Radical Militant Librarians Buttons Selling Like Hot Cakes
January 25, 2006 1:19 PM   Subscribe

While Not All librarians are "militant radicals" apparently we're not all your "stereotypical librarians" either. Incensed by the USA Patriot Act and irate over a memo between FBI agents, the American Library Association debuted a button at its annual midwinter meeting, which winds up in Texas today at the Convention Center. Boasting that its wearers are "Radical Militant Librarians," the button was one of the convention's biggest sellers.
posted by Blake (68 comments total)
I tell ya, in recent years librarians have been kicking ass, imho. Not so quiet.
posted by edgeways at 1:24 PM on January 25, 2006

Maybe they just thought it was funny.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 1:24 PM on January 25, 2006

I love that there's a whole page of "modified librarians" at bmeworld. Someone should get pierced with that button. Now that would be fucking radical.

Seriously, though, I thought this was pretty awesome.
posted by OmieWise at 1:37 PM on January 25, 2006

Dude. There are a few things you can do to piss off a librarian, or at least this librarian. One of them is to write in a library book, and the other is to tell me I can't let people have certain types of information.

Considering that most librarians were taught that the Five Laws are as close to holy doctrine, denying access is almost painful.

There are still a few "old school" librarians that don't think "those" kinds of books should be in libraries, and while I, myself, have fleeting thoughts of just letting a few books fall through the cracks and go unseen. I ignore them because "every reader his book and every book its reader" was pounded into my head in library school.

So yeah, Radical Militant Librarian right here. *waves hand*
posted by teleri025 at 1:44 PM on January 25, 2006

Reminds me of the militant grammarians in DFW's Infinite Jest.
posted by slogger at 1:53 PM on January 25, 2006

Free the bound periodicals!
posted by rough ashlar at 1:55 PM on January 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I like this version of the pin as well.
posted by unknowncommand at 1:56 PM on January 25, 2006

count down to jessamyn's arrival in
posted by raedyn at 1:58 PM on January 25, 2006

The most dangerous librarian, who appears to be a friendly, normal sort if you meet her, lives right here in the blue.
posted by LeLiLo at 2:02 PM on January 25, 2006

Oops. Sorry for the four-minute delay, raedyn, I was trying to find my second link.
posted by LeLiLo at 2:04 PM on January 25, 2006

I still find it hard to believe that anyone would hassle librarians. I can’t imagine a downside to the free flow of information from the library.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:45 PM on January 25, 2006

The ALA would be a lot cooler if this guy weren't president. I'm avoiding becoming a member until he's gone.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:46 PM on January 25, 2006

Librarina and I got ours in the mail yesterday. Thanks for reminding me to put it on.

Can we get Mefibrarian buttons next? With the sacred and mystical Pentagrammon "PMEST" on them?
posted by stet at 2:56 PM on January 25, 2006

Hi! We also passed a resolution ["we" meaning not just ALA but I actually voted on it since I'm on Council] against the confirmation of Alito. Hildegarde, Gorman will be gone real soon now and the incoming president is a lot hipper to technology and many other things.

MeFiBrarian pin is a great idea, they can't be uglier than the ALA buttons. I'd write more but I'm on my way to a miniMeFiMeetup, nice post Blake!.
posted by jessamyn at 3:02 PM on January 25, 2006

Mod note: whoops omie already posted that link, sorry!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:02 PM on January 25, 2006

LET FREEDOM... shhhhh!
posted by alumshubby at 3:50 PM on January 25, 2006

Hmm. Too bad then that I have such a thing for the sterotypical librarians.

(If you ask me, they've been the true radicals, all along...).
posted by washburn at 3:52 PM on January 25, 2006

I would get one of those buttons, but they are so hideous. The Librarian Avengers one is much nicer.
posted by matildaben at 3:57 PM on January 25, 2006

Ranganathan Buttons!
posted by stet at 4:53 PM on January 25, 2006

Once again ALA screws up the execution of a decent idea. I'm really glad I let my membership lapse 10 years ago.

