April 23, 2018

“I’ve Never Been So Sweaty in a Library” | Programs That Pop

This is the first installment of a new monthly column in which librarians explain how they have run an innovative program that has been successful at their library.
Jessica Zaker

Jessica Zaker
photo by Ryan Donahue


Hearing this from a patron’s mouth after completing one of my Punk Rock Aerobics workouts made me beam like Iggy Pop was signing autographs and I was next in line. Having worked in the programming department of Sacramento Public Library, CA, where we were encouraged to innovate in order to create programs that would draw in nonusers, I became accustomed to bringing my own passions to my job. As a roller derby skater (Lipstick Librarian of the Sac City Rollers) and fitness fanatic, this led to the genesis of Punk Rock ­Aerobics.

Inspired by Maura Jasper and Hilken Mancini’s book Punk Rock Aerobics, I figured that ten years of workouts had to be good for something. Under the guise of alt+library—which offers programs for people in their 20s and 30s—I decided to make a library fitness program happen. I developed an online playlist, combined different strength and cardio moves, and did the requisite publicity. Then, boom: I had eight to 35 people, twenty- and thirtysomethings, stretching, bending, and flexing in the library. This is a completely free program that only requires the time and willingness to get red-faced and panting in front of colleagues and patrons.

How to make it happen

Here are the steps to take to make it happen.

Liability waivers. Make sure you have every participant sign one. I also like to add a tagline (that I say aloud at the event) about my not being a fitness professional, that the routine is just for fun, and participants need not push anything that doesn’t feel right. Ask your system’s legal counsel or use reputable online legal forms databases.

Playlist. I love punk. I met Jello Biafra recently and tried not to drool on my Converse when I was introduced. So naturally I created a playlist of classic 1970s punk that ran about 55 minutes long. I used Grooveshark.com, but there are a variety of options. Aim for about 53 to 59 minutes of music. You could choose just a single CD if so inclined. I like to listen to Pandora to find new bands in the genre I’m considering. To date, I’ve hosted several Punk Rock Aerobics, Alterna-Pilates (all that 1990s Pacific Northwest music), Brutal Yoga (black/death metal), Holidaze Yoga (rock covers of holiday songs), Zombie Survival Aerobics, Glam Metal Yoga, Hair-obics (rocking that Poison and G ’n’ R), Bollyrobics (I have a fondness for Aishwarya Rai), Partner Yoga (all duets!), and Come Out for Aerobics (part of an LGBT programming series). I’m working on Riot Grrrl Plyo for women’s history month and Industrial Strength with some :wumpscut: and Skinny Puppy.

Routine. Check out a variety of DVDs from your branch and watch them, noting what looks easy to demonstrate to someone else. Check out books on fitness to get suggestions for what to look for in form. There are also websites, YouTube videos, blogs, and more, but using your own collection means that you can have those items available to drive circulation after your program. Match the moves to the songs, and put the songs together for a logical flow, with different tempos for warm-up, cooldown, and cardio bursts. Practice the routine with the music to get the timing right.

Publicity. Go into local gyms and introduce yourself to trainers—I was lucky enough to form a lasting relationship with a local fitness community that ended up providing a whole year of free monthly programs in the library, and they brought their members with them! For alt+library programs, we have found that online publicity is our best and cheapest way to promote. Most of our attendees found us via social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook and other virtual resources like WordPress and Meetup.com. If you decide to do print materials, make sure the graphics are eye-catching and appeal to the right audience. Make sure that you publicize in nonlibrary venues; programs like these will attract nonusers. Also, be shameless in forcing your friends to attend; they’ll likely bring someone else along and increase your numbers.

Make it happen. Empty out your community room so no flailing limb will whack into a stray chair. Set up your laptop and speakers and be sure you are able to stream your music, the Wi-Fi is connected, and the music is loud enough to hear but soft enough that the group can hear you. Dress the part. Wear your theme gear—I have an autographed (by Jerry Only of the Misfits!) denim vest with punk pins all over it that I wear for Punk Rock Aerobics. Provide water. If you don’t have a drinking fountain nearby, buy minibottles.

Finally, have fun. Library fitness programs are a great, free, fun way to get your community engaged, upend traditional notions of library service, highlight an often-missed portion of your collection, and get your heart rate going at the same time. Enjoy!

Jessica Zaker is Supervisor, Sacramento Public Library’s Arcade branch, CA; cocreator of alt+library; and head coach/skater for Sac City Rollers as “Lipstick Librarian”

This article was published in Library Journal's January 1, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Maker Workshop
In this two-week online course, you’ll create a maker program that aligns with your budget and community needs, with personal coaching from maker experts—from libraries and beyond—May 23 & June 6, 2018.


  1. Punk music is great for getting you pumped. There is some great advice here

  2. I would come to all of these programs if we had them in Seattle. Way to go!