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Presentation given September 10, 2010 as part of Library History Seminar XII: Libraries in the History of Print Culture. For associated paper, see:

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  • Introduction; this talk is more about my research process—folks can read my paper for more information.
  • In February 2009, I got this email from Andrea Grimes from SFPL I hadn ’t ever heard of Synergy, but I talked to my colleagues at Brooklyn College and requested the issues
  • This is what arrived. It wasn ’t a full run of the publication, but it was enough for me to be totally captivated.
  • I started to look through the issues and was amazed by what I found.
  • I was making a zine about libraries at the time and I was really inspired by Synergy. Everything felt very alive, though the issues were—in full disclosure—older than me.
  • There were articles about bike riding, the environment, paraprofessionals, reference, homosexuality, the occult, sex, drugs and cataloging.
  • As I learned more about Synergy, I kept trying to place it within the spectrum of library literature that I knew.
  • This is more of what I was used to in library literature: advertisement-driven, business-like aesthetics, complete with librarians wearing business suits.
  • So I started to think about why Synergy was so appealing to me and how it differed from other publications. I personally have been interested in alternative and underground publications for some time—and realized that Synergy was doing some of the same advocating for inclusion in library collections. So I set out to see if there were more Meta publications—and here is my criteria for what I was looking for.
  • I mentioned “alternative.” All articles that talk about alternative literature must define that term. While I do also use “underground” here as well, I feel thinking about the word alternative is important here for many of the reasons Chris Dodge describes in his article, “Alternative to What.”
  • Beyond just looking at these publications, I am interested in their relationship to library collections—especially so as publications BY librarians.
  • I ’m going to touch upon the three waves of alternative library publications that I have identified—there may be others, but these are the three that I have found to be the most compelling.
  • First, the revolting publications of the 60 ’s and 70’s. Offset printing made these publications possible. Library publications followed many of the attributes and trends of underground papers or other alternative materials of the time.
  • Why did librarians make these publications? Like other alternative pubs, they wanted to express something that was not already expressed (something that may have been ignored or overlooked otherwise). They also wanted to offer alternatives or combat other library publications.
  • In addition to Synergy, other alternative library publications began in this era. Some reflect the struggles over social responsibilities and freedom that Toni Samek has documented so well, and others are barely more than inside jokes— ”Title Varies,” for example, which had its “Hall of Shame.”
  • A few major themes I have been able to identify from this era. #7 has been extremely important: many titles referenced one another and through these lists I have been able to identify and determine titles for this project.
  • #2. Zines. The definition of a zine is also difficult; like defining alternative. Zines very popular in the 1990 ’s—punk and riot grrrl, but their lineage can go further back to 1930’s sci-fi or even to Tom Paine and the pamphleteers.
  • People are still making zines. Librarians are making zines. A shift in emphasis, however: I have noticed that where it used to be more popular among librarians to advocate for alternative materials collections, it seems more common now to try to start a (narrower) zine collection.
  • Meta! Zines by zine librarians about being zine librarians! Akin to the underground publications of the 60 ’s and 70’s advocating for undergrounds in libraries
  • Zine Themes: Bowling alone phenomenon: more perzines/diaries of the lone librarian than pubs speaking to, by and for fellow comrades. Cataloging: more technical than ethical Zines are not blogs!
  • 3. Activism for alternatives online? How has the web displaced print publications? And How has it changed library conversation? (Why) Would someone advocate for print publications on the web?
  • Librarian blogs—many of them, as we are all aware, and they run the gamut of topics. Themes: technology (yet another meta project), trends, intellectual freedom, gripes What online projects that are happening online may have been a print publication in an earlier era? Radical Reference? Library Juice? Does the web make these projects possible in ways that print could not? And how are these digital projects and publications being preserved, if at all?
  • What can our catalogs tell us about librarians and how they feel about the fringes and controversy? (because if they are not collecting librarian-created publications because they disagree with them, what ELSE aren ’t they collecting?!)
  • Back up a bit: WHY should libraries bother with alternative publications? Chris Dodge Reflect the local populations in your community Collect the work of the populations in the library ’s community
  • When I was prepping for this talk, I happened to hear Jane Goodall interviewed, and thought that what Jane was describing—preservation—was pertinent to why we should collect holistically.
