Why Libraries Are Punk Rock

Forget mohawks, safety pins, and British accents. Let’s take Ian MacKaye’s definition of punk. (If you don’t know why you should trust Mr. MacKaye’s definition of punk, here’s how he started Dischord and this is a recent ode to his band Fugazi.)

“Since I think of punk as the free space, which means a place where new ideas can be presented without being dictated by profit motives, punk will never die. That’s the thing about punk.”

— Ian MacKaye, on Ask Me Another 10/31/2013

Libraries are the free space, literally and metaphorically, where our patrons can discover new ideas and develop their own. We provide access to information, access to culture (low, pop, or high), and access to creative tools to everyone. Librarians are not in it for the money (obviously), and we don’t expect our patrons to be, either. We are at your service whether you are researching meteor craters in Canada, writing an epic fantasy novel based in Boston, learning how to juggle, writing a letter to your state senator, or arguing online about Noam Chomsky, to name just a few situations when I’ve helped a patron find a piece of information that would help them.

And when you’ve finished the research and done your work, the library has the tools to distribute what you’ve done. In this digital culture, anyone (literally anyone, including the homeless people who are used as an argument against the public library) can publish their work directly to 40% of the world (i.e. whomever has Internet access) with minimal effort and for free at the library.

Now that we are providing makerspaces, studios, and more complicated digital media tools, we’re helping our patrons publish not just their writing but their video, audio, and physical arts, too.

The Olympia I remember had a culture of the commons. The commons as the party, or show space, or access to tools, or information like mailing lists and touring contacts. Continual sharing of resources was the only way production could happen. There were always chances to play publicly through small house shows and spaces that came and went. Languages developed, and bands evolved from the inspiration of last week’s shows. It was a culture full of examples of “making” that allowed us to model for each other “how to do it.” [emphasis added]

Stella Marrs, “What I Learned in Olympia,”

foreword to Love Rock Revolution by Mark Baumgarten

Ms Marrs is writing about a music scene but I couldn’t stop thinking about libraries as I read this paragraph. Note the bolded sentences; with just a few tweaks, they could be the justification for a tool-borrowing program, a makerspace, or an electronics lab in the public library.

The library is a subversive, democratic force in a steadily corporatizing culture. I think some of us librarians forget that when we are dealing with budgets, difficult patrons, or 100 copies of the newest movie-tie-in bestseller, but libraries are where anybody can learn, explore, and create without having to justify their intent to any other person or organization. What could be more punk rock than that?

Tags: , , ,

Author:Charlie Bennett

Charlie Bennett is a librarian, a podcaster, and a radio host. He was born in New York and raised in Virginia before moving to Atlanta to study at the Georgia Institute of Technology. After earning degrees in Science, Technology, and Culture (STAC) and Economics, he stayed with the school and became an academic librarian at the Georgia Tech Library. He co-hosts the “one-and-only research-library rock’n'roll radio show” called “Lost in the Stacks” on WREK in Atlanta, and produces the irreverent podcast “Consilience With Pete and Charlie” about the intersection of science and the humanities.

Comments are closed.