You didn’t really think I was leaving, did you?
I’ve already written about one of the best things about being a librarian – the fact that librarians don’t have to do much of the hard work of the library. That’s what we have parasupport workers for. This frees us real librarians up for the challenging intellectual work of librarianship. For example, there’s all those great articles published in library journals. If librarians had to do the hard grunt work of libraries, they wouldn’t be able to write up all those magnificent case studies and how-we-dunit-good articles they do now. Those things take some serious thinking! They also wouldn’t have time to write manifestos, and some librarians seem to love manifestos.
You might remember a couple of years ago when the other AL published the Librarian’s 2.0 Manifesto. If that was the sort of clever, thoughtful, affirmative gobbledygook you like, then you’ll love the new Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians. When I read these, after a kind reader sent them on, I almost got goosebumps. Statements like these are like milk and honey to the Annoyed Librarian. Also, this is the sort of intelligent, creative work that couldn’t go on if librarians had to do library work, because apparently three librarians spent a whole day together crafting these. No doubt that’s because they think they have something important to say, and that we should all bow before their collective greatness. I can’t wait for the inspirational poster!
So we can all be inspired by them, I wanted to quote and comment upon a few of the "Darien Statements." I guess we should begin with the first statement, on the purpose of the library. "The purpose of the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization." Wow! Now that’s a good purpose! All librarians probably think that, though, so it’s nothing too special. Some librarians want to preserve the integrity of civilization by playing videogames. Others want to make sure there’s a steady diet of trashy fiction. As one library blog puts it, "it’s all good," which is nice, because it relieves us of the necessity of making thoughtful distinctions among things which are good and things which suck.
But back to the "Statements." You can tell they’re important because of the way they capitalize library. It’s always "the Library." Librarians are "human and ephemeral" (except for the Annoyed Librarian, who is neither), but the "Library" is different. Have you noticed that in all manifestos actual human beings always recede in importance before abstract ideas? You librarians are "ephemeral," but these statements are eternal.
This little manifesto also seems to suffer from the same blindness as the ALA in assuming the "Library" is the public "Library." Do you ever notice that? For example, "We have faith that the citizens of our communities will continue to fulfill their civic responsibility by preserving the Library." Is it the "civic responsibility" of your university or law firm to preserve your library? Obviously not. One can have "civic" responsibilities only in a city, by definition. And if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, then you really shouldn’t be writing manifestos or anything else.
The LIBRARY (why don’t we just capitalize the whole darn word because it’s so important!) has roles. One of my favorites is: "Inspires and perpetuates hope." How exactly the LIBRARY is supposed to do this, I have no idea, but it sure does sound good.
My favorite part of any manifesto is when the creators of said manifesto start telling me what I have to do to be a "good" librarian, i.e., the sort of librarian they value. For example, if I’m a librarian, I "must" "Promote openness, kindness, and transparency among libraries and users." What does this mean, though? How am I supposed to promote kindness among libraries, for example? Does that even make sense? Or among users? Should I wander the library stacks and upbraid any users who aren’t being kind to each other? Maybe to promote kindness among users, I could put some smiley face stickers everywhere. After all, no one can be unkind if they have a smiley face sticker attached to their forehead.
What about this one: "Be willing and have the expertise to make frequent radical changes." Let’s examine this sentence. "Radical" means going to the root, the most basic and foundational thing. "Frequent" means, well…frequent. Can anyone really make frequent, radical changes? Not that I want to challenge these delightful statements. I just wonder if the person writing that can have given any thought whatsoever to the actual meaning of the sentence. This would mean having a willingness to change absolutely everything we do possibly every day. In real life, this would basically mean chaos. Every day we could all show up at the LIBRARY and change all of our procedures. Wouldn’t that be fun! You might think I’m willfully misreading this statement, but consider it in the context of another statement: "librarians must commit to a culture of continuous operational change." What else can this mean but that we show up every day and start doing things differently? Try to imagine what this would actually be like in practice and you can laugh at the Darien Stalemates with me.
I realize this is the sort of profound intellectual work we librarians should be doing once we’re freed of the daily grind of library work, but sometimes I’m just slightly skeptical of manifestos. How-we-dunit-good articles might be boring and pointless, but they’re at least usually unpretentious. If we’re going to go beyond the mundane, we should aim to ground our statements in some kind of coherent philosophy of librarianship. Librarians cannot possibly engage in "frequent radical changes" or "continuous operational change." Those phrases are just meaningless gibberish, which only serve to make ridiculous whatever value there might be in the grand and possibly even inspiring statement that the purpose of the LIBRARY is to "preserve the integrity of civilization." Nobody ever preserved the integrity of civilization by making "frequent radical changes." Ever.
We’re also told that we have to "accept risk and uncertainty as key properties of the profession." Huh. How effective will we librarians be if two of our key properties are risk and uncertainty? This sounds as ridiculous as "frequent radical change." How about we show up and face the risk and uncertainty that we’ll be fired? Oh, and next day we’ll be rehired. Then fired again. Then rehired. Then required to mop out the restrooms. Then required to sit quietly underneath the reference desk and eat Oreos. That all seems risky and uncertain in a frequently radical way. "Oh no," you say (and you are such a devil’s advocate today!), "it can’t mean that!" Well, I hate to break it to you, but it can. Because if one really has to make "continuous operational change" in a situation of risk and uncertainty, then there are no limits. Try everything!
After all, we’re supposed to "Hire the best people and let them do their job; remove staff who cannot or will not." Remove staff who cannot or will not do their job! I could live with that if the "job" weren’t to make frequent radical operational changes. That’s not a job; that’s just hell. I’m sure the pontificaters of the "Darien Statements" would agree if they actually lived through frequent radical operational changes instead of holing up in their offices creating manifestos.
And I haven’t even addressed the underlying incoherence of this manifesto. So, the purpose of the LIBRARY is to preserve the integrity of civilization. Yet, we’re also told to "uphold service to the user as our most valuable directive." Are these two things necessarily compatible at all? Does "service to the user" necessarily preserve the integrity of civilization? What services to what users? What exactly does the "integrity of civilization" even mean? Look at all the undefined buzzwords populating this document. Civilization. Radical. Change. Etc. It’s just a series of disconnected statements that are supposed to inspire action in thoughtless people who aren’t allowed to step back and question the overall incoherence or the meaningless specifics of the document. We’ve got manifesto by committee, devoid of argument, and if we don’t like it, then we’re the problem. Because if you point out that the emperor has no brain, you’re just not on the feel-good library team, baby, and come the library revolution you’ll be the first against the wall.
To be a good librarian, I’m also supposed to "Choose wisely what to stop doing." Perhaps the wisest choice would be to stop reading manifestos.