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Meta-Radicalism: The Alternative Press by and for Activist Librarians The Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America Library History Seminar XII Libraries in the History of Print Culture Alycia Sellie Brooklyn College September 10, 2010.

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Meta-Radicalism: The Alternative Press by and for Activist LibrariansThe Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America Library History Seminar XIILibraries in the History of Print Culture Alycia SellieBrooklyn College September 10, 2010



  • My focus is upon publications that have the following four criteria:
    • “Alternative” Periodicals
    • Created by Librarians
    • That promote the collection of alternative publications in libraries--
    • as a form of library activism


I’m also interested in how these publications have or have not been collected and preserved within libraries, and what collection development decisions—and “inside” censorship can tell us about the political landscape of librarianship as a whole.


The Three Waves of Alternative Librarian Publications:

    • Revolting Librarians
    • Riot Librarrrian
    • Hacktivists

Revolting Librarians: The Undergrounds

  • AKA: “Where have all the flowers (and political leaflets, social protest pamphlets, movement literature, and fugitive materials) gone?”

“Commercial library journals already in existence are mired in coverage of ALA, articles by male administrators who lay down the law or show off their academic terminology, ‘non-biased’ bland reviews of trade books, and non-recognition of the significance of independent publishing. At least half of their pages are devoted to advertisements for the same trade books they ‘objectively’ review.”

  • --Valerie Wheat, The Passionate Perils of Publishing

Themes from the Revolting Library Literature:

  • “Conglomeritis”
  • Outsourcing of Collection Development
  • Definitions of the alternative press and its culture
  • How-To’s
  • Cataloging (ethical subject headings)
  • Indexing of the alternative press
  • Lists and reviews of alternative library literature (how I chose which titles to focus upon)

Zine Themes

  • How-To’s
  • Creating a collection/getting permission
  • Cataloging (technical detaisl of how to do it and the lack of pertinent terms more so than ethics of subject headings)
  • Reviews of other zines, and reading lists
  • Defining zines, zine culture and zines are not blogs

Library Holdings

What has been collected?

If it wasn’t collected, was there a deliberate act of “inside” censorship involved?


(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

Jane Goodall Would Collect Alternatives

BILL MOYERS: So, what do we lose if the last chimp goes? JANE GOODALL: Well, we lose one window into learning about our long course of evolution… What are our great-grandchildren going to say if they look back and-- I felt sad that the dodo had gone. But those people didn't understand. They look back, the children in the future, at our generation and say, "How could they have done that? They did understand. There were lots of people out there telling them. How, why did they go on not trying to do anything about it?" BILL MOYERS: And when I told someone yesterday that you were coming, he said, "Well, you know, I just read that there are 3,200 tigers left in the world. And that their Asian habitat is disappearing very quickly." And he said, "But, you know, when the tigers are gone, will they be missed any more than the dodo is missed? What difference does it make?" he said. JANE GOODALL: It's just that, you know, if you have this huge respect for the natural world that I have. I mean, the wonder of all these different forms of evolution. And these fantastic ecosystems where everything depends on everything else. We don't know what difference it might make if some of these creatures that we're pushing to the edge disappear. You can take out a tiny insect from an ecosystem. Who cares? Well, it may turn out that some other creature depended on that tiny insect. So, that will disappear. And goodness knows what effect that one had on something over there. So, that will change. And so, in the end, you get what's been called, you know, ecological collapse.


The Opposition?

“We librarians are not free agents or beatniks, but tax-paid servitors, and the institutions we work in have traditions and enjoy a respect that one would hate to see jeopardized. Many librarians are idealistic, and tend to respond sympathetically to any cry for freedom, even the cry of the drunk and homosexual writer, or the greedy cry of a publisher impatient of any obstacles to quick profits.”

-- Robert D. Franklin,“A Game of Chicken,”Library Journal, October 15, 1964


Alycia Sellie

Brooklyn College