Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

It’s All Good!

Since it’s a slow library news week, except for reports of dangerous teenagers frequenting a library on the Upper West Side, I’ll write about my favorite subject instead: me.

Apart from the comments on this blog, I almost never look at reader comments on anything. After reading hundreds if not thousands of comments on various news articles, I confirmed my suspicions that most people can’t read well and don’t have anything intelligent to say, so I don’t bother.

That’s not necessarily true of library writing, but most of my non-pseudonymous writing is published in scholarly journals (or what passes for scholarly in library science), where I probably get five readers, and the only feedback might be the occasional citation in another barely read article by one of those readers.

Thus, I don’t know if one of the lessons I’ve learned while writing this blog is universal, or just limited to library blogs, or just to this blog.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a pattern in this blog’s comments that implied the absence of a critical culture in librarianship. I’ve seen it happen so many times over the years that it’s become a cliche, and I can usually tell within ten words whether the commenter has fallen into the pattern. This is what happens.

  1. Someone makes a public claim.
  2. The AL criticizes that claim, (often without mentioning the name of the person who made it, thus preventing person-Googlers from finding the criticism at all)
  3. Some readers attack the AL for engaging in personal attacks, without pointing to any actual personal attacks.
  4. Such readers never defend the claim that was criticized.

It’s basically a red herring. Draw attention away from the substance of the argument by claiming it’s a personal attack.

The pattern started emerging years ago when I was vigorously criticizing SRRT attempts to turn the ALA into an official voice of the radical left. I was a “fascist” because I argued that the ALA should remain neutral on non-library related issues.

In all that brouhaha, the only person who managed an intelligent defense of the practice, rather than merely an attack on the AL, was John Berry, which is one reason I agreed to write for the Library Journal when asked (not by Berry, I should add). Though I disagree with him, Berry is an annoyed librarian from way back and willing to defend his beliefs with argument, and the Library Journal engages ideas and arguments that American Libraries would never touch.

It’s happened repeatedly over the years when I criticize claims or actions that I think are silly and bad for the public image of the profession. Bookcart drills don’t make us look professional. Nor do videos of librarians lip-syncing to pop tunes while dancing around the library. Nor do librarians who try to dispel stereotypes of librarians by showing how hip and tattooed we all are these days.

I believe these things make librarians look silly or unprofessional, and I want to be taken seriously as a professional. I want a library organization that takes strong stands on library-related issues rather than dissipate its voice through irrelevant political pronouncements.

If there’s a new stereotype for librarians, I want to see it related to what I actually see among many newer librarians – intelligent, engaged, serious, technologically savvy – and not to tattoos, hipness, youth, and self-obsessed frivolity. Dress how you like and tattoo yourself up to the eyeballs, I really don’t care; but it has nothing to do with being a good librarian.

Now, rather than generalizing about the pattern, I can point to a recent instance, last week’s post Substance, not Style. In it, I criticized the claim that hipness is a qualification for a library job, and suggested that librarians on the market publicly making that claim might harm themselves among potential employers because librarians, as should be clear from looking at them, prefer substance to style.

At some point late in the week, a hipster fan club appeared, and accused me of “condemning,” “attacking,” and “judging” the librarian in question in a “mean-spirited” way, yada yada yada. Go back and read what I said about the librarian. I just did. The closest thing to an attack I could find was the aside on star librarians not needing to know much, and that was more a criticism of others than of her. Looking back at the post, I was struck by how kind I was, since except for that false belief about hipness being important to librarians I liked the woman. It may have been the sweetest AL post ever written, and was, especially along with the comments, solid career advice.

In the irrelevant attacks on the blog, I didn’t see any commenter who tried to defend the claim that hipness is a criterion for being a good librarian, or that publicly making this claim was good for a career.

I find the whole thing bizarre.

I’m not sure I’ve ever engaged in a personal attack on anyone who hadn’t publicly attacked me first. I read a rant against the AL recently that was so desperate to find a personal attack she quoted a post I wrote four years ago calling anarchists stupid. I guess that was intemperate. Anarchism is stupid. Anarchists might be smart people with foolish ideas.

Sure, call me a fascist without addressing my criticisms, and I’ll happily eviscerate your statements on the blog and make you look stupid (or at least I would have when that kind of thing bothered me). I don’t attack persons, I criticize ideas and creations, and if persons who believe those ideas or creations are good things can’t defend their beliefs, then maybe they should change their beliefs.

