03 November 2003

Review - Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out

by Lori Ito Hardenbergh

Who can resist a book with a chapter titled, "Labia Lumps, Chunky Discharge, and Other Things They Never Taught Me in Library School"? Released this past summer, Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out takes no prisoners as its contributors ponder everything from the backtracking of '60s values by ALA's baby boomers to librarian imagery in erotica. This edited volume is a sequel to a 1972 self-published book titled Revolting Librarians. The original is worth checking out for its historical value alone. The editors of the 2003 volume, Katia Roberto and Jessamyn West gathered essays from ten of the original writers from the 1972 book for this version and it is interesting to see what thirty years has done to these radical librarians.

Revolting Librarians Redux book cover

The book contains some of what you would expect in a book by revolting librarians. There are the requisite essays on the suppression of civil liberties through the Patriot Act along with essays detailing the problem of cultural representation in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. And of course, there's something both by and about Sandy Berman, a living legend among progressive librarians. But there are also quite a few surprises. Ever curious about the astrological breakdown of librarians? You'll find an extensive article complete with enough statistics to make you break out your notes from IRLS 506. [Leos dominate the field, with Aquarians an astrological minority.] Another notable essay concerns what services librarians can offer to day laborers.

From my perspective as a library graduate student, however, my attention was drawn to the section titled "Library School is Revolting." This collection of essays explores questions such as "Are we really learning the practical skills necessary to be librarians, such as public relations and professional writing?" and "Is accreditation really a big deal?" While I felt fortunate that some of the not-so-subtle digs at library schools didn't really apply too heavily to SIRLS, some of it is familiar enough to make you laugh (or cry).

I also felt myself drawn to essays that dealt with the everyday work lives of these revolting librarians. I have not been in the library world my whole life. In fact, I applied to library school less than one month after the idea of becoming a librarian occurred to me for the very first time. Any writings that describe the "real world" of librarianship, therefore, pique my interest. I also feel that I am developing my own professional identity as a progressive librarian. Seeing myself in some of these essays ("Sure, I could staff a reference desk at an anti-globalization protest!") helped this vision of myself begin to take form.

As is the case with many edited volumes, the quality of the essays is a little uneven. Every essay will not merit a close read by all aspiring librarians. However, there is enough thought-provoking content in this book to make me recommend it to any library students out there who believe in challenging the status quo, questioning authority, and thinking for themselves.


  • Roberto, Katia and Jessamyn West, eds. Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Inc., Publishers, 2003. Z665 .R44 2003 at the Main Library.
  • West, Celeste, ed. Revolting Librarians. San Francisco: Booklegger Press, 1972. Z665 .W47 at the Main Library.
  • Librarian.net by editor Jessamyn West - A library-related news weblog that's been "putting the 'rarin back in librarian since 1993." Includes a link to information about purchasing Revolting Libarians Redux.

Lori is two-thirds of the way through the SIRLS program. She aspires to be an academic librarian specializing in the social sciences so she can pretend like her M.A. in cultural anthropology isn't worthless. When not organizing dead people's documents, she is webmistress/listserv manager/BiblioTech web editor for the Library Student Organization. And to the left is one of her retired racing greyhounds, Paco.

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