But, those Librarian Avengers buttons are nice. Too bad the Ranganathan buttons aren't better. That one needs only a pipe to be Bob Ranganathan.
posted by QIbHom at 5:11 PM on January 25, 2006

Oh, and too bad non-MLS staff is getting left out, again. Even though we're the ones who access patron records, take care of the care and feeding and security of library databases, etc.

IIRC, the last time the FBI was trying to pry information from libraries, they had a policy of targeting non-MLS staff.
posted by QIbHom at 5:14 PM on January 25, 2006

Oh, and too bad non-MLS staff is getting left out, again.

If it makes you feel any better, my homies and I in/recently-out-of library college spent a huge amount of time bitching about how little respect "para-professionals" receive from libraries. Of course, none of us are in public libraries, so it's probably not worth much.
posted by stet at 5:21 PM on January 25, 2006

When I was in library school, stet, one of my professors kept refering to library aides (BA required, at least around here) as "sub-professional" staff.

Never mind that most of us were aides in public libraries.
posted by QIbHom at 5:30 PM on January 25, 2006

That, QIbHom, is not in the least bit user centered. What a shithead.
posted by stet at 5:39 PM on January 25, 2006

The patron is sacred, stet. It is how they get away with paying us so little. Staff aren't. And the MLS holders are underpaid nearly as badly as the rest of us (and can't find full time jobs, either, anymore).

The few grateful patrons are the reason that my patron data isn't going anywhere on my watch.

It isn't a job, it's a bloody vocation.
posted by QIbHom at 5:43 PM on January 25, 2006

how little respect "para-professionals" receive from libraries.

I don't know if this is the good news or the bad news, but ALA just last year started a push towards recruiting more paraprofessionals and library support staff into the association with a lower dues structure and more programming focussed towards them. I don't know how much of this is the result of sincere interest and how much is just a craven land grab, but as someone who tries to stick up for paraprofessionals as often as possible, that seems like it should count for something.
posted by jessamyn at 6:29 PM on January 25, 2006

The whole 'librarian/not a librarian' thing was such a culture shock to me when I started working in libraries, as I don't have an MLS and hadn't been exposed to the idea. I always thought a librarian was a person who worked at a library. Nowadays, if an acquaintance says casually "You're a librarian, you should know this," I bristle involuntarily at their ignorance. I guess I've been acclimatized.

Regardless, while I love the whole sassy, defiant vibe that the Patriot Act has stirred up in the industry, I'm not sure that the pairing of 'Militant' and 'Librarian' does much to help us with our image problem. They have buns in the military too, don't they?
posted by ulotrichous at 7:05 PM on January 25, 2006

Jessamyn, ALA trying to entice parapros and support staff to join would mean more to me if they'd stop passing resolutions against the Taliban, and start agitating for livable wages and benefits for parapros, support staff and librarians. Meaningful activism starts at home.

But, I'm afraid I accidentally derailed myself. My original point is that paraprofessional and non-professional staff are, most of the time, the people protecting patron privacy. So, it is radical, militant library staff, not just radical, militant librarians.

And, ulotrichous, you have a point. I've never worn a bun in a library, but I did when I was in the US Army. I must admit, I really enjoy shocking people who expect library staff to be meek, mild and in full doormat-emulation mode. It is just plain fun, and I suspect that is why we love these buttons.
posted by QIbHom at 7:52 PM on January 25, 2006

Considering that most librarians were taught that the Five Laws are as close to holy doctrine

5. A librarian may not injure a book, or, through inaction, allow a book to come to harm. ...
posted by kindall at 8:28 PM on January 25, 2006

Well, pierce me with the Dewey Decimal System. I had no clue that our stalwart idea-guardians were so socially fractured. As with others, I guess, I'd always assumed that anyone helping library patrons was a librarian. Those of us who sincerely appreciate access to ideas certainly don't place a lesser value on the contributions of paraprofessionals.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:36 PM on January 25, 2006

I had no clue that our stalwart idea-guardians were so socially fractured.

