I want to begin with an apology, which, by the way, is more than you will ever get from the sort of librarians I discuss in this post. I try to answer most of my email, but sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming. In general, this is a good thing, because kind readers often send in blog suggestions or questions, and I appreciate that very much. However, it also means that some emails get lost in the shuffle or it takes longer than it should to reply. So, if you write and I don’t respond, it’s not you. It’s me. You’ve probably heard that one before. Please keep those ideas coming, though.
Having said that, a kind reader forwarded me some comments from a library listserv discussion about how librarians can best dip their snouts into the public feed trough currently being constructed in DC, or something like that. This was my favorite comment:
"Outraged? How about a trillion dollars and thousands of lives squandered on a war that was entirely unnecessary and trillions more on tax breaks to the richest one percent of the country? Taxpayers finished eight years with a gigantic deficit and absolutely nothing to show for it. While the Obama stimulus will further expand the deficit, it will also provide some equity value to the taxpayers in exchange for the huge expenditure. Getting tax cut money into the hands of low-moderate income taxpayers and to be used on projects that will actually serve the interest of the public is not a bad dealcompa red[sic] to what we have been sold by the previous administration."
To which one can only respond: wow, what does this have to do with libraries? The only people who think it does are the same ones who tried to argue that the Alito confirmation was somehow of interest to American libraries and the ALA. In other words, fools and ideologues. It’s a perfect example, though, of how some folks like to browbeat us all with their politics. For political ideologues, there is no boundary between politics and professional discourse. The ideologues are happy to shout their political opinions at everyone regardless of the situation. For them, the personal is the political. The professional is the political. Everything is the political and every situation is therefore appropriate to prattle on about their politics. No doubt they agree with Mussolini: "All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state."
It doesn’t happen just on listservs; this sort of behavior happens in the workplace as well. I’ve heard from many readers over the years about colleagues who spout their irrelevant political opinions in professional meetings and other inappropriate places.
There are many possible responses to this sort of behavior. First, we could just ignore it. That’s what polite people do, and we’re definitely more polite than they are or we would harangue everyone with our boring political opinions the way they do. After all, perhaps they just can’t help themselves. It might be an affliction, like Asperger’s Syndrome. The ideologues might be incapable of attuning themselves to their social environment, and so they just don’t know when to shut up. Instead of getting annoyed with their behavior, perhaps we should pity them instead.
Were we to respond, the responses could range from the hostile to the polite. Sometimes we might just want to shout "shut the hell up already!" That would be hostile. Less hostile than kicking them in the shins under the conference table and pretending the director did it, but still hostile. On the one hand, we wouldn’t get the amusement of having them shriek and leap in their seat after the kick, but on the other hand we couldn’t be arrested for assault just for telling them to shut up.
How might one respond politely? One could take the direct approach and just ask them politely to keep their politics to themselves. The same could go for their religion or basically anything personal about them we wouldn’t want to know, which is pretty much everything. The less direct approach would be to start delivering a monologue on some other equally annoying and irrelevant topic. Summarizing in detail a television show seen the night before might be a good one. At first, people would think there was a point to the summary, but after ten minutes or so someone would probably ask how it’s relevant to the discussion. "Oh, it’s no more relevant than Librarian X’s political opinions. I took my cue from her and thought it was time to babble on about irrelevant topics. So sorry. Won’t happen again." I guess this approach is still a bit hostile, but no shouting is involved.
There’s always the option of vomiting on the person if they won’t shut up, doing to them literally what they’re doing to you metaphorically. This only works if the person is next to or across from you, though. It might also require keeping some ipecac in your bag at all times, unless of course the harangue literally nauseates you, in which case go ahead.
One could just start arguing politics. That would probably make the meeting even duller than it was when the discussion centered on library issues, because there’s little more boring than watching people argue about politics. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible or practical. Never mind the possibility that the ideologue might hit you in a fit of pique. One must, after all, be careful with ideologues. They don’t tolerate dissent well. Consider only the possibility that one might even agree with the political opinion of the ideologue. I agree with a lot of people about a lot of things, but I don’t necessarily want those people to start babbling about them in library meetings.
The same sorts of approaches could work for listservs, too, except the shin-kicking, but we’d pretty much ruled that out anyway. The virtual discussion would be even more heated, because everyone’s pen is mighty when sitting alone behind a keyboard. (Forgive the mixed metaphor, but I think you know what I mean.) And as we’ve seen from the comments section on various AL political posts, political blowhards get that name for a reason. They do like to go on. One could unsubscribe from lists and miss what little good stuff there might be, but if there was too much of it unsubscribing might be easier than scanning the library-related wheat for the political chaff and hitting the delete key. Having to read even a few sentences of this stuff to determine its utter irrelevance to libraries is a waste of time, and library listservs mostly aren’t worth it. I unsubscribed to all mine years ago and haven’t missed them at all.
Though you might make suggestions, I recommend the polite approach. Treat the loudmouthed ideologues as if they have a dysfunctional disease and pity them. Perhaps feign interest in their dull opinions and nod concernedly. When the offensive colleague is there in person, gently pat her on the shoulder as you leave the room and say, "There, there. I know you can’t help it." They don’t understand appropriate professional behavior, which might be why they became librarians. They probably became librarians because they "like to read," and didn’t realize it was actually a profession and people have to get along. Still, it’s not their fault they’re so professionally rude and inappropriate. They can’t help themselves and they certainly won’t help anyone else.