Two years ago I gave a Spark Talk at PLA to inspire folks to feed their brains and take care of themselves that was based entirely off the plot of S.E Hinton’s The Outsiders. I loved it. It was so cool to watch people’s faces realize the reasons they started in this fabulous profession and to hear afterwards that they felt refreshed by the talk. I’ll update the blog with it one of these days, I promise.
So when I saw the call for Spark Talks for this past April’s PLA conference I jumped at the chance and was lucky enough to be picked again to speak. The brain child of the fabulous Kevin King of the Kalamazoo Public Library (check out his wonderful blog Library Lost & Found) and brilliant Toby Greenwalt of Carnegie Library in Pittsburg (Toby’s brilliant blog theanalogdivide is also not to be missed) the idea is for us more plebeian librarians to get a chance to share a fresh idea, alternative perspective, or create a scene in 5 minutes.
I now share with you my talk from this year, every slide and most all of the point I made in those fast paced and fun five minutes. Since I used a lot of gifs and I don’t want you to miss out on their awesomeness I’ll post each slide followed by the gif (for all the gifs that still exist!). It won’t give you the full effect but you’ll see why it’s worth the clunkiness when you see how beautiful they are…
Finally, if you were there (or if you weren’t but this evokes thoughts now!) and want to talk about it let’s do it! Post a comment and let’s share! I wish I could have talked more at length about what a wonderful art form drag is and more deeply about the ties I feel exist between drag and librarianship but 5 minutes isn’t much time and Kevin may or may not have had to sound an air horn to make me stop talking. (Okay, he did. But I only went over by about 2 seconds…)
Good Afternoon, everyone! I’m here to talk to you about some beautiful similarities between two ancient traditions you may not be aware of.
But first, I should explain who I am. I’m Megan! I’m the author of Cooking Up Library Programs Teens and Tweens Will Love: Recipes for Success. On twitter you can find me at @bibli, and I’ve just broken my decade mark working in public libraries. I’ve worked in public libraries in Vermont, Maine, and Tennessee and throughout my illustrious career I’ve held over 40 different jobs. I know this because my mother in law, Carol, made me count them all once when she didn’t believe me. Currently I’m enrolled at Syracuse University’s iSchool where I’m earning my MLIS degree, something I never thought I’d do.
When I was little my dad once told me that swearing was a naturally occurring part of language that had it’s place and to be aware of that when speaking. Drag culture is one of those places where it’s not merely occurring but celebrated. If you’re sensitive to bad language now is the time to cover your ears or leave.
Another warning – If you’re offended by drag you can also leave but I invite you to take the next 4 minutes and 20 seconds to expand your horizons on how our two beautiful traditions have more in common than you may have ever realized.
Finally, if you’re into drag and you see a reference or queen you love in this presentation cheer her on! We’re all in this together so let’s have some fun!!!
To kick things off…
GLITTER. We may act like we don’t like it from time to time but face it. Glitter is awesome and we all know it.
We like to trace our information roots back to cuneiform tablets and our modern roots to the Library of Alexandria…
…but drag is probably a lot older than you think!
Shakespeare had men playing both the parts of men and women so guess what – the classics have their roots in drag. On the right is of a man in drag in the 1800’s posing for a photo and in the center who could forget the fabulous glamour of 80’s metal. Those boys owned more lipstick and fishnet than I ever have.
We’ve all done it. It’s okay. We see that one patron come through the door who we can’t stand. Maybe they take up a huge amount of our time, maybe they aren’t as nice as they should be to the other patrons. But before we know it our librarian instincts kick in and we’re only focused on helping them because of all their good points and information needs. Truth is well curated judgement is part of our jobs. It’s how we get to the root of how to help people best.
In drag they’ve taken care of these feelings of shame or guilt over thinking such things but not saying them out loud by guess what – saying them out loud. They call it opening the library. When the library is open you have permission to say a snarky word or two about the person who’s bugging you in an open forum where feelings are put aside and you just listen and take your lumps. It’s like a roast but funnier and with better clothes.
Talking about that other person is referred to as Reading them. I bet you didn’t know we have such similar terminology!
We give face! Giving face is when no matter how a person makes you feel (see above) we don’t let them see it. Instead we give them what they need to see –
Our most helpful, most beautiful side.
But that’s not to say that we don’t have our limits. We do. There are times we simply will not put up with your insanity.
Sometimes we have to stop some nonsense.
And bring order to the chaos that surrounds us.
The diaspora is real y’all. Where my millennials at? You know what I’m talking about. I’m on my third public library in ten years. If you want to make it in this field the new normal is to pack your bags and be ready to move because the jobs will not come to you.
But that doesn’t mean ours isn’t a small world. Thanks in part to the diaspora you never really know exactly who you’re talking to (or who they may become) so watch your mouth. In fact, THIS is Manila Luzon, one of my favorite drag queens. While preparing for this presentation I learned that fellow librarian Jerome Rivera has ties to her.
In the video for her song Hot Couture Jerome’s sister-in-law played supportive mom to young Manila. This means I’m 2 degrees of separation away from her and that she liked a tweet about all this last Monday.
See? I die…
We bot share strict yet strange dress codes that vary based on our sects. Whereas drag queens bicker over breastplate usage, shoes, padding, and plastic surgery we quibble over our own rules. My wardrobe is utterly schizophrenic. I’ve got different outfits for maker days, working with teens, presenting to my higher ups, and for public speaking. Let’s not even get into my outreach wardrobe.
Sigh… Maker spaces, updated furniture, continuing education funds, dream programs… Our list of wants is never ending…
But we’re all struggling with budgets that don’t match those dreams.
But even though other departments within our city’s may not understand us or why we can’t simply do what we do with a cheap trip to Party City,
we don’t let it get us down or take it as an insult,
and we always make it work.
Because we give everything to our jobs.
We’re creative geniuses.
We live to lift other people up.
We find inspiration everywhere and see limitless possibilities.
There’s a lot more to our art forms than is represented on television. We know that but it’s our responsibility to set the script straight. If they don’t get to all the amazing work you’re doing is it their fault they don’t understand our depth? Get people into your space so they can be wowed by the fabulous work you do. Have them leave impressed with you and then keep impressing them.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t need support. From others yes, but also from one another. So get off your ass, go to your local library (and drag shows) and be a part of the conversation. Furthermore, don’t just support your own library, support one another.
Finally, in conclusion…
Here are some references…
I leave you now with Manila Luzon’s Hot Couture video so you can fall in love with her.