“Punk in D.C. is centered around the local community,” he said. “I feel like the library is like that. It’s a place for people to go who don’t have access.”
The shirt was inspired by a flier that D.C. librarian Chelsea Kirkland created with a version of the slogan while tabling for the library at the D.C. Punk Rock Flea Market, an annual all-things-punk sale held at a nearby church.
Kirkland, 36, grew up in the San Francisco area and said the punk community was her “whole world.” When she started going to the public library as an adult, she felt her musical and bibliographic communities had a lot in common: There was access to unlimited information, but there was no need to buy anything. This sense of possibility eventually inspired her to get her library degree, she said.
“It’s an open-ended space,” she said of the library. “No one is going to tell you what to do when you’re in there.”
The response to the shirt — along with the amount of money it has brought in — was not just unexpected but unprecedented, officials said.
Library friends groups in D.C. are formed to aid local branches, according to Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the D.C. Public Library. While independent of the agency and its approximately $73 million budget, supporters work with branches to assist them in paying for extras such as snacks for after-school programs or programming such as Tenleytown’s “Makers-in-Residence” program, which featured a robotics workshop.
Reyes-Gavilan, who said library officials were unaware of the T-shirt initiative when it began, said it offered great marketing, particularly since the D.C. Public Library maintains a punk archive.
“It’s more money than anything I remember a friends group raising from a particular initiative,” he said. “It’s really sort of a delightful opportunity to not only raise money for the library but to expose the good work we’re doing.”
Judging by sales and social media, the shirt appears to have spread the word of the D.C. library system’s punk greatness across the country and around the world.
Lesley Garrett, who works as a bookmobile coordinator in Paducah, Ky., and is starting library school this fall, said she bought the shirt as “a library nerd thing” after learning about it online. Now, it’s part of her work outfit as she takes books to those who need them on her route at, among other stops, an assisted-living center and a domestic-violence shelter.
Librarians have a proper role furthering social justice, Garrett said — fighting white supremacy, for example, by creating reading lists during last year’s protests after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Libraries can provide mutual aid to those without access to resources, just as punk rock has lifted the voices of queer artists and artists of color.
“I think the public could stand to be more familiar with public education in punk,” she said. “Punk has been an artistic outlet for people to come together — to be in solidarity with one another and make something beautiful.”
Marta Cava, a school librarian in a small town outside Barcelona — Spain is one of 21 countries the shirt has reached — said in an email that she has been a library lover since she was a child. When she saw the shirt, she placed an order after declaring “love at first sight.”
Taxpayer-funded access to books, music and movies — or just a place to sit and work — was just too awesome not to celebrate.
“Libraries are for everyone. … It doesn’t matter who you are,” she wrote. “What’s more punk than a place that gives you all those things?”
Izurieta said Mount Pleasant Library Friends has spent part of the windfall on ukuleles. (A D.C. Public Library representative said the ukuleles were for music classes.) And it has plans for educational programming, including a screening of the documentary “La Manplesa,” a history of protests in Mount Pleasant after a police shooting in 1991.
The shirt has shown that putting two things people like together makes a third thing people also like, according to Izurieta.
“People love punk,” he said. “People love the public library. The combination of those things make it successful.”