Monday, October 28, 2013

Introducing Christian Zabriskie and ULU

This is a final guest post from my friend Christian Zabriskie, founder of Urban Librarians Unite. I first met Christian while I was in library school when he was invited to speak on a panel in my youth programming class. The panel was inspiring, and after we were coincidentally on the same bus we started a great conversation. I felt an immediate affinity with the work he talked about doing and, clearly, he feels a strong affinity with school librarians and the work we do every day.

ULU hosted the first of a now-annual conference last spring, the annual 24-Hour Read-In at Brooklyn Public Library in June, and is involved with many other library advocacy projects (and some fun stuff too!). I’d been uncertain about getting involved with ULU because I find that “urban” is often used as a euphemism for communities very different from the independent school I work in. But Christian has always encouraged a diversity of experiences and ideas, and has helped me draw connections between the work I do and the work done by other librarians around the city. I have found it to be a really interesting, exciting, and fulfilling organization to be a part of, even tangentially, and if you have any interest I encourage you to check it out!


I am a radical public librarian and I am the intellectual godchild of a radical school librarian. No I don't wear an anarchy tshirt in the library and I don't want to “tear down the system”. I run an organization called Urban Librarians Unite, we do library advocacy, mostly in New York City but we have a chapter in the Bay Area in California as well. I wear a tie to work and as my day job I help to run a large branch library in Queens. I am radical in how I fight for libraries and I am radical in how I tell people about libraries but the library ideal that I am fighting for is a pretty classic one. I think everyone has a right to a good, safe, and fulfilling library. I think this is one of the basic rights of mankind and I feel it in the weave of my soul. Where did I learn this? My middle school librarian taught me.

My radical school librarian was not a visible radical either. She was a hardworking school media specialist way back in 1982. She didn't wear flower dresses or smell of patchouli. She just made the radical choice to set up an independent study literature class for gifted students which she ran out of the school library with herself as teacher/mentor/guide. My best friend Jon and I were her first students. When we started we were both the favorite targets of bullying in our year. Bullying is so freighted now and the kids of today have it a lot worse with the constant abuse they get via social media but it was no fun to be constantly hectored and harassed at school.
Mrs. Monica Blondin created a safe space for us. She taught us to have intellectual play, to toy with ideas, and to make creativity a part of our problem solving. She made it so that the library was more than just “library” it was also our classroom, our clubhouse, and our sanctuary. I had an ownership over that library that was so deep it still informs my connection to libraries today.

I am the man I am today because of my school librarian. Her courage to try something different informed my life and has gone on to impact the lives of those around me. School librarians, you are like the breeze that makes the ripple that becomes a tidal wave. Thank you for your courage every day.

Christian Zabriskie
Urban Librarians Unite

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