  • Who would disagree? Opposition to collecting alternative materials is usually as underground as the publications themselves One example from Library Journal in 1964.
  • Here we see the proof of some kind of opposition. Sandford Berman: “Inside” censorship (not collecting what would be seen as controversial) vs. Outside censorship (challenges to books already in the collection) Is inside censorship what is happening here? S.J. Leon wrote about inside censorship in Philadelphia that the catalog does not tell us WHY something is not there. Or these publications may have been collected, but not cataloged.
  • # of zines even smaller Surprising knowing the amount of literature—even in the mainstream—about zine collections
  • What problems do these numbers pose? For researchers, hard to get copies of serials, as a whole item or a whole run of a publication. I had all the collections of the city of New York at my disposal, and I still had problems with ILL and access with this project. Which led me to NYPL one day to look at a few issues of this publication, Top Secret, about the Collectors Network.
  • More important than just being able to see the publication is what I saw here, on the top corner of the page. Does anyone know what these three letters scribbled here mean? Does anyone recognize this handwriting?
  • How I know what this means I learned when I worked in this room at the Wisconsin Historical Society for three years with James Danky. The Newspapers and Periodicals Collection got over 9,000 current titles when Jim retired in 2007. When I worked there, when Jim would check a title and found that a publication was already in the collection…
  • He would scrawl these three letters on its cover. Those were the three letters I found on the cover of this title at NYPL, in his handwriting that you see here. Jim could have thrown out the issues, but his commitment to collecting and sharing made it so that I could see these issues—and when I asked him last summer he told me that he didn ’t remember sending anything to NYPL directly, so others like him helped as well.
  • Finally, I wanted to end with this: one of the most inspirational pieces about alternative collecting that I have found, and one that would be very difficult to access now. It was published by Chris Dodge on his geocities website. Since geocities has since dissolved, how is one to find it now? How will this work be preserved?
  • Thank you/Questions
  • Meta-Radicalism

    1. 1. Meta-Radicalism:The Alternative Press by and for Activist Librarians The Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America Library History Seminar XIILibraries in the History of Print Culture Alycia Sellie Brooklyn College September 10, 2010
    2. 2. One of the ways inwhich thisresearch began…
    3. 3. Meta-RadicalismMy focus is upon publications that have the following four criteria: 1. “Alternative” Periodicals 2. Created by Librarians 3. That promote the collection of alternative publications in libraries-- 4. as a form of library activism
    4. 4. “Alternative to what?”
    5. 5. Meta-RadicalismI’m also interested in how these publications have or have not beencollected and preserved within libraries, and what collectiondevelopment decisions—and “inside” censorship can tell us about thepolitical landscape of librarianship as a whole.
    6. 6. The Three Waves of Alternative Librarian Publications: 1. Revolting Librarians 2. Riot Librarrrian 3. Hacktivists
    7. 7. 1. Revolting Librarians: The Undergrounds AKA: “Where have all the flowers (and political leaflets, social protest pamphlets, movement literature, and fugitive materials) gone?”
    8. 8. “Commercial library journalsalready in existence are mired incoverage of ALA, articles by maleadministrators who lay down thelaw or show off their academicterminology, ‘non-biased’ blandreviews of trade books, and non-recognition of the significance ofindependent publishing. At leasthalf of their pages are devoted toadvertisements for the same tradebooks they ‘objectively’ review.”--Valerie Wheat, The PassionatePerils of Publishing
    9. 9. Themes from the Revolting Library Literature:1.“Conglomeritis”2.Outsourcing of CollectionDevelopment3.Definitions of the alternativepress and its culture4.How-To’s5.Cataloging (ethical subjectheadings)6.Indexing of the alternative press7.Lists and reviews of alternativelibrary literature (how I chosewhich titles to focus upon)
    10. 10. 2. Riot Librarrrian
    11. 11. Librarian Zine-Makers
    12. 12. Zine Librarian Zines
    13. 13. Zine Themes 1. How-To’s 2. Creating a collection/getting permission 3. Cataloging (technical detaisl of how to do it and the lack of pertinent terms more so than ethics of subject headings) 4. Reviews of other zines, and reading lists 5. Defining zines, zine culture and zines are not blogs
    14. 14. 3. Librarian Hacktivists
    15. 15. Library Holdings What has been collected?If it wasn’t collected, was there a deliberate act of “inside” censorship involved?