The professional v. paras strife is nothing compared to the saga and drama that is technical services v. user services. Seriously, I've worked places where I was told that I was *really* personable...for a cataloger.
posted by teleri025 at 8:43 PM on January 25, 2006

Oh, and QIbhom, you can find decent paying library jobs out there if you are willing to re-locate. If you've got your MLS and are interested in something in an academic library in the south, drop me an email.

Actually, that's open to anyone.
posted by teleri025 at 8:46 PM on January 25, 2006

Thanks, teleri025. That is a kind offer. But, I do not have an MLS (long story). And I've gotten hooked by the public library world. Yeah, the pay is crap, but where else can one do so much for so many people?

Catalogers are fun. At least they know what a book feels like. Now, administrative librarians who haven't flown a ref desk or a circ desk in years...they are weird. At best.

More seriously, I think the split may be different in the academic world than in the public library world. We have our flaws, just like any other group of people. Just don't tell me how wonderful it is that I can sit around and read all day...
posted by QIbHom at 8:57 PM on January 25, 2006

My wife and I are both library technicians, both working in (different) public library systems, and we were just talking tonight about how the direction seems to be MLSes (?) moving into administration and leaving technicians doing all the work people associate with being "a librarian". Often without the proper training (or equivalent pay), I'm sad to say.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:00 PM on January 25, 2006

If y'all are so radical, why did you have a convention in Texas, of all places? Only slightly less onerous than Florida, I'd say. Surely some nice blue state would have been happy to play host.
posted by Goofyy at 10:29 PM on January 25, 2006

that's my kind of librarian!
posted by pwedza at 11:12 PM on January 25, 2006

seriously, though, I wonder how many librarians, archivists, library-school-students (myself), library staff, and so on are on mefi...
posted by jann at 11:24 PM on January 25, 2006

Barbarian Librarian FAQ

Are you mean?
Usually not, but don't make me come over there and shush you!

posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:33 PM on January 25, 2006

Well, if there is a census being made, I'm a lapsed (that is I have an MLIS but don't officially use it) librarian.
posted by obfusciatrist at 11:41 PM on January 25, 2006

If y'all are so radical, why did you have a convention in Texas, of all places? Only slightly less onerous than Florida, I'd say. Surely some nice blue state would have been happy to play host.

Yeah, that would be real radical, to hold a convention in a state where everybody already agrees with you!
posted by kindall at 12:09 AM on January 26, 2006

My library is pretty weird, where the librarians are not the highest rung on the ladder.

"I work the reference desk" < "I create web product."

Of course, we've gone KIM-crazy in the past few years, so actually answering questions is less important than sitting back and making flow charts of information exchange.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:33 AM on January 26, 2006

If y'all are so radical, why did you have a convention in Texas, of all places?

It's a national and very broad-based organization, so the conference shifts to all the cities that can hold meetings of 10,000 and 30,000 librarians respectively. We try to be in the South in the winter and north in the summer but that doesn't always work out. The Annual Meeting is in New Orleans [yeah I said it] and will bring 30,000 people there which is either a really great idea or incredibly stupid. There are a lot of service projects planned to help out local libraries which are just barely open at this point with the majority of staff laid off.
posted by jessamyn at 5:26 AM on January 26, 2006

Often without the proper training

The elephant-in-living-room question being: maybe all that expensive grad school work wasn't necessary to the job, anyway.

On a different subject--here's what's really going to throw librarians for a loop next. If libraries want to purchase digital materials like dowloadable recorded books, they will likely either be purchasing DRMed stuff, or doing without. Purchase the DRMed items, and you're no longer sticking it to the man, you're defending his property for him. Don't purchase the DRMed items on principle, and your purchases dry up, you've got no new materials to offer.

