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Editorial: DIY Library Culture and the Academy

In Brief: In this editorial, In the Library with the Lead Pipe Editorial Board members Erin Dorney, Emily Ford, Kim Leeder, and Micah Vandegrift discuss their upcoming panel presentation that will take place at the ACRL 2013 National Conference in Indianapolis. The panel, with the same title as this editorial, will address what we believe constitutes do-it-yourself (DIY) library culture, its presence in academia, and its implications for the future of librarianship. We conclude by asking readers to contribute your voices and ideas to the discussion by blogging, tweeting, YouTubing, and attending the event in person. Be sure to tag your remarks with #diylib and, if tweeting, mention @libraryleadpipe.

Photo by Flickr user John Manyjohns (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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Librarianship has seen a groundswell of innovative do-it-yourself (DIY) activity in recent years. Projects have popped up here and there; creative, independent efforts with the goal of solving problems, increasing effectiveness, and making positive change in the field. Take, for instance, Library Juice Press, the Library as Incubator Project, the Blended Librarian webcast, and ALA’s Library Lab. We see our own blog-turned-journal, In The Library With The Lead Pipe, as a DIY effort. DIY projects are shiny and exciting (and time-consuming), but to what end? For academic librarians this DIY culture is closely tied with professional development and scholarship, but what does it say about the future of the academic library profession?

This is a question we propose to answer in a panel session at the ACRL National Conference this month. The panel, with the same title as this editorial, will address what we believe constitutes DIY library culture, its presence in academia, and its implications for the future of librarianship. However, we wanted to “flip” the presentation, take it out of the box, and shake it around a little, so we’re sharing our content in advance of the conference in this editorial. What this means is that instead of spending our hour in Indianapolis presenting content, we can focus on conversation and interaction to explore the issue together and showcase a variety of voices and perspectives (now that sounds pretty DIY-y, doesn’t it?). Please read on, contribute your thoughts (using the tag #diylib) and, for those who will be attending ACRL National, join us to continue the conversation in person on Thursday, April 11th at 3-4 p.m. in the JW Marriott Grand Ballroom 9-10.


DIY activities are always creative by nature, but DIY culture in libraries is less about creativity and more about basic survival. A traditional library is a dead library. We know this: if libraries don’t change they will fade away, eclipsed by the free, the instant, and the easy. The mantra of twenty-first century librarianship is and must be: change, change, and more change. DIY is what we call the change that we invent rather than waiting for others to invent it.

I embrace this attitude. I finished my MLIS in 2006 and joined the field, like many of my contemporaries, with the full awareness that my brand new career might only only have another ten or twenty years of gas in the tank. I was perfectly comfortable with this uncertainty. I was optimistic, and continue to be optimistic, that I was joining a field that was actively evolving, and in whose evolution I would be lucky enough to participate and, perhaps, even influence. But I was also willing to accept the possibility that I might be making another career change in the future when librarianship disappeared or became something totally different, even unrecognizable.

As academic librarians, we have a wide array of daily tasks to accomplish. We answer questions, we collect, we teach, we budget. Beyond those daily tasks are the bigger concerns, the bigger questions: what does it mean? What are our big-picture goals? Where are we headed as a field? And when we dip our toes into those questions, we find that there are no easy answers. We also find that no one else is going to answer those questions for us, so we begin to imagine, and plan, and create, and build. We begin to recreate ourselves and to make meaning that will sustain us, and our field, long into the future.

We are DIY because we can’t be anything else, because anything else would be raising the white flag of librarianship letting the future sweep us away. We must reinvent ourselves and our libraries or we will become anachronisms, defeated by time. We will not give up. We have too much to offer.


