick Dunne and Tom Wolfe, too. Ernest Hemingway and Barbara Ehrenreich and Dr. Who and Beowulf: All here, and all free. Barnes & Noble may be endangered and the Borders across the street closed months ago, but The People’s Library at Liberty Square is open for business and thriving.

That a lending library would spring up fully operational on day one of an occupation makes sense when you consider that the exchange of ideas is paramount here, at a new crossroads of the world. Just as occupiers young and old mingle with Africans, Jews, Algonquins and Latinas, de Tocqueville rubs elbows with Nicholas Evans and Noam Chomsky.

Mandy Henk, 32, saw Adbusters’ call to occupy Wall Street and drove in from Greencastle, Indiana, on her fall break to work in the library. A librarian at DePaul University, she’d been waiting for “an actual movement” for years when she saw a photo of the library and a poster beside it that read: “Things the library needs: Librarians.”

“And here I am,” she said cheerfully as she shelved books into clear plastic bins, dozens of which line the northeastern edge of Liberty Square. Henk isn’t surprised that a library was erected so quickly. “Anytime you have a movement like this, people are going to bring books to it. People are going to have information needs. And historically, the printed word has played an extraordinarily important role.”
From the People's Library blog:
What is guerrilla librarianship?

Guerrilla librarianship involves building and maintaining libraries directly where people and the need for information intersect. It can mean building them on a beach, in a bar, or at an occupation. . . .

Most of all guerrilla librarianship is an act of resistance.

• Guerrilla libraries are usually a common, a place where materials are held by the community at large for the joint benefit of all members. By their very existence they reject the idea that relationships should be constructed and mediated by a market. They also provide a stark alternative to the vision presented by market theorists of a human nature based in self-interest and competition.

• Guerrilla libraries are generally underground, that is, they are created without the approval or support of the state or other authority. Instead, they provide a space for people to arrange their own relationships and provide for their own needs.

• Guerrilla libraries often provide space in their collections for ideas that are not typically well-represented in other kinds of library collections. Erotica, ‘zines, and radical political ideas all find a place on the shelves of guerrilla libraries.

• Guerrilla libraries often reject hierarchy as an organizing principle for the librarians. Rather than arrange themselves into a power structure with some sitting at the apex of a pyramid, guerrilla libraries usually have a horizontal organizational structure. They also tend to rely on consensus to make decisions.
See original for more, with excellent links.

On LIS theory at the People's Library:
So, when an anxious, newly anointed People's Librarian asks me where they might shelve a particular book, I shrug and tell them to put it where they think it might go, where they might expect to find it if they were looking for it. Their opinion on the matter is as valid as mine; after all, you don't need a master's degree to be one of the People's Librarians, and they are readers and users of the library just as much as I am. We've democratized the work, direct-democratized it even, since to become a People's Librarian you just show up and start sorting and cataloguing.

Bonus Occupation reading:

Chris Hedges, Occupiers Have to Convince the Other 99 Percent

Barbara Ehrenreich, Throw Them Out With the Trash: Why Homelessness Is Becoming an Occupy Wall Street Issue (original TomDispatch link not working)

9 comments:

johngoldfine said...

But what's your reaction to this material? You're not busting your ass at school so you can reach the point where you can say, "Their opinion on the matter is as valid as mine...."

This quotation just makes me bristle with impatience: "Guerrilla libraries often reject hierarchy as an organizing principle for the librarians. Rather than arrange themselves into a power structure with some sitting at the apex of a pyramid, guerrilla libraries usually have a horizontal organizational structure."

One might as well toss out Linnaeus, Mendeleyev, Leslie Stephen, and all the other patriarchal, power-mad cataloguers and rationalizers--along with Dewey.

laura k said...

My reaction to this is pure joy and love.

Most (if not all) guerrilla librarians are professional librarians, library students, or library techs/assistants. They are trained in library work and recognize that different situations call for different tools and different access.

They use Dewey and LoC and the rest in their professional lives, and they understand the need, but they also recognize the bias inherent in those systems. And believe me, the bias is there, big-time.

The average university or public library couldn't run on guerrilla librarianship, and at the same time, there's no reason for an collection of books at an ongoing demonstration to mimic the academic system.

Nowhere in the quote you mock does it say anything about power-mad, and no one is tossing out anything.

They are simply recognizing that there are other ways to organize information, that all information systems (used in the broadest sense of that term) are political. It's liberating to recognize those inherent politics and think about how we might create ISs with less bias.

laura k said...

Also...

You're not busting your ass at school so you can reach the point where you can say, "Their opinion on the matter is as valid as mine...."