You will see librarians who like to think of themselves as 'defenders of freedom' being put in the position of defending copyright schemes, and it will be confounding and disturbing to some.
posted by gimonca at 5:58 AM on January 26, 2006

Well, if there is a census being made, I'm a lapsed (that is I have an MLIS but don't officially use it) librarian.

Me too! I've never worked as a librarian. After I got my MLIS in 1998, I couldn't find a job in my area of interest (academic library cataloging), and paybacks to Sallie Mae were just around the corner, so I took a job in the (much more lucrative) web hosting industry.

If y'all are so radical, why did you have a convention in Texas, of all places?

Texas has three library schools - two in the town of Denton (U. of North Texas and Texas Woman's U.) I got my master's at UT-Austin, which is a huge program. So many librarians want to stay in the area that many take whatever they can get. Some of my co-workers at the Texas State Library had stayed on for years post-MLS waiting for professional positions to open up.
posted by candyland at 6:18 AM on January 26, 2006

I got my master's at UT-Austin, which is a huge program.

Really? Couldn't find it. (I'm looking into MLIS programs right now. Distance learning only. I will be cherry-picking this thread for names of people to pester with questions, though not right now [g /]....)
posted by lodurr at 6:29 AM on January 26, 2006

Gimonca, it is already happening. But, what librarians do is to get people the information they need in a format they can use. So, if your choice is between no material, and DRM material, most librarians I work with will buy the DRM material.

I'd also argue that MLS degrees aren't useful, and we'd be much better off with an appreticeship system combined with a few classes, like the trades use. You do not learn how to do a good reference interview in the classroom. You can, however, learn the basics of cataloging (not good practise, however) in a classroom.

ALA meets in cheap, southern towns frequently because libraries are, well, cheap. So, going to Montreal in January and New Orleans in August makes perfect sense.

stinkycheese, I'm with you. I'm also seeing more and more young librarians who think it is beneath them to help a patron find a book or charge out an item to them. They just want to hide in the staff room, and deal with the paperwork. Meanwhile, support staff are dealing with irate patrons who got an overdue notice, cleaning up the leaky diaper, showing patrons where the parenting books are and explaining webmail to the Internet patrons.
posted by QIbHom at 6:47 AM on January 26, 2006

Librarian #42 signing in .
posted by bradth27 at 6:47 AM on January 26, 2006

I work in public libraries (still trying to land a full-time gig, though), and while I find most aspects of it surprisingly (because I thought public libraries would be Hell on Earth when I was in library school) fulfilling, if it were up to me I would restrict the current flow of "information" at my branch in one way; computer games. Because the system is terrified of losing patrons there are a half-dozen terminals dedicated to patrons (always kids, always loud) who want to play games all afternoon.

It's a library, not a fucking arcade.

/ rant
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:57 AM on January 26, 2006

I got my master's at UT-Austin, which is a huge program.
Really? Couldn't find it

University of Texas School of Information - they've excised the word "Library" from both the school name and the degree (a current trend). ALA has a list of accredited schools.
posted by candyland at 8:59 AM on January 26, 2006

Yeh, figured out that I'd already found it and marked it. I noticed the absence of the "L"; it's consistent with what I expected. I worked in libraries for several years in the late '80s through early '90s, and I had expected that the "devaluation" of the profession was only increasing. Even then, I noted the trend toward having "staff" do "librarian"-level work; the system seemed somewhat like that in hospitals, where you have the grunt work done by nurses and med students, and then signed off by a staff doctor. At the University Library where I worked, non-degreed Reference Assistants would do the bulk of the reference work, while MLS'd Librarians handled questions above a certain "level." Depending on the collection or the resource, familiarity with the material was far, far more important than anything that they needed the Masters Degree to learn. (Which is not to say the Librarians there didn't work -- they did. It's just that the status boundary was a tad artificial.)

