Dirty Library Trilogy, part 3: What Can Libraries Learn from Roller Derby?

In the last of three features pushing the boundaries of what librarians can learn from pop culture, Melburnian writer and roller derby official Jordi Kerr tells us what libraries can learn from the glamorous, full-throttle sport of roller derby.

Roller derby skates

If you’ve ever seen Whip It, you probably already know the basics of roller derby. Two teams skate around a track, trying to score the most points. The game is broken into intervals known as “jams”, and players take on the role of either Jammer, Blocker, or Pivot.

The Jammer is the team’s point-scorer. They have to break through the pack of other skaters, and then lap them in order to score points (1 point for every player of the opposing team that they lap).

There are four Blockers per team allowed on the track each jam. Usually one of these Blockers takes the role of Pivot, serving as a leader among the Blockers.

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So what can libraries learn from this sport? Besides the fact that roller-skates would make shelving and retrievals a much faster process…

1. Leadership

In flat track roller derby, the status of Lead Jammer is awarded to the first Jammer to successfully (and legally) break through the pack of skaters. This lead status gives the Jammer the greatest amount of control over the game – they have the power to call off the jam early, which they use to minimise the other team’s point scoring.

I’m not suggesting that libraries start competing against each other for some kind of perceived leadership status, but rather that it is incredibly important for libraries to be seen as leaders in the community.

As a collective, libraries must strive for Lead Jammer status. In a world of changing technologies and tightening budgets, libraries must assert their skill and relevance rather than be buffeted by the winds of change.

Easy to say, right? But how do you seize the lead? Well, derby has the answers…

2. Innovation & Adaptability

One of the things that makes roller derby such an exciting game is that most of the skaters on the track are playing both offensive and defensive roles simultaneously. Responding quickly and tactfully to the changing circumstances and conditions is imperative. You want to be leader but what if there’s a wall of Blockers in your way? Maybe you have a strong team who can break through. Maybe your skill lies in speed and stealth, and you can circumnavigate the wall.

The importance of adaptability is further emphasised by a derby manoeuvre known as “passing the star”. This involves a Jammer recognising if their Pivot is in a more favourable situation, and handing over their helmet cover for them to take over the role of Jammer.

This kind of role flexibility can be used within libraries to offer a comprehensive information service to the public, and also to minimise the loss of service and knowledge through changing staff. If librarians are skilled and confident to adapt to new roles, libraries can be a research service, an inspired reading recommendation, a troubleshooting solution, and an all-round champion of the written word.

Knowledge sharing is a huge part of the roller derby community. In Australia, the Victorian Roller Derby League became the first accredited women’s flat track league in Australia, opening opportunities for players to compete on a global level. And yet every time an American team has visited to rain hell down on our fledgling arses, they have also taken part in a training day – skilling up VRDL players on strategies, tactics, and counter-tactics. Similarly, for years VRDL has trained and worked with leagues across Australia, hosting training everywhere from Geraldton-Boulder in WA to Wollongong-Illawarra in NSW. It is also not uncommon to see a roller derby player skating for a team other than their own, in order to fill a shortfall of players.

This sort of sharing of staff and expertise cannot be understated in giving librarians the skills and support necessary to facilitate innovation and adaptability.

3. Everything is improved by fishnets

Did you know that people like to have fun? And that when doing something feels good, people are more likely to repeat the action? Yup. Shocking, I know. One of the attractions of roller derby (to both players and spectators), is that it embraces a culture of fun. Alter egos, fishnets, face paint… None of which are expensive, nor elaborate.

I believe that when you’re having fun, your customers are too. Start thinking outside the box (or steal some of Matt’s great ideas, like zombie attacks, real-life fruit ninja, or mining-inspired workshops) to make your library a fun, positive space to work and visit.

Or you could just start training librarians to skate.

Jordi Kerr is a freelance writer and a volunteer non-skating official for the VRDL. You can learn more about her freelance work at www.jordikerr.com, or can stalk her on Twitter @WritingJordi.

Thanks to the Goblin King for proof-reading this post.

2013 has arrived – what will be your library’s New Year’s Resolution? Perhaps to be more naughty; to push boundaries in the name of literacy? Check out previous ‘Dirty Library Trilogy’ instalments on libraries and bars, and alternative book stores – or stay tuned for a special guest post from Auckland’s Steve Saville, leader of one of the most successful and innovative comics-in-schools programmes I’ve seen.

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