The thing I love about the DIY movement in libraries is that you have the freedom to pick things that are important to you. You don’t have to fit the mold of what a librarian or a library “should” look like. You can reinvent yourself, the services your offer, the resources you provide to the community, and more based on your continual growth as a person and as a professional. You can be responsive to the needs of your community by moving towards the outskirts and taking action. Yes, it might mean you work on your DIY project on nights and weekends. Yes, it might mean volunteering and doing work with no monetary reward. Yes, it might mean that some of your colleagues snub their noses at your “most recent trend.” But to me, those seem to continually wind up being the projects that make me feel most passionate about being a librarian, and quite honestly have kept me engaged in this field. Ever since I graduated from library school in 2008, people have worried about the future of libraries and if we’ll be around in 20 years and if so what libraries will look like. To some, that might be scary. But I didn’t become a librarian for stability. I became a librarian because of its potential–the opportunity to be part of redefining the status quo. DIY is about reinventing yourself and reinventing librarianship in the process.


In a way, we academics have been doing the DIY thing ever since the academy was the academy. With intellectual curiosity we pose questions, design experiments, conduct research, and reflect and report on our findings. In essence, the academy has born the ultimate DIY culture. However, over hundreds of years what was at first DIY has become institutionalized, regularized, and politicized.

For those of us in tenure-related positions, our work is evaluated by our peers via promotion and tenure processes. So how is our current DIY work valued? How is it assessed and evaluated? What tensions lie between the “traditional” form of DIY and its contemporary manifestations? Will contemporary DIY simply morph into a new traditional form?

It remains unclear whether DIY library culture has indeed become mainstream or whether it will remain on the periphery. In the academy, where tradition seems to rule the proverbial roost, how can contemporary DIYers positively change their libraries and communities and successfully play the institutional and political games inherent in higher education?


When DIY is the topic, I tend to lean toward a historical view, placing everything I know about self-madeness behind the culture/mindset/ideology of DIY born out of the post-punk subculture of the early 80s. What kids like Ian Mackaye and Henry Rollins did was DIY, sure, but not the same thing we are talking about here. Their “Doing It Themselves” was born purely out of necessity; no one was going to put out their records… ever. DIY, as it became enmeshed in our cultural consciousness, began as an imperative not a luxury; a must, not a choice. In the subcultural movement that followed, “DIY” evolved to be a code of conduct, an ethic or a principle. An important one, truly, but losing some of the grit and gall of which it was spawned.

I think I have to take an oppositional view than I had originally presented to my colleagues – I think what we do is not DIY. It is a new culture of professional development, yes, one driven by what we want, and how we work, rather than what professional associations or historical guidelines tell us. But, I do not see subversion of bureaucracy. I do not see radical shifts in the work we do, especially in academic librarianship. If I take a hardline, DIY-historicist point-of-view, there is little that might qualify as DIY in librarianship. Don’t get me wrong, we are overwhelmed with self-motivation, passion, creative projects, community building and scrappy, get-it-done attitude. But what is it that we MUST do? That we do BECAUSE no one else will do it? What do we do ourselves that compels others to participate based on the “damn the man” principle?

Ingenuity and innovation in our work is essential. But, to truly adopt a do-it-yourself culture in academic librarianship I think we should stop talking about the ebook problem and build our own platform-agnostic e-reader. We should stop writing for publishers that are unwilling to adapt to our intellectual property demands. We should invest in developing publishing partnerships within our Universities and Colleges. We should teach our students to be the best god damned googlers on the planet. We should hack every software and challenge every vendor to provide an open API so we can build what we really need, not what they sell us. Or we should walk away. Currency in the future DIY Culture of Academic Librarianship will be exactly what it was in the DC punk scene: relationships with other similarly-minded peers, willing to do what it takes to accomplish the task at hand.

There’s a lot of confusion in librarianship about what constitutes DIY-ness. Can we clear that up and come to some sort of agreement as to what, how and why it matters to our current state of “work”?


This is a DIY panel and we want to hear it from you. Is DIY library culture a precursor to more traditional praxis? Or is DIY culture, as Micah claims, ultimately a subversion? Where is DIY culture taking our profession? What are the practical outcomes of DIY culture for professional achievement? Do you agree or disagree with some or all of what we’ve said? Tell us about it!

We want you to share your 1-minute videos, comments, and tweets before our panel at ACRL next week. Make sure you tag your responses with #diylib and be a part of something awesome!

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