I also worked in a public library at the same time, for a while. Night and day. No non-librarians got within 15 feet of a reference question. I was a page at the public library, and functioned (among other things) as a reference asst at teh university library, so I'd occasionally try to help lost patrons fingure out teh score at the public library, too. But I had to be careful about it, as it was made very clear ot me that reference assistance was teh purvue of Librarians, there.

I'm interested in [L]IS for my own reasons. MLIS is one option I'm considering; depending on what I learn from my research, I may follow another path. I'm more interested in "information science" than "librarianship", anyway. (Being fuzzy right now because I haven't fully explored my own thinking on the matter.)
posted by lodurr at 9:36 AM on January 26, 2006

I am a high school librarian. I do not have an MLS, nor a teaching credential, yet I proudly maintain our catalog and patron database. I seem to spend more time upgrading and safeguarding our computers than I do our book collection, however.
posted by Lynsey at 9:50 AM on January 26, 2006

Card Cheat, games are content too. You can trace the history of the industry by substituting the following phrases for 'arcade', in roughly reverse chronological order:

porn theatre
computer lab
copy shop
movie house
record store
collection of popular fiction

etc, back to some mesopotamian proto-librarian who probably stood up in a meeting and screamed, "This is a library, not a place for fucking PAPER."

As for being terrified of losing patrons, I think that's an excellent thing to worry about. I'm more concerned about the libraries that don't care that there are large sections of their service population that are entirely uninterested in (or even unaware of) any of the services they provide.

Been to a travel agent recently? It can happen to us.
posted by ulotrichous at 9:57 AM on January 26, 2006

Nice post! I am, however, too busy librarian-ing at the moment to write anything more coherent than that.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 10:06 AM on January 26, 2006

Been to a travel agent recently? It can happen to us. - ulotrichous

What is the analogy you're making?

posted by raedyn at 10:30 AM on January 26, 2006

ulotrichous writes "Been to a travel agent recently? It can happen to us."

Well if any CPL libririans are listening what your internet system desperately needs is a way to browse the catalogue by media type. When I'm looking for a book on CD to amuse myself on a long trip I can't ferret out that information in any kind of meaningful way to make reservation.
posted by Mitheral at 10:34 AM on January 26, 2006

ulotrichous: I hear you, except that I just don't think there is much in the way of constructive (a judgement call, I know) activity going on when kids play games (I say this as someone who enjoys a daily session on my GameCube), and they tend to piss off the patrons who are actually trying to read or do research. I guess you could make the argument that at least the kids are in there, and might eventually get bored and pick up a book.

Been to a travel agent recently? It can will happen to us.

A little while back, Margaret Wente wrote a column for the Globe and Mail in which she predicted the death of librarianship as a profession, due to the today's children being more tech savvy than ever. It seems to me that younger patrons have more trouble (in general) than almost anyone in tracking down information with any source outside of Google, but when they lay off the last librarian, the driving factor will be the public's perception of the value of the profession rather than anything based in reality.

By the way, my sympathy goes out to library technicians. The disrespect shown many of them is a bunch of b.s., and seems to mirror the predjudice many of my university colleagues had towards anyone who went to college. On behalf of sensible MLIS'ers everywhere, I apologize.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:36 AM on January 26, 2006

raedyn, many people believe that librarians will become redundant as library systems become more and more automated, much as many travel agents are being put out of business by online travel sites people can use to plan and book vacations on their own. A friend of mine's father is a travel agent set to retire, and told her he feels like he's getting out just in time.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:39 AM on January 26, 2006

Mitheral, you'll get close if you do a keyword search on 'book' and 'cd'. I just brought up 670 titles that way. Add a topic or something, and you should be able to narrow that down to something useful.