Alas, as psychologists tell us, people are reluctant to change their beliefs, and they tend to emotionally identify with them in ways that makes criticism seem personal. Combined with a profession that has developed a culture of affirmation rather than of criticism, and this pattern starts to make sense. Anything other than affirmation is “mean-spirited.”

So, since no one else ever changes their beliefs, I guess I’ll have to. I’ll reverse myself from last week.

Okay, children, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. And remember, if you want to be a great librarian, it’s important to be hip. Be sure to tell that to everyone you meet, especially library search committees. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you different! Remember, it’s all good!

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Comments

  1. librariann00b says:

    Very well said; as a current MLIS candidate, I really appreciate your perspective on tendency for style over substance that seems to be behind most of my classmates’ decisions to enter the field. I myself am technically a tattooed librarian, but agree that my decisions about my own body have absolutely nothing to do with my ability to think critically (and for some people, are evidence of an inability to do so) or perform well and professionally at my job.

    I just finished reading This Book is Overdue, which, while it has a lot of enthusiasm for contemporary librarianship, revels in phenomena like book drills and lip sync videos, I think primarily because the author is so surprised that librarians are significantly more approachable than she may have expected. While I agree that these phenomena don’t contribute positively to an image of librarians as capable and professional, I think they may help with outreach; I’m not really condoning them, just bringing up that style may play a more complicated role.

  2. will manley says:

    AL…several things: A) A pen name, especially one with the word annoyed in it, annoys people precisely because they cannot attack and hurt the person behind the name. A lot of the attacks against you reveal that frustration. Shadow boxing is no fun. B) Although you do not launch attacks against specific people, you are famous for your satire of a large group of people you label as “twopointopians.” From my reading in cyberspace, these people, who take themselves and their work very seriously, are by far your most vociferous and frustrated critics. C) You are a talented satirist. Your Swiftian critiques of sacred cows are intended to rankle and they do. D) My guess is that for you the attacks are a sign of validation that you are doing your job which is to question basic norms within the profession. E) If a satirist with a sharp pen isn’t getting any reactions, she’s just not doing her job. So…my conclusion is the more people attack you, the more you have gotten under their skins, and ergo the more you have done your job as a provacateur. You make people think, but as you say we are in a profession that loves to be validated, not challenged. So much for intellectual freedom. As far as hipness goes, I thought is was unhip to be hip now. Isn’t hip out and unhip in? Could someone who is hipper than me (or unhipper) explain that to me? Is hip now unhip?

  3. Hirsute Librarian says:

    You’re obviously still stinging from recent events. Your fan club (which I assume is comprised of obese and career-stifled Midwesterners) didn’t help your case much. Their lack of intelligent argument (which you cite as being so regularly annoying) didn’t exactly further your cause or make you look like a hero. I’m sure you fancy yourself something of a librarified Oscar Wilde instead of a bitter, hirsute woman who directs her energies into an anonymous semblance of superior intellect. I feel sad for you, AL, because you want to engage in intellectual discourse while your fans just parrot back less intelligent and more juvenile variations of your original argument. Your fans say that someone looks stupid or old while they slobber next to you with bated, foul, and not very intelligent breath. It must not be very satisfying to be so perennially misunderstood, by your detractors AND your fans.

  4. will manley says:

    Oh, one other thing people don’t like about you, AL, is your feral cat image. Library people are cat people and they love for their cats to be cuddly.

  5. Annoyed Librarian says:

    I do miss the evangelical fervor of the twopointopians. They were so much fun to mock.

  6. Joneser says:

    Wow. I’m stinging from Hirsute’s post. I feel misunderstood. But I do want to know how Hirsute “knows” that AL is hirsute.

  7. Jane says:

    CA and TX propose eliminating all funding for libraries. Yup, definitely a slow news week for libraries. But let’s hear more about you, AL.

  8. Retiring Librarian says:

    May I just point out that while referring to oneself as “hip” is probably not effective in a job search, it is necessary to be “current”, i.e., aware of popular trends and even fads. In my experience, most people who think of themselves as hip or hep or cool or rad, usually aren’t. By the time they catch on to a trend (in fashion or entertainment or technology) the real trendsetters have long since moved on to something newer. I never thought of my tattoos or multiple earrings has having any bearing one way or another on my abilities as a librarian; they’re just part of who I am. I would hate for any employer to hire me or not, based in whole or even in part on those factors.

    Keep on commenting, AL. I certainly don’t always agree with you, but you frequently make me think and that’s a GOOD thing!

