Progressive Librarianship


the New Librarians

the personal [and professional] is political

Jessamyn West

ALIA New Librarians' Symposium, Adelaide

When I say "politics" you say...?

"social relations involving authority or power"

"A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage."
[devil's dictionary]

It's been an interesting time to be an American, especially an American librarian. Americans have been a bit mired in politics lately and for that we apologize. example: library hours

You are the first audience to ever see this next little slide show, want to know why...?


An abridged history of progressive librarianship

History: Library of Alexandria

First, there was the Library of Alexandria.

It contained a great repository of writings from all over the world and a lot of fat and happy librarians who got to wear long flowing comfortable robes and didn't even need so-called "casual" Fridays.

The Library of Alexandria had zero public access terminals and no photocopying machine. Life was good.

History: Library of Alexandria, Cause Celebre

It was burned to the ground, several times, by people who hate freedom.

This was the start of the great librarian scowl, and crappy work clothes.

And, since enemies of our enemies are our friends, we now love the freedom to read.

History: Melville Dewey Dui

Dewey was a great scowler.

He was an enemy of disorder. And he liked his words spelled simply. Always erudite, he wrote this letter to his alma mater on Library Journal letterhead.
"Sum day, dear Amherst, may it be my happy lot tu pruv how great iz the love I bear yu. Proud, always, everywher to be counted among yur sonz, I am Very truly, Melvil Dui."
Father of modern librarianship indeed.

History: Melville Dewey Dui

A few things could make old Melvil smile, however... Melvil brought new meaning to the phrase "the personal is political" [and I'm kidding about the smiling, I've never seen a picture of the guy smiling]

History: Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan

Ranganathan is considered the father of library science ... in India.

Just as Dewey thought that there was one God [231], and all the other religions got stuffed together in the 290s, we also think there is one "Father Of Library Science" and another "Father of Library Science, Indian"

Ranganathan proposed Five Laws of Library Science which brought the idea of user services to the forefront of library discourse...

History: Ranganathan, Remixed

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his or her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. A Library is a growing organism.
This list has been adapted recently to the web world. See Lennart's page for the rest of it, but most notably he said: Ranganathan had a rich professional life unblemished by scandal, quickie resignations, unseemly affairs, or harrassment allegations at ALA conferences. He never talked smack about library patrons and would always tell them what time it was, even when he was sitting right next to the clock.

History: Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan, Nice Guy

And as a result, no one outside of the library profession has ever heard of Ranganathan.

This despite the fact that his principles of facet analysis are the basis for the schema used by Yahoo and other web directories.

History: Other Nice or Not-So-Nice Guys

Various upstarts -- noticing the general disconnect between the Dewey method of efficiency at all costs versus personal, human interactions with the people who keep our libraries open -- caused all manner of rabble-rousing troubles over the years. Some organizations they founded include Sometimes the troublemakers got together and -- with the help of lefty sympathist publishers and printers -- got the word out.
[if you're looking for real history, please read Toni Samek's book or Jennifer Cram's paper]

History: Revolting Librarians

Not coincidentally, the original Revolting Librarians was published in 1972, the year Ranganathan died.

Editor Celeste West [no relation] was featured topless.

Authors were listed not with their affiliations but with their sun signs.

History: Revolting Librarians Redux

I read Revolting Librarians in my straight-laced library school and realized that librarianship offered a rich life beyond learning Dialog queries and memorizing SUDOCS numbers.

I learned that I could use my library superpowers for good -- social good as well as just nebulous "library" good.

[the end of politics, or is it the beginning?]

So Where do Politics Fit In at Work?

oh yeah and I edited a book Working in a library gave me not just an opportunity to provide access to information, but also to use public resources to address various sociopolitical concerns, directly and indirectly. Such as... These are mostly straightforward patron services. What about less obvious, or more nuanced examples? it's all about choices, and choosing FOR one thing often means choosing AGAINST something else.... like the internet being the world's biggest library.... overt rules and decisions often create unforseen and unintended consequences

Collections: New Technologies

choices & unintended consequences?

Technology: Public PCs

choices & unintended consequences? antidote: WebJunction can help, technology planning will ease the pain, there will always be some bugs.

Technology: OPACs

choices & unintended consequences? antidotes: open source systems and in-house techs, Koha

Technology: Filtering

choices & unintended consequences? antidotes: Peacefire, further reading, links about the US/CIPA situation, open source filtering

Laws: USA PATRIOT Act [and similar laws]

choices & unintended consequences? antidote: stay informed [ALIA makes it easy!] and inform others, a pro-active response beats waiting for the knock on the door

Laws: Copyright

choices & unintended consequences? antidote: how comfortable are you being a test case?
"security, cost, & copyright concerns will prevent [allowing CD burning]" [cite]


Jessamyn West is currently the outreach librarian at Rutland Free Library the editor of the weblog and the co-editor of Revolting Librarians Redux.

IM her at iamthebestartist [home] or rutlandfree [work].

My gracious thanks to The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Library for their sponsorship of my trip. The layout and stylesheet for this presentation are available to borrow via a share and share alike creative commons license. See source code for details.