October 25, 2014

Jessamyn West | Movers & Shakers 2002

The Ultimate Antistereotype

“Many people outside of the biz have never known that most librarians are in favor of free speech, or a child’s right to read”

If Jessamyn West was what people thought of when they thought of the word “librarian,” our profession would be unbelievably cool. Visit West’s web site (see below) and you will find quickie reviews of the books she read in the past four years; her journal, “Abada abada”; her research projects (including surveying the literacy programs in America’s public libraries); and an actual formal résumé where she recounts her many jobs as researcher, reference librarian, writer, newsletter editor (Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association), ThinkQuest judge, and now coeditor for Revolting Librarians Redux. With a house in Vermont and a place in Seattle, she’s not much for staying in one place–one of her fantasies is tooling around the country in a wired Winnebago. She also provides a kind of roving reference service wherever she wanders, staffing information desks at Burning Man and at the Direct Action Network Headquarters during the WTO protests in Seattle.

Naturally, her site includes a link to Librarian.net, West’s most well-known project, which she started in 1999 when she learned that somehow no one had claimed the librarian.net domain. It was one of the first of the librarian weblogs, and for many of us, it remains a must-read, as in, “What will she come up with next?”

Vitals


Current position: Freelance librarian, researcher, writer, instructor, and blogger

Degree: MLIS, University of Washington Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1995

Web site: www.jessamyn.com/

Weblog: librarian.net

Librarian.net, she says, is “generally [though not exclusively] anticensorship, pro-freedom of speech, pro-porn (for lack of a better way to explain that we don’t find the naked body shameful), antiglobalization, anti-outsourcing, anti-Dr. Laura, pro-freak, pro-social responsibility and just generally pro-information and in favor of the profession getting a better image. I think that my weblog along with many others…that have cropped up in the same span of time–Library Juice, New Breed Librarian, LISnews, Library Stuff, Library Geek, etc.–helps present that side of librarianship. I think many people outside of the biz have never known that most librarians are–for example–in favor of free speech, or a child’s right to read.”

She links, with attitude, to news stories about libraries and librarians–”Library Genocide” is her title for the link to the story about the British government forcing libraries to weed out old books in order to have an “up-to-date and attractive” collection. She links to stories of outrageous censorship and stories about librarians performing unusually interesting services (“Camel as bookmobile”). She points a stern finger at ALA when she sees its leaders betraying their own high principles, as when ALA collaborated with commercial sponsors in the Drive To Read @the Library campaign. Wherever she goes, she drops in on libraries and then writes about what she thought about their facilities and service (or lack of it).

When New Breed Librarian asked West what made librarianship exciting, she said, “[C]hampioning freedom to read and free access to information is not just lip service, it’s a job description.” For West, life is about asking yourself, “How free do I want to be,” acting accordingly–and helping others do the same. She wrote this haiku:

I quit my dumb job
now I walk all over this land
loving timelessness

And while the charms of a regular paycheck may prevent many of us from being
quite that free, we can vicariously enjoy her freedom and her sense of mission
on Librarian.net.

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