    16. 16. (Why) Libraries Should Collect Alternative Materials “Why collect such apparent oddities, low- circulation photocopied items the likes of which few have seen? Simply this: because they are a part of culture and history. Let’s not attempt to sanitize our culture, but let future historians see for themselves the true diversity of interests and modes of expression that thrived for a time. After all, imagine being able to read a list of titles, but not being able to examine them. The vaunted freedom to read means nothing if the things we want or need to read are unavailable.” --Chris Dodge, Collecting the Wretched Refuse: Lifting a Lamp to Zines, Military Newspapers and Wisconsinalia
    17. 17. Jane Goodall Would Collect AlternativesBILL MOYERS: So, what do we lose if the last chimp goes?JANE GOODALL: Well, we lose one window into learning aboutour long course of evolution… What are our great-grandchildrengoing to say if they look back and-- I felt sad that the dodo hadgone. But those people didnt understand. They look back, thechildren in the future, at our generation and say, "How couldthey have done that? They did understand. There were lots ofpeople out there telling them. How, why did they go on nottrying to do anything about it?"BILL MOYERS: And when I told someone yesterday that you werecoming, he said, "Well, you know, I just read that there are 3,200tigers left in the world. And that their Asian habitat isdisappearing very quickly." And he said, "But, you know, whenthe tigers are gone, will they be missed any more than the dodois missed? What difference does it make?" he said.JANE GOODALL: Its just that, you know, if you have this hugerespect for the natural world that I have. I mean, the wonder ofall these different forms of evolution. And these fantasticecosystems where everything depends on everything else. Wedont know what difference it might make if some of thesecreatures that were pushing to the edge disappear. You can takeout a tiny insect from an ecosystem. Who cares?Well, it may turn out that some other creature depended on thattiny insect. So, that will disappear. And goodness knows whateffect that one had on something over there. So, that willchange. And so, in the end, you get whats been called, youknow, ecological collapse.
    18. 18. The Opposition?“We librarians are not free agents or beatniks,but tax-paid servitors, and the institutions wework in have traditions and enjoy a respect thatone would hate to see jeopardized. Manylibrarians are idealistic, and tend to respondsympathetically to any cry for freedom, even thecry of the drunk and homosexual writer, or thegreedy cry of a publisher impatient of anyobstacles to quick profits.”-- Robert D. Franklin, “A Game of Chicken,” Library Journal,
    19. 19. Holdings of Revolting Librarian Era Most-Cited Periodicals Rough OCLC Started Ended Title Holdings 1971 current Unabashed Librarian 836 1973 1998 Emergency Librarian (Canadian) 407 1973 1976 Booklegger Magazine 205 1970 1995 Sipapu 187 1984 1999 SRRT Newsletter 145 Counterpoise: For Social Responsibilities, 1997 current Liberty and Dissent 137 1967 1973 Synergy 131 1990 current Progressive Librarian 122 1970 Women in Libraries 71 1969 1979 Women Library Workers 58 1977 1978 Collectors Network News 25 1973 1979 Young Adult Alternative Newsletter 22 1970 1975 Liberated Librarians Newsletter 13 1970 1976 Top Secret 101876 current Library Journal 8000+1939 1995 Wilson Library Bulletin 1895+
    20. 20. Title OCLC Zine World 29 Zine Librarian Zine Xerography Debt 16 8 Holdings ofLower East Side Librarian Winter Solstice Shout- Out 7 Librarian Zines Durga 5 Library Bonnet 5 How to be a good library patron/ Associated How to be a bad library patron 5 Title OCLC Monograph Dwan 5 56 for Cometbus I Dreamed I Was Assertive 3 Cometbus 11 Omnibus Zine Capsule 3 108+ for Stolen Clutch 3 Brainscan 8 Sharpie Barnard Zine Library zine 3 Thoughtworm 3 Baltimore County Public Library Zine Collection 3 Browsing Room 3 Riot Librarrrian 2 The Borough is My Library 2 Biblio-Zine 2 Library Urinal 2 Meta-Zine 2 Ghosts of Ready Reference 1 Object Lesson 1 Secret Adventures of Library Pages 1 America? 0
    21. 21. Alycia Sellie Brooklyn Collegeasellie@brooklyn.cuny.edu