Lia Friedman is what some might call a super-librarian. She's the head of public services at the UCSD Arts Library, the staff librarian for make/shift magazine, and an active member of Radical Reference (an organization whose Portland chapter helped set up the Bitch Community Lending Library). Bitch recently caught up with Friedman, who told us a bit about where librarianship and social justice intersect.
Bitch: What led you to become a librarian, and why is being a librarian important to you?
Lia Friedman: I'm an accidental librarian; after I got my undergraduate degree I decided a year or so later that I wanted to go back to school. I picked something that I thought could apply to different fields, and library science seemed like a logical choice. I actually was aiming for going into public radio, and hoped to be a producer or researcher but then, as always, something unexpected happened. Being a librarian is important to me because there is an enormous, ever-expanding amount of information in the world and I think that the more we know about how to find it, where it comes from, who makes it, and how best to use it is a fundamental and basic need. Plus it's exciting to always be learning for a living.
Bitch: Are you a radical librarian? Do you consider librarianship to be radical in its nature?
LF: I don't personally consider myself a radical librarian, in fact I don't really consider myself to be really radical at all. But the idea of what is radical and what is progressive or liberal or maybe even just plain hippie is so very subjective. What I consider to be radical (living completely off the grid, not paying taxes or never buying new clothing for example) others might consider extreme or pointless. I will fight tooth and nail for access to information to all, and will use my voice to push back against things I don't believe in, and in that way, I'm afraid, I'm a bit of a heart-on-my-sleeve soapboxer. I don't know that librarianship is inherently radical but I do see colleagues of mine doing exciting, insightful, daring, sometimes unpopular things to further our cause. Since I'm from Southern California, can I just call us all rad?
Bitch: What's your least favorite stereotype associated with librarians? Where have you noticed this stereotype being perpetuated in popular culture?
LF: The stereotype of librarians as withered, cranky, bun-topped shushers is a little annoying, but there are indeed some of those out there (and I'm currently growing my hair out in order to sport a daily bun myself, just like my librarian fashion idol, Jean Hines). The stereotypes are everywhere, popular culture, comics etc... But that includes that also slightly annoying idea of the 'hip' librarian. This isn't a stereotype, but it is one thing I find most often when I tell people I'm a librarian—it's that you actually have to go to school to be one, and that many of us have a second Masters or perhaps a PhD in our subject specialty. That always gets a "really?!" from the guy from Indiana next to me on the plane.
Bitch: You're the co-author (with Melissa Morrone) of The Sidewalk Is Our Reference Desk: When Librarians Take to the Streets, in which you write about Radical Reference, an online tool that has become extremely valuable to activist communities. How do you describe Radical Reference to someone who isn't familiar with it? How does Radical Reference operate, both online as well as on the streets?
LF: We are an organization that answers questions for independent journalists and activists online through our website, with the added specificity of local chapters that do work in their communities. For instance, the Radical Reference collective in NYC does a lot of work with other activist organizations like ABC no rio and the anarchist bookfair and the world social forum. Local collectives also organize workshops and skill shares on subjects ranging from fact checking to zine making to discussing different aspects of librarianship. We operate using a small group of people that moderate the website and try to make sure that questions get answered by the larger group, a listserv, a fb group and twitter @RadReference. I'd encourage readers to have a look at the website to see some examples of questions and answers, our dream projects, blog posts and information on local collectives all over the country.
Bitch: In addition to your work with Radical Reference, you've been involved in a great deal of socially responsible projects within librarianship. Tell us about some of the projects that you've worked on as a librarian.
LF: I'm so lucky. In addition to my work with Radical Reference I've also been able to be involved with a great magazine, make/shift as a fact checker/librarian/editor. We've been nominated for the 2010 Utne Independent Press Award for Best Social/Cultural Coverage and I'm proud as hell to be a part of that team.
Bitch: Can you recommend a really great book to us?
LF: You Are Here. Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katherine Harmon