Annoyed Librarian
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The AL Reflects

One of the bad things about the Christmas and New Year’s holidays is that nothing much happens in libraryland worth commenting upon, and readership dips during the holidays so nobody wants to waste the good stuff for a slack period. That’s why we get so many year-in-review columns and posts. So here it is the new year, and I have nothing to talk about, so I’ll talk about myself, and maybe some of the readers.

The Annoyed Librarian is creeping up on its fifth year, almost half of that at the Library Journal. In that time, the AL has become the blog librarians love to hate, and hate to admit they read. It’s a good time to reflect on the bounteous goodness of being the AL. What has the AL learned being the AL?

The most important lesson I’ve learned from this blog is that a lot of people see whatever they want to see. The AL is like a Rorschach test for librarians. That might include me as well, because I’ve rarely agreed with anyone’s public assessments of what this blog really does.

The most amusing are the AL-haters bitterly frothing at the mouth at all things AL. They typically focus on one theme or post they don’t like, and ignore everything else while claiming “The AL’s always this way” or “The AL’s always that way.” Usually it’s that I’m negative. They just don’t seem to be able to point out how I’m wrong very often. For them, it’s all about attitude, not arguments.

They’re usually the ones who think they’re quite clever calling me the “Annoying Librarian” or some such. Yep, I’ve never heard that one before!

They’re related to another subset of AL readers, the ones who read their own agenda into every post. Case in point. In my last post, I poked fun at yet another bad library video that was supposedly cute or something. Here was one comment in full:

Thanks, Annoyed, for this inspiring message. As librarians, we should really ditch any attempts at creativity or risk taking, and go back to a world of shushing patrons. Meanwhile, those with real ideas (Google, start ups, etc.) can continue to render us obsolete.

One has to wonder what blog post this person was reading. If you want “inspiration,” go read the Webtamer. Is making a bad library video really an attempt at creativity or risk-taking that will benefit libraries or library patrons in any way? And is the alternative to making bad library videos shushing patrons? And how is making library videos a “real idea” that will keep Google and the like from rendering librarians obsolete?

The comment would be a complete mystery to me if I hadn’t seen that mindset so many times. “The AL hates all libraries and all change, so anything she criticizes must be clever and creative.” Or something along those lines.

An incensed library blogger claimed that my message was “Creativity Kills Libraries.” A brilliant explication de texte! Except my message was that frivolity won’t save libraries. All creativity ain’t equal, baby, and there was nothing “creative” about that video that was going to help libraries in the least. Why not be “creative” with something that will actually help library patrons?

And then there are the ironists. They’re the readers who criticize me for criticizing things, not because they approve of the things I criticize, but because they disapprove of criticism, except of the Annoyed Librarian.

A great example was the hullabaloo over that “Library 101″ video a year or two ago. That video was embarrassing, and I was hardly the only librarian to think so. But how dare anyone come out and say it! No one who attacked me for criticizing that video defended the video, though. It was just bad form to call a spade a spade. That’s a pattern I’ve seen repeated over the years.

I suspect it’s because librarianship never developed a culture of critical thinking. Librarians are supposed to play nicely with each other and keep quiet unless they have something positive and encouraging to say. That is, librarians are supposed to act like children, and we’re supposed to praise everything they do, because they put in a lot of effort!

So instead of mocking childish productions, we’re supposed to tape them to the refrigerator so everyone can admire how “talented” little Janie and Johnny Librarian are. Awwwww.

Then there are the readers I enjoy the most, the ones I laugh with instead of at, some of whom comment, some of whom email, most of whom just read. Their comments sometimes begin, “I normally [don’t] agree with you, but….” That tells me right there I’m encountering a reader who really reads instead of just projecting paranoid fantasies, a critical mind who looks at the world with a questioning eye. They are hardly as rare in librarianship as one might think. It’s just that normally they sit quietly rolling their eyes at the nonsense that passes for thinking in much of the profession.

They’re usually the ones who, when they oppose the AL, spot bad arguments or blindnesses, and develop their own arguments supporting their own positions, instead of just parroting the party line.

It seems library blogging is becoming the medium for longer form writers, those whose thoughts routinely surpass 140 characters. For those librarians who want to join that small but hardy tribe, are there any lessons to learn? Besides understanding that people see what they want to see, is there another lesson?

Maybe one that’s related. Iif you’re a writer you can’t please everyone, so don’t even try. Write to please yourself. That way, even if nobody reads, you can get some pleasure years later as you stumble across an old blog post of your own, read it with fresh eyes, and think to yourself that it’s not half bad. There are worse things in life.

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Comments

  1. will manley says:

    Bingo, AL. You’ve hit a grand slam right out of the 2011 gate. Great way to start the year. You are an inkblot test, and its wonderfully ironic to see the commentators of wisdom and freedom launch vicious personal attacks against a what …a pen name. It’s the best specatator sport in the profession right now. Please don’t go away, AL. You do show the true colors of the people who believe in talking about issues and then resort to name calling at a fake name! I love the irony! Love it!

  2. Have a good 2011 and may you keep on blogging and writing. This was definitely a good post, and one I can quite relate to. I am certainly not one to tape “cutesy” things to the refrigerator just because one of those librarians put a lot of effort into it. We need to be calling a spade and spade, and if those folks don’t like it, too bad.

  3. Phaedrus says:

    The one criticism I often hear of the AL is that she just complains and doesn’t give solutions. I disagree. AL often gives solutions, although they are seldom ones that the librarians criticizing her want to hear.

  4. Keep Blogging says:

    I think the AL brings a much needed critical eye to our profession. I am tired of the whole Pollyanna attitude–the realities we face are blanketed over with honey by those who don’t want to be made uncomfortable by them. It’s time for us to wake up and be willing to face the needs of our users (instead of trying to be hip and gamesterish and making ourselves look bad).

  5. ahniwa says:

    I read AL on and off in previous years, but 2010 was really the year that I started to read and enjoy almost all of your posts. Perhaps your writing has improved, or perhaps I’ve matured in some way. Whatever the cause, thanks for continuing to write and put yourself out there, despite your detractors.

    As you mentioned, there are plenty of librarians out there that appreciate your point of view, even if we don’t come right out and say so.

    Happy New Year, and I’m looking forward to continuing to read your thoughts in 2011.

  6. Randal Powell says:

    Keep fighting the good fight in 2011 AL!

  7. AndersonicTK421 says:

    Here’s another vote of confidence from previously Read Only librarian – thanks AL.

  8. I am mostly a Read Only, sometimes commenting. You are a valuable and necessary voice in the profession – I’m one of the ones eye-rolling most of the time, wondering how in the world I ended up here. I spend a lot of time annoyed and you are articulately express better then I my frustrations with the Sunshine and Daisies contingent since it does nothing to enhance library services to our public nor address the many challenges of keeping the doors open. But you are not simply a foil to the rosy-eyed, you take a larger view.

    You hit public libraries pretty hard but frankly some of our “solutions” are inane. And somebody’s gotta say it out loud. If we ever needed critical thinkers it is now – thanks for your perspective.

  9. Gene Ambaum says:

    I love watching you raise everyone’s hackles while making them nod along! Your blog is essential professional reading. Congrats on the blog’s (and your secret identity’s) longevity.

  10. Eryn says:

    I find myself disagreeing with 98% of what AL writes, and usually if I agree, it’s simply an indication that I haven’t hit that one paragraph that will make me howl in rage at the monitor; but I’m grateful for AL’s blog too, because at least it tackles the thorny issues of librarianship that too few people want to contemplate.

  11. Joe Schallan says:

    “Usually it’s that I’m negative.”

    There is so much to be negative about.