And do e-mail CPL and let them know you can't find a way to search the catalog for books on CD. They've done enough customisation of that catalog that they know how to do a custom linked search and how to make it obvious to patrons (which is the kind of stuff I do for a living, with that particular system).
posted by QIbHom at 10:39 AM on January 26, 2006

MLS student here, working in an inner city public library. Also a refugee from book publishing. I was a copy editor, another field/skill/occupation whose death knell is continually being tolled. "Spell checkers can replace copy editors"--bunk. It's simply not true. "Non-MLS techs can replace prof'l librarians"--also bunk, unless those techs are nonconformist self-educated types with a genuine interest in books and book larnin'. Yeah, I said BOOKS, not content or material. Like someone upthread said, it's not a freakin' arcade.

In my library school, there seem to be precious few radical militants---esp. among the faculty! If I hear the term "mission statement" one more time, I'm going to buy a revolver and reach for it.
posted by scratch at 11:13 AM on January 26, 2006

You'd think that would work wouldn't you? But some book cds are "audio Books" and some are "books on tape" (even though they aren't) and the one I've got in my car right now is a spoken performance. I think they have a special class for radio plays like THHGTTG. The variety of classifications is amazingly eclectic.
posted by Mitheral at 11:14 AM on January 26, 2006

Mitheral, they are using local modifications to the 245 to mark books on CD (why they have to do this is another issue entirely). Complain, and maybe they'll find the time to pull out the older stuff, and get it properly cataloged.

Incidentally, I was horrified to find out when I was recently in Edmonton that only one public library in Alberta is free. The rest are fee for service. Including CPL.
posted by QIbHom at 11:19 AM on January 26, 2006

Incidentally, I was horrified to find out when I was recently in Edmonton that only one public library in Alberta is free. The rest are fee for service. Including CPL. - QIbHom

Yeah, but people love their lower taxes! (barf)
posted by raedyn at 11:25 AM on January 26, 2006

I think the discussion about library tech/para and degreed librarians is very interesting. I recently became head of the cataloging department and one of my librarians suggested that we might want to encourage the staff to do copycataloging and assigning call numbers. Currently the staff update the holdings, and process the item; but the librarians are the ones who assign call numbers and verify records.

My first instinct on this was to ask, "But what would the librarians do then?" And while I understand being a tenure-track librarian has some disadvantages, there's enough time in the day to catalog a few books and get some research accomplished.

Hell, I took this position because I missed cataloging and felt like I was getting gradually dumber and dumber the longer I spent away from the books. I can't imagine giving that up now.

Needless to say, I nixed the idea and gained some points from the staff for "looking out for them." In reality it was just my selfishness of not wanting to give up the books. ;)
posted by teleri025 at 11:46 AM on January 26, 2006

Whereas we've got libraries where pages (kids in high school) are doing copy cataloging, because there is no money for MLS level staff, let alone para-professional staff.

You've got a different world in academia, teleri.
posted by QIbHom at 11:53 AM on January 26, 2006

Cataloguing...there were many things that had the tip of the file never more than a few inches away from my throat while I was at library school. And cataloguing class was right up there.

But to each their own. : )
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:02 PM on January 26, 2006

You've got a different world in academia, teleri.
Oh yeah.

I've worked in public, and I've worked in academic, I even did a stint in the bizarre world of law libraries. And every single one of them is their own different animal.

Card Cheat, funny I feel the same way about reference. :) And although I adore cataloging, I'd rather endure 17000 paper cuts and a lemon juice bath than have to catalog government documents or serials. Cause that shit's wack.
posted by teleri025 at 12:18 PM on January 26, 2006

Ah, gov't docs...I dealt with those in my first job out of school. To put it politely, I don't miss it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:26 PM on January 26, 2006

Serials...oh, gods. I'd rather deal with milage elections and ignorant politicians than catalog serials. And I like cataloging.

Serials are just evil. Gov docs kind of make sense. Serials are the antithesis of all that cataloging stands for. They are the colicky toddler of the catalog.
posted by QIbHom at 12:27 PM on January 26, 2006

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