  9. Annoyed Librarian says:

    “CA and TX propose eliminating all funding for libraries. Yup, definitely a slow news week for libraries.”

    Sigh. Unfortunately, “Libraries Face Budget Cuts” is too common to count as news anymore. If they actually eliminate all the funding, then it would be more newsworthy.

  10. Young Librarian says:

    “Your fan club (which I assume is comprised of obese and career-stifled Midwesterners) didn’t help your case much.”

    I resent that. I’m actually a skinny and almost-thriving young Westerner who just finished his MLS two years ago. :)

    I actually really enjoy this blog. Like the Retiring Librarian (whose position I hope gets reopened), I also don’t agree with everything that AL says, but it makes me think. On the topic of being hip, book cart drills and lip-syncs, I agree that that is not necessarily the best image…and I’m a former gymnast and theater junky who would appreciate that kind of thing. There are many things that we can do, however, that would allow us to be more approachable, without looking less professional. And individual choices (like tattoos) are just that – individual choices. They don’t need to be touted as proving that you’re in tune with mainstream culture. More appropriate, perhaps, would be hosting a community Wii competition, managing an involved Goodreads group, teaching Career Exploration classes, volunteering at a youth shelter, or something you can put in a resume or mention in a job interview that shows you are connected with your target audience (for the position) and can make a difference in their lives. That works for me far better than the fact that they’d think I’m cool because I was in a breakdance crew, can do a backflip, play the guitar or own 300 boardgames.

  11. Randal Powell says:

    Will:

    I think that you’re right in your observation that previously unhip practicality is now hip. The outdoorsman of the 1950’s with his work boots, rugged trousers, and thick plaid flannel shirt would feel right at home on a college campus these days. I’m not sure if this is a fad or a pendulum swing back in the direction of practicality. Based on my interactions with Millennials, I think that they are a good deal more practical-minded, as a group, than the two previous generations. As my middle school PE teacher always used to say, “time will tell”.

  12. I think you made a couple of very valid points (I definitely wish it were a longer post), but don’t you agree that a lot of people are kinda suffering from “unconscious misjudgement”? By the way, you should take a look at your RSS feed. It doesn’t seem to workproperly.

  13. J says:

    It’s the new classic catch-22 of our time, when one’s belief is challenged by proof to the contrary (even scientific proof) it tends to strengthen that very belief. Just look at the anti-immunization crowd and the birther crowd and on and on. I actually heard one parent on NPR say that nothing the scientist being interviewed said would change her mind about not immunizing her kid! Because of this, many people, especially on the internet tend to live in a little bubble, bouncing off the walls and spinning around in place. You can see it everywhere, even here. A comment is taken out of context, which rankles someone or other who has an ego the size of Texas and they automatically stop reading to post a comment that 1. really has nothing at all to do with the post and 2. can be breathtakingly harsh. Note the Hairy Librarian … who is most likely AL trying to prove the point in her post.

    This whole “hipness” thing is irrelevant in actual practice, what IS the problem is that the stereotypes are about all the media attention librarians get. To stand out from the inane babble of … what was it 2.0 ism? … and garner your 15 seconds of fame one must be a hipster or balance a bookcart on your chin or whathaveyou. BUT, (note the caps) it gets us in trouble when our “administrators” see crap like that and feel that these things are what all of us should do to promote the library. Despite the fact that the actual librarian knows many of these things are only the “rad” thing of the moment which will be forgotten in 2 months or a year and will probably cost $50,000 to implement.

  14. Retiring Librarian says:

    Young Librarian…. Several years ago when I hired a full time reference librarian, I interviewed with succession specifically in mind. I have been mentoring and teaching that young woman all this time with the idea that she will be the new manager…and the director just confirmed that to her this week. So, the position won’t be “open” but it will be filled with someone yopunger and, dare I say, more “with it” than me. And though I’ve shown her how to do many things, she won’t be a clone. She has her own ideas and opinions and is champing at the bit to begin.

  15. Kim says:

    I don’t work in a public library, but have an older friend who does. She hates message boards, her name for blogs, so isn’t “hip,” I guess. She is very good at her job, which is geared toward developing early literacy with small kids. She says that most people in management are concerned with how well the new person can fill a position with little training. Everyone is overworked and no one has time to teach the new employee how to do his/her job so prior experience is important. Tech skills are also important. Substance beats style when landing a job.

  16. Young Librarian says:

    Retiring Librarian – That’s excellent! I’m tired of seeing so many positions disappear with retirements. They’ll rehire two part-timers to replace a full-timer and so on.

