…the best part is that this archive is not to remember how great punk was; it is to remember how great punk is.

dcpunk-logoFROM BASEMENT SHOWS TO COMMUNITY ARCHIVISTS:   ENGAGING THE PUBLIC IN THE DC PUNK ARCHIVE

by Michele Casto and Bobbie Dougherty

Community engagement through programs, concerts, outreach and volunteer involvement has been a high priority for the DC Punk Archive project. One reason for this focus stems from our mandate as a Special Collection within a public library – we don’t build collections to store them away in dusty vaults for only the eyes of “serious researchers.” Instead, the DC Punk Archive is a living collection that belongs to the DC community, and we strive to find ways to bring it to life for the many music enthusiasts in the area.

(L) Flier from the first DC Punk Archive Library Basement Show at MLK Jr. Memorial Library October 2, 2014.  (R) Photo of the messy DIY merch table at the first Library Basement Show, taken by @disposableunderground at MLK Jr. Memorial Library

(L) Flier from the first DC Punk Archive Library Basement Show at MLK Jr. Memorial Library October 2, 2014.
(R) Photo of the messy DIY merch table at the first Library Basement Show, taken by @disposableunderground at MLK Jr. Memorial Library

We officially launched the project in October 2014 with a “sold-out” MLK Jr. Memorial Library Basement show, featuring local bands Joy Buttons, Flamers, and Hemlines.  The show was followed by a series of programs at the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Library: a screening of Jem Cohen’s Fugazi documentary, Instrument, a preview and Q+A with local filmmaker Robin Bell on his documentary More than a Witness highlighting DC punk activist group Positive Force, and a musical Punk Farm storytime for parenting punks and their kids.

We felt early on in the planning process that having a punk show in the MLK Library basement was an obvious, natural, and fun way to connect our archival project with the very active and supportive DC music community. All ages punk shows in DC (and beyond) historically take place in alternative venues– from churches and community centers to many, many basements. The MLK Library, built in 1972 and designed by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, is slated for renovation  in the next few years. The auditorium in the library’s basement is a dim and forbidding space– a proper dive, and perfect for a punk show!

The auditorium in the library’s basement is a dim and forbidding space– a proper dive, and perfect for a punk show!

After the great success of the first Library Basement show, we got the green light to create a bi-monthly show series. Instead of trying to curate them on our own, we used a google form, asking musicians to share why they wanted to play a in the Library Basement; we received over 90 responses.  Before each show, we publish interviews with the bands on the library website exploring their literary inspirations.  During each show we highlight related library materials and set-up a DIY merch table, letting attendees stencil their own t-shirts and make buttons.  Our next show is June 11th with Give, Puff Pieces, and The Maneuvers and we hope to plan many more in the future.

(L) Photo of Priests taken by Alex Schelldorf December 4, 2014 Library Basement Show, MLK Jr. Memorial Library  [LINK: http://alexschelldorf.com/archives/photos-nox-blockhead-priests-mlk-library/]  (R) Photo of Coup Sauvage and the Snips taken by Jason Bender, April 6, 2015 Library Basement Show, MLK Jr. Memorial Library

(L) Photo of Priests taken by Alex Schelldorf December 4, 2014 Library Basement Show, MLK Jr. Memorial Library (click image to see these photos online) (R) Photo of Coup Sauvage and the Snips taken by Jason Bender, April 6, 2015 Library Basement Show, MLK Jr. Memorial Library

 The public enthusiasm for the project has resulted in benefit events and invitations to give presentations on the project. Bar-owners Derek and Tom Brown hosted a “Punk Rock Swap Meet” where you could either donate materials to the archive or $5 to get in. The entertainment included DJ sets by Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Bad Religion), John Davis (Q And Not U, Title Tracks), and Brendan Canty (Rites of Spring, Fugazi), as well as video projections from the forthcoming documentary Punk the Capital. The swap meet brought in nearly 100 items including fliers, zines, and records, and raised funds for the project. DC Music Download, a local music blog, chose the project as their 9:30 Club show beneficiary. Other examples of community outreach include a radio appearance, DCZinefest table and SAA and DC Humanities Council local music preservation panels.

Flier, DC Music Download benefit at 9:30 Club

Flier, DC Music Download benefit at 9:30 Club

Photo of DC Music Download Anniversary concert-goers and DC Punk Archive supporters flashing their library tattoos

Photo of DC Music Download Anniversary concert-goers and DC Punk Archive supporters flashing their library tattoos

When we launched the project last summer, we put out a call for volunteers, and received a flood of applications, from DC music fans, librarians and archivists.

In addition to programming, another method of community involvement has been volunteer engagement. When we launched the project last summer, we put out a call for volunteers, and received a flood of applications, from DC music fans, librarians and archivists. We love involving this enthusiastic group in the project. Some volunteers have attended edit-a-thon events where they inventoried our record collection or added metadata to digitized fliers. A smaller group has piloted our Community Archivist initiative, receiving basic training in archival practices and helping us organize and catalog collections. Other individual volunteers are inventorying zine collections in preparation for digitization, conducting oral histories or scanning photographs. We even asked the public for help developing our wish list for our growing record collection! (Check out the digital collection here.)

Photo of volunteers cataloging digitized fliers currently housed in DigDC, DCPL’s digital collections repository  [LINK: http://digdc.dclibrary.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/myfirst]

Photo of volunteers cataloging digitized fliers currently housed in DigDC, DCPL’s digital collections repository

Flier publicizing the creation of the archive, 2014.

Flier publicizing the creation of the archive, 2014.

Letter from Deal Middle School Vinyl Club, Current Newspaper

Letter from Deal Middle School Vinyl Club, Current Newspaper

The programming and outreach truly benefits our collections: at events we meet community members with collections they want to donate. Volunteers help us organize, catalog and digitize collections in preparation for our future website; and programming acts as a point of entry for people who might otherwise be unaware of our project. Featuring new local bands in our concert series emphasizes the point that this archive spans music past and present. We think this quote from the Deal Middle School Vinyl Club sums it up well: “the best part is that this archive is not to remember how great punk was; it is to remember how great punk is.”

 

castoheadshotMichele Casto is a Special Collections Librarian in Washingtoniana, DC Public Library’s local history room. Her local history projects include managing photo reference, teaching house history workshops and co-founding the popular Know Your Neighborhood program series, but her ultimate dream project has been to combine a love of music and local history as co-founder of the DC Punk Archive. Follow her on Twitter @DCPunkArchive

 

 

doughertyheadshotBobbie Dougherty is a Teen and Adult Services Librarian at the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Library in Washington, DC. Her professional passion is non-traditional library programming – including initiatives like the Creative Class, Tour de DCPL library bike ride, and Girls Rock!DC library instrument shares. Working on the DC Punk Archive project is more than slightly self-serving, as it finally got her high school flier collection out from under the bed. Follow her on Twitter@abrakebarbara

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