What if a library’s services, programmes, experiences and staff culture were purposefully crafted just like art is?
In which Zapata! the people’s book bandito, rides again! But only until some little girl starts bawling and wants her My Little Pony back.
Warning. Choking Hazard. May include minor outtakes and other small parts from human frailties causing anxiety and irregular breathing patterns. Adults: seek children’s permission first before recognising yourself in these doomed vignettes and swapping hope for some kind of fear and self-loathing in Los Bibliotheca. If symptoms persist, consult your local guardian spirit.
Once upon a time.
There was you.
And then there wasn’t.
Chapter 1. Tequila Sunrise or Sunset
(I can’t tell the difference much anymore)
Sweet Country Jesus Almighty! Who the $#@k let Leonard Cohen script the prologue?!?!?!
Oh, such a sad opening. So let’s put some cheer into our chit-chat. You get the tequila, I’ll get the glasses and then we can talk about that middle bit, that thing about “there was you”. Yes, let’s do that, because these ruminations can become a lonely path which is better walked by two. Don’t you agree amigo?
My, my, the things these World Wide Weary eyes have seen, the knowledge of lies I’ve accumulated by the ‘truths’ I’ve been told, all lead me to ask you to consider not waiting any longer to be bloody cordially invited to intentionally re-design your life.
So, yeah, I said, ‘Intentionally re-design’.
Cause all you’re doing at the moment is playing Survivor: Corporatocracy Island’ and it’s a pyramid scheme (quite literally if you take a peek at your library’s organisational chart, go on, I’ll wait) which is purposely designed (there’s that ‘D’ word again) to give illusions to the limited aspirations that your life has been pre-set to.
Better times ahead? You bet.
But first, you’re going to have to love yourself a whole lot more than you do now (because why bother saving a wretched soul, right?) And all God’s people said, ‘Amen’.
Chapter 2. ‘Octo’ Reduxo
When the Pony Express delivered the mystery envelope containing your old amigo Zapata’s instructions for his next Weve instalment, the Mingling Heroes wrote that they wanted something that related to the kinetic art, ‘Octo’ by Anthony Howe.
So this is the way I seez it.
The structure exudes design…fit for purpose (most definitely)…some might say outwardly attractive and even temporarily mesmerising… but ultimately… repetitive…whose joyfulness fades as it forever remains at the mercy of a force beyond its control.
WHAT WAS THAT?!?! Did I just hear someone scream from the darkest corner of this cantina ‘Ouch Zapata, you’re killing me! That’s my library career you’re describing!’
Sad but true amigo, although such despondency is simply your own life’s resignation writ large and it need not be so comrade.
Your design began with an explosive burst billions of years ago (“We are all star dust” Carl Sagan reminded us, ’Imaginauts’ travelling on a spaceship of imagination rushing around at 67,000 miles per hour) and your own grand designs need not be surrendered so meekly to a library cabal run under the auspices of a fading gentry infected with passive recidivism.
Amazing, wonderful, ‘You’.
The only ‘You’ that this Universe will ever get to see.
Oh, the wonders ‘You’ could perform as a librarian.
And what about your purposeful design of those wonders?
What forces are you going to let close down all the possibilities of those design choices?
A ‘Job Description’?
An organisational disaster zone which still enforces the diktats of a failed business model introduced by short white men in suits over a hundred years ago and is still in vogue, orchestrated by a largely meandering matriarchy?
Or maybe forgoing your star quality for anonymity instead, in the hope that you will be accepted into the ranks of mediocrity as a jolly good ‘team player’?*
*Hey baby, I know who’s wearing ‘False Positivism’ in the office today, the sensational new fragrance from FCUK EVRYBODY.
Chapter 3. Project You.
(In Which You Decide to Pick a Fight)
We have financial systems which enforce global serfdom and misery facilitating a pathway for the greedy to become ever more obscenely wealthy and fill their overflowing vaults with more. We have food industries which don’t actually make people healthier but rather, instigate disease and death, where industrialised killing starts in the slaughter houses but carries right on into our homes. We have entertainment industries which commoditise women so that mothers, daughters and sisters are all for sale, anytime, anywhere.
Oh, and let’s not forget too that we have a building sector which manufactures properties which insidiously kills their residents. Support services which don’t (support). Justice systems which can’t (provide protective justice for the victims of crime from further harm). And ‘democratic’ governments that will (maim and kill their own citizens when ‘Push comes to Shove comes to Profit’).
Then we have our very own public libraries.
Yip, they too are part of this giant web of ineptitude. Because everything is connected people.
In the Western World, these public institutions boast a mission which is to assist citizenry to achieve specific literacy goals (and in its multiple guises). To serve (and protect?) people, assuming the vanguard against what has been registered by many organisations worldwide as a massive, silent, epidemic, trapping people in cycles of poverty and ill health. It is a plague upon our land and you should know it by thy name: Illiteracy*
And yet, in this single, titanic struggle, public libraries are too, systematically floundering.
