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.
- Someone makes a public claim.
- 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)
- Some readers attack the AL for engaging in personal attacks, without pointing to any actual personal attacks.
- 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!