Radical Reference Discussion at Thinking Ahead 2008

As I noted in my last post, I lead a discussion section at Thinking Ahead, a small conference at the Salt Lake City Public Library. The format of the conference was to have one person give a thirty minute talk on a topic and then have four people who represented some aspect of that topic lead ninety minute discussion sections.

Former ALA President Leslie Burger gave the main talk for the session that I was a part of. Her presentation was called "Libraries: Where Democracy Happens." For my discussion section, I was up against the editor of MAD Magazine, Leslie, and the guy who started Students for a Free Culture, so I was impressed that ten people out of a conference of eighty came.

The chief problem with talking about Radical Reference at a library conference is that most people think you are going to be addressing radical concepts in reference rather than Radical Reference the organization. While I think Rad Ref has some radical reference ideas, I felt bad that some of the attendees weren't really getting what they came for.

That said, I spoke for ten or fifteen minutes about Rad Ref, following more or less the outline I made and including as many of your suggestions as possible and highlighting the work of various collectives and so on. Oh, and I quoted Sandy Berman: "Still, long-haired freaks and madassed revolutionaries are as much members of the community as Big Money Makers and hard-hat straights."

The discussion kind of went all over the place, as you can see in the notes. taken by the scribe.

A few highlights
*One person talked about a Diversity Board that they established at their library to help them identify and meet the needs of different communities.
*Someone who had done prison outreach talked about how they had to keep that quiet because it was hard to find support in the community for doing things for prisoners. I suggested trying to find a local prisoners' rights group.
*We talked about how easy it is for government documents to disappear in the digital age. One person talked about the disappearance of a good deal of information about Dirk Kempthorne right after he was appointed as Secretary of the Interior, and I mentioned that Google Books people are treating post-1923 government documents as copyrighted even though, being gov docs, they are already public domain.

Finally, what I've really started to think about as a result of preparing for this conference and attending it is how I think activism can provide a better model for being a librarian and a change agent (as they say) than can most of the kinds of business models we're taught in management classes. I realized a little while ago that when people talk about management skills or leadership skills, what they're really talking about are what I would call organizing skills. The stuff I learned from activism has, in many ways, been more useful to me than the skills I got from the things I could put on my resume.

Oh, and finally, I was chatting at one point with Mike Eisenberg from the University of Washington, who asked if we were trying to recruit people and said we really ought to target library school groups. I said that many of our members are in school, but it's a good point. If we know of any schools where we don't already have connections, it might be a great idea to talk to them.

Oh, and one other thing: I

Oh, and one other thing:

I asked at some point in the discussion of alternative materials if anyone had a particular policy on acquiring alternative materials for their library. No one did. "Have you ever head of such a thing?" someone asked, and I said no, not outside of separate things like zine collections, but that I thought it would be a neat idea, especially in places where collection development is very centralized and there's less room in the process to bring odd things in.

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