Less a Praetorian Guard and more a confederacy of dunces.
Behaviour which has been less ‘Almighty Thunder’, and more ‘Oops, Bloody Hell, Blunder’. Via a historical mosaic of fragmented design strategies, public libraries find themselves encumbered with archaic business models, redundant professional development schema, emaciated revenue supplies and a flagellant penchant for intellectual self-indulgences; all of which have combined to thwart the delivery of our ultimate, glorious achievement: the eradication of this hideous deformity upon human beings.
Put your hand up if you think that our current design and executions of purpose are beneficial, desirable or even preferable? What are you in the public library business for? Who the f**k allows this to happen?!
Listen up amigo, and listen up real good, the Bibliotheca Public is the library of the people, for the people, and – with you starring as the people’s representative – by the people. You dig what the cat Zapata is laying down for you here? Because it’s you, the librarian, while there’s some goddam breath in your body, who is going to save us from this apocalypse. Save is from, Literacy-Which-Is-Ill. How about we demonstrate some controlled panic, and seek to end this pestilence, thereby allowing decent people to live with integrity and dignity?
Yeah, you’re going to pick a fight and bloody win something back for humanity! And should you die in a blaze of glory with a burrito in one hand and an Alien ALH-9011 Handheld RFID Reader in the other then, well, that seems a fitting way for a bibliotecario rebel to go out.
So how’d you like them manzana?! (Hey you, in the darkest corner of the cantina, you still back there getting all this?)
‘Si, senor Zapata.’
Chapter 4. Making Meaning is the New Porn
The weapons for you to fight with have already been provided.
Oh, oh, oh, don’t tell me… elite wordsmithing taskforces have been convening and issuing monumental proclamations in your organisation about ‘Innovation’, ‘Creativity’, and ‘Making the Future Happen’ (sic) ad nauseam with perhaps the occasional ‘Revolutionary Thinking’ inserted, for years now. A continuous business cycle of vacuous declarations sprinkled by a self-effacing neo-feudal overlordship which actually believes its next annual release of 20 Solid Gold Bullshit Hits.
But what really matters, what really counts, was given to you, to all of us, a long, long time ago.
It was little more than the ability to be curious, and ask, ‘What if?’
What if things were different – different BETTER – for people than from the way they are now?
What if I designed my life around giving it meaning through the pursuit of helping others find meaning in theirs.
That is true renegade thinking.
Not little-bit-cutesy-aww-Pikachu-feels-sad-levels of cube-farm rebellions, getting kicks from planning another maker space programme; not robotically crafted, impersonal press releases trumpeting our value to our communities by extending the borrowing period over the Christmas holiday period; and not by demonstrating a unique brand of ‘Customer Service’ through the fostering of improved revenue gathering schemes which make no contribution whatsoever to keeping the library operations above subsistence levels, yet cause harm to real people.
No, we’re talking Borg-menacing-planet-destroying-levels of meaning. And they won’t like it.
But being liked by civil servant power junkies is not what your life was ever meant to be about.
Okay, so, before all the doors slam shut on your professional energies, in some kind of obscene Get Smart opening sequence, design meaning into your version of your personal librariany talent; meaning above and beyond small-minded and perfunctory task fulfilment. Designing meaning for yourself and others lends itself towards the attainment of a level of self-determination and mastery which can alter that which only recently felt preordained.
Being recognised as some Voodoo High Priestess of a specific shelving area in your library should not sum up your life’s design.
You know, a very wise doctor – a Senor Seuss he went by the name of – once articulated, ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.’
[Amigo in dark corner of the little cantina] ‘Hey Senor Zapata, It seems like you’re never going to bloody shut up so I’m going to leave now and I’m going outside. And Senor Zapata…I am going to walk against the wind. See you later amigo.’
[Zapata] ‘Si, see you later my brave little amigo. And may your pencils always outlast their erasers.‘
In the end, what does it all mean? Ha! We would need more a lot more tequila before we stumbled upon the likely answers to that question, friend. Hhmm, possibly, the song was right all along; the answer my fine amigo is blowing in the wind. Whoosh. Yes, just like that. Did you catch it? But what you can do, what we all must do, is live our library lives more urgently and DESIGN the hell out of them.
A Consensus Reality.
Made in China.
Commoditised at 1 Hacker Way, Merlo Park.
Bankrupted at 700, 19th St NW Washington.
Pardoned at the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.
*John Steinbeck wrote, “Learning to read is probably the most difficult and revolutionary thing that happens to the human brain and if you don’t believe that, watch an illiterate adult try to do it.”