LibPunk: Using Our Powers for Awesome. And Breaking Shit.
This is my penultimate day of work. I've been juggling a few posts that I want to finish, but then I read Sarah Glassmeyer's LibPunk ruminations (for the LibPunk Essay Contest). I thought I'd toss my hat in the ring with a few haphazard thoughts on the subject.
What LibPunk is to Me
To me, LibPunk is unconcerned with whether or not it is considered a profession at all. LibPunk is more concerned with actual results than titles, accolades, the "rock-star" status or lack thereof, figuring out how to improve and augment services with little to no additional resources, and putting a big ole boot in the hindquarters of naysayers. A replacement of passive aggression with aggressive aggression. A focus on users while acknowledging the staff work necessary to create the best user experience.
In effect, I like to think LibPunk is all the things I want librarianship to look like, and wearing some snazzy boots while doing it.
Using Our Powers for Awesome
"With great power comes great responsibility." You can pooh-pooh librarianship all you want (they have a place for that, and we call it NEWLIB or the Annoyed Librarian's column), but yes, we do have powers. Profession or not, we've all been trained in the back end of information-gathering (and often creation), and this gives us some fantastic insight when it comes to helping folks find information, training folks to find their own information, creating information and creating discovery tools for information. I came to librarianship after another graduate research degree, and I'll be quite honest: my research would have been far less painful if I knew then what I learned in library school & beyond. What this means: yes, librarians have skills. They may or may not pay the bills, but it is a greater knowledge-power than non-librarians have. Accept it.
Only, nobody knows you have great powers if you don't use them. Peter Parker and Clark Kent would just be regular old goobers if they didn't break out the spandex every once in awhile. And while I don't like to recommend spandex-wearing (I grew up in the 80s and that was quite enough, thanks), I do figure that the LibPunk ethos require us to bust out our equivalent of a cape and use it. This means identifying gaps in existing services and skills, and addressing that stuff toot sweet. It means being pro-active. If something needs doing, figure out a way to do it, in the face of adversity, declining or nonexistent budgets, overworked staff, and the black hole of committees. Itmeans improving discovery tools, designing outreach and instruction
On the Importance of Breaking Shit
Most importantly, to be LibPunk is to accept and even embrace the responsibility to break shit, in the belief that working to break something - whether that's your website, workflows, materials & collections, - shows you its weak points and gives you the opportunity to rebuild it in improved, or completely redesigned, fashion.
For LibPunks, the important question is not "But what if X happens if we make change Y?", since they know they can always revert back to old ways. Instead, the important question is "If Y is better than X for our users, what does Y look like in practice? It is an acceptance that all change carries he chance of failure. It is a recognition that program failure is not professional failure, and that any undesired outcome has things to teach us.
In embracing failure, though, LibPunk knows there are limits. LibPunk embraces the idea of failpoint - the point at which you can say definitively that a program/process/service has failed, and must be scrapped (or dialed back to previous incarnation). Without this, we are stuck sinking resources into something that will never repay us - or our users - in useful fashion. LibPunk welcomes change and the opportunity to fail, but helps create a culture in which failure is defined so we can move on to other, more beneficial pursuits.
Sometimes breaking shit LibPunk style means asking for things that will make you unpopular: breaking the silence barrier. This includes: asking for a new staff line despite laughing administration, asking for additional resources, asking staff to shoulder the brunt of declining budgets, asking for re-evaluations of workflows, asking for someone to stop making the work environment toxic. Asking where the failpoint is for a floundering project. Prodding someone for agendas to curb useless meeting time. Then again, sometimes LibPunk means not asking for things: like permission.
Sometimes breaking shit means breaking old habits. Bitching about things without acting to change them, nursing work-related grudges, and bemoaning how it used to be are all antithetical to LibPunk. True LibPunks stomp on this sort of behavior at the first chance, usually with boots, but sometimes in stilettos, flip-flops, sneakers or even barefoot. The LibPunk are a hardy-footed folk.
LibPunks know that when you are the one doing the breaking - testing server capacity, rewriting code, absorbing services, rewriting workflows, changing organizational culture - you are the one who gets to define success.
To me, at its core, LibPunk is doing what needs to be done with no time for the petty shit that slows things down, no energy wasted on bemoaning what could have been. Kathryn Greenhill said it best: "LibPunk: Doing it for Itself." The most fabulous thing about the idea, really, it that we all get to "do it for ourselves" in our own way: the stanky leg dance beside the cabbage patch and the country line dancers, calligraphy beside block lettering and italics (but not comic sans. Comic sans is decidedly un-LibPunk), cats and dogs, living together...
Note: My diorama would not fit onto my blog