I have a fundamental disagreement with the way the library profession is organized. I think it is completely assinine and ridiculous that I need a Master's degree - with all the time and money that implies - to become a librarian. I'm doing it because I must - it's a credential gateway that's been established, so I must pass it. But it's unnecessary and I resent it.

Training is required, there's little doubt about that. But much of the so-called training is academic bullshit, designed to produce LIS PhDs, who then teach more LIS students, and so on. Working librarians tell me that 90% of what I'm learning in my academic program is instantly forgotten and never used.

Just as there are other ways of organizing information, there are other ways of organizing credentials and professions. Guerrilla librarianship is a reminder of that as well.

johngoldfine said...

The quotation does mention 'power structure'--but what I didn't think I could get by you was the 'patriarchal,' which was my (purely gratuitous but reasonable) extrapolation from the tone of the rest of it.

We agree about the uselessness of much professional academic training--what I think Howard Zinn meant to you is what Paul Goodman's 'Growing Up Absurd' meant to me a half-century ago, and he makes much of the senselessness of much of school and of its irrelevance to the work our lives are often given to.

I, for example, majored in English as an undergraduate, and history in graduate school but was hired to teach writing. I could not now apply for the community college job I hold because a Ph.D in English will be a prerequisite in the future (and why not--when there are so many hapless English doctorates wandering around, trying to pay off loans...?)

But the admin people who now insist on a doctorate as the price of admission to a job interview don't know the difference between someone who spent years studying some abstruse corner of literature and an M.F.A who might conceivably have some ideas about writing and teaching writing.

The admins want that doctorate for the prestige and for the accreditors and don't see the total disconnect between what an English Ph.D usually represents and what the job of a cc writing teacher is all about.

The crazy-making part is the huge amount of energy we solemnly invest in utterly useless academic exercises: we agree.

johngoldfine said...

Not that I really think an MFA would be that helpful as training for the kind of teaching I do and students I have. My three years at Job Corps were what gave me the professional and emotional rocket boost that have carried me through the subsequent half-century.

Paul Goodman talks about the virtues of apprenticeship, mentorship--and any intellgent college graduate in any discipline who's spent some time as teacher, volunteer, teacher's aid in a tough high school could in a reasonable world apply for my job.

Hell, any smart high school graduate who loves books and had some life seasoning could too!

How long do you think it would take to train a competent librarian if all the nonsense were eliminated?

laura k said...

The quotation does mention 'power structure'--but what I didn't think I could get by you was the 'patriarchal,' which was my (purely gratuitous but reasonable) extrapolation from the tone of the rest of it.

I'm not as sharp as you think! :)

Not today, anyway. I'm writing a completely useless paper for class that should be fascinating - public library services to culturally diverse communities, i.e. the multicultural library, a huge part of Toronto and Mississauga. Sadly, the class is only marginally more interesting than watching paint dry.

Dewey is most definitely patriarchal - and heterosexist, and Christiancentric. Melvil Dewey was a maverick in many ways, but he was still a product of his time, and he created a system that reflected his own sensibilities. It's our job as egalitarian, feminist, enlightened librarians to recognize that and challenge it. But no one's tossing anyone out. :)

I had a feeling we agreed about the professional credentials. I'd have been very surprised if it were otherwise.

laura k said...

The quotation does mention 'power structure'

"Power structure" does not imply your phrase power-mad. You know that.

All systems have invisible power structures. Naming them is part of recognizing their existence.

laura k said...

How long do you think it would take to train a competent librarian if all the nonsense were eliminated?

Funny you should ask. I thought I put that in one of my comments here, but I must have deleted it as extraneous. :)

For me, a six-month intensive program plus on-job training would do it. A year at most, then work your way up through the library ranks as your ambition and dedication dictate. In other words, the same way most non-technical careers used to be fashioned.

In fact, the MLIS used to be a one-year program, and in many places, it still is. UofT is one of the growing number of "iSchools" thinking to make itself more relevant (marketable) in the digital age.

Much of what we're forced to learn is not library-related - it's the broader information / technology / society angle. It's interesting, but not necessary.

The MLIS is clearly a gateway - to the professional as opposed to merely technical ranks, to greater earnings, to decision-making positions. But it's a hurdle dreamed up by the profession and the academic worlds.

laura k said...

Long, long ago, when I worked in the theatre, I had my BA, plus that aforementioned ambition and dedication (to a point), and I was planning on working my way through the ranks of theatre management, as the senior ranking people in those days had.

The MFA in arts admin was brand-new, and people were starting to appear with it. I would probably have managed without it, because it was new and not expected yet. Ten years later, maybe less, I would have been forced to go back for my Master's.