How Steampunk can Save Librarianship: Libraries Redefined (Part 2)

Steampunk Guitar

As I am continuing to explore the experiences that are changing how I view librarianship, I came across the steampunk movement. What is a steampunk you ask? Well, steampunk is a genre of speculative futurist fiction where the world is powered by steam and the design of the future is modeled after the Victorian craftsmanship of the 1800’s. Yet, in this steam powered world, all of the conveniences of a modern world exist. Things like digital watches, computers, airplanes and spaceships. Each of these things, while being futurist in nature, in melded with the design and power of the past. Each of these things still benefits society in the same way that they are designed to and as we envision them. It’s just that they’re powered by a different energy source and look Victorian in nature.

steampunk laptop

So, it seems to me that in the same way that steam punk is creating the future with the power and design of the past, libraries are trying to provide the future of information with the power and design of our informational past. We’re providing modern technology such as computers and Internet access within the framework of an organization that is designed for the information access of the past. We are trying to power and design libraries with books and physical collections (steam) while providing the same benefits to society with the future digital forms of information such as mobile technology.

Because this parallel only occurred to me yesterday, I haven’t had much time to think about it. I put the thought out to twitter and received a positive response. In fact, Rudibrarian provided me with this definition of a steampunk movement within libraries – “Hi-tech futuristic gears keeping the old style functions of learning and research moving forward!” While I think this was a fairly accurate definition, I did take some liberties and changed it as follows to more closely fit what I am getting at-

Steampunk librarianship- Old style gears keeping the futuristic high tech functions of learning and research moving forward!

I hope she isn’t too mad at me for changing her words, but I couldn’t have come up with my definition without her. So thank you!

Steampunk Catalog

So why am I inclined to say that this concept can save librarianship? Because, perhaps, we can start to think about libraries in terms of steampunk ideologies to help us understand how we can live in a world where the technologies and designs of past can power the organizations ability to provide the services of the future. We no longer need to argue about whether or not books power libraries, or if its computers and technology that power libraries, and we can agree that there can be a successful melding of the two and that this melding can create something entirely new and exciting while still providing the same kinds of benefits to society.

I would like to point out that I think a lot of our libraries are already working to achieve a successful melding of old vs new and I would love to see more libraries finding ways to more successfully meld the two. As I wrote this blog post I realized that I had actually visited, took pictures of, and wrote a blog post about a very successful steampunk library. This happened while I was at CLA in Pasadena last year and the title of the blog (while not being familiar with steampunk) was “Tour of a Library Cyborg.”

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About pcsweeney

Currently, I'm the Branch Manager of the East Palo Alto Library in California. If you find yourself to be extremely bored (and would like to be more bored) you can find all of my internet mind droppings about libraries by googling pcsweeney.
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8 Responses to How Steampunk can Save Librarianship: Libraries Redefined (Part 2)

  1. Matt Delman says:

    I imagine Libraries as a central institution in any good Steampunk story — any story really, but that’s because I’m a research nut and love getting lost in a great, big library full of the knowledge of the past.

    And well said, sir!

  2. tamahoc says:

    i love the steampunk ‘library catalogue’! i think that the aesthetics (and ethos) would appeal to many patrons, perhaps especially in the academic world? if you need a second job you could start a steampunk library design consulting business ;)

  3. kind of reminds me of the futurama episode where bender the robot gets a “downgrade” with a body made of wood.

  4. hcl says:

    There is a similar movement happening in instructional technology called edupunk: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edupunk. Like steampunk, it takes a DIY approach to use technology to enhance teaching and learning. Alas, the term has already fallen out of use.

  5. Pingback: Steampunk News » monorails and gramophones and adventurers

  6. Pingback: Steampunk News » monorails and gramophones and adventurers

  7. Pingback: 28(ish) Days Later… « The Librarian Kate

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