    Kim – That’s my point entirely, but you’re delivery was much better – Substance over Style. :)

  17. will manley says:

    Folks, unfortunately today the medium is the message. Style rules!

  18. LALibrarian says:

    They don’t write well either.

  19. Kim says:

    Will, I honestly don’t think you believe this, as least not as I understand the medium being the message. I’ve only been in the field for a few years. It took me almost four months to find a job (before the economy crashed), and I had several years experience, including a couple internships. Once I started interviewing, the interviews were all hardball, all five of them,including at the place where I was hired. No one cared if I was “hip,” young and attractive; they wanted to know why they should hire me, how I made a good fit with their organization and what I could do for them right now (not they for me). Other successful job finders in my class reported similar experiences — no one I know of had warm and fuzzy interviews. Further, for a few years I kept up with what happened to my classmates. Those who did not gain work experience related to what they wanted to do (before graduation) did not find jobs. Maybe some of the other recent prior Recession graduates have had different experiences than I’m mentioning, meaning that my sample size is small and therefore not necessarily reflective of the profession as a whole.

    I’m not saying that it’s not important to keep up with current trends, particularly in technology, and culture, but that’s not the same thing as style ruling over all.

  20. will manley says:

    Kim…all I’m saying is that the big debate in the library world today is print books vs. e-books. This is a format issue; not a content issue. We don’t seem to care about content anymore; just machines. If we continue on this path, we won’t be readers advisors and reference librarians; we’ll be tech workers.

  21. Kim says:

    Thanks for your answer, Will. I don’t think I’m qualified to comment on it because I don’t work in reader’s advisory and like ebooks. I appreciate the clarification, however.

  22. Guybrarian says:

    My favorite bit from Hirstute:

    “…and not very intelligent breath.”

    Awesome.

  23. Spekkio says:

    Oh, how I love watching people show how truly illogical they can be, as so many did in the “discussion” of the previous blog entry in question.

    Now, look…I’ll admit that when I see a logical fallacy, I usually discount everything that the writer did before and after. If you resort to a fallacy, you fail. I think we all need to do a better job of calling out fallacies. Shout “OBJECTION!” like the lawyers do on TV (or…and I shouldn’t say this, because AL won’t like it…video games!) and point out the fallacy and then it gets “overruled.” And that’s it.

    That said, I, too, read back over AL’s blog entry in question – and no, there was not a single ad hominem in there. Not one. If I’d been around for the fun, I would’ve pointed that out sooner…not that anyone would listen. It’s so much easier to lob around crap than try to think your way to victory in an argument…or worse, deal with the possibility that you might actually be wrong.

  24. Zach says:

    AL, while I agree that discussing ideas is usually more interesting and productive than critiquing and defending one another’s personalities tend to be, you were asking for trouble by using that lady as the focal point of your post about hipness and its relevance (or lack thereof) during the job search. Even though you didn’t name her outright, your cold-eyed, skeptical analysis of the topic centered around someone who now has every right to feel personally humiliated because her character, intelligence and career perspective have now been thrown open for the unwashed masses to dissect at leisure, as though she were some victim of a Kafkaesque judgment, anonymously rendered and horrible in its finality.

    None of which is to say that you are wrong to criticize the profession for a myopically positive-thinking acquiescence to the occasional silly trend. But you also should come to expect that dishing it out publicly gives your targets a right to get their feelings hurt and react to it all. That’s only fair.

    Surely using broader societal phenomena as jumping-off points for the discussion would not only lead to fewer bruised egos, but would also incorporate trends that are more pervasive and therefore more relevant on a large scale?

    And for someone as apparently bright as you are, claiming that you were protecting her identity from the evil Google crawlers is not true. You linked to her blog and then all of your commenters were free to loose the woman’s name to the four winds. Then, realizing that you had inadvertently exposed her to a public viewing etched for all eternity in Internet posterity, you warned us that anonymity is a valuable thing in a climate like today’s, where privacy no longer exists and our job prospects hang on whether or not we share the same surname as some kook.

    Also, I would point out that there certainly must be some librarians who are enamored of youth and hipness, because there’s no other way I can explain why older librarians are impressed by applicants who can use Facebook and Twitter — technologies and modes of communication that anyone can use. And there’s also a lot to be said for the notion that being friendly, energetic and approachable are professional traits every bit as relevant in this field as cataloging know-how or mad database skillz are. She should be able to play up her possession of such traits, don’t you think?