I had an exciting couple of days at ACRL in Philadelphia last week, where hundreds of academic librarians gathered to discuss QR codes and the virtues of next gen librarians. Their virtues seem to be that they’re playful, flexible, and seldom wet themselves when boomer librarians give them withering glances for being so whiny.
It might take a few posts to get through all of the annoyances of ACRL, but the most annoying had to be the choice of final keynote speaker.
“What happens when a renowned fashion expert with an international following comes to ACRL?” asks the program? Obviously, the AL is going to make fun of it. Some were annoyed because they dress so badly. I was annoyed because of the shallow anti-intellectualism the choice of speaker implies.
Academic librarians sometimes have the reputation of being the intellectual snobs of libraryland because of all their advanced degrees and book-learning and such. Then there’s all those terribly serious endeavors ACRL involves itself with: scholarly communication, information literacy, and the like.
However, ACRL has officially shown that academic librarians are just as ordinary and vapid as everyone else, or at least those who actually enjoyed the final speaker. After decent keynote speeches by smart, serious people like Jaron Lanier and Raj Patel, the conference closed with the musings of Clinton Kelly, “renowned fashion expert.”
It makes perfect sense to have a “renowned fashion expert” at a collection of academic librarians. It just shows how academic they really are, since Kelly just finished a speaking tour of meetings of the American Historical Association and the American Chemical Society. ACRL was a natural next step.
Meetings of real academics don’t have “renowned fashion experts” as speakers. That’s because they prefer substance over style.
Attendees were told by the “renowned fashion expert” that we should stop hating our bodies. Ooooh, now that’s food for thought, at least for people who can’t handle hard thoughts. I don’t hate my body. I don’t even hate silly, shallow people. I just avoid them when I can.
Oh, and we’re not suppose to say “hate.” We’re all supposed to be happy and perky and upbeat.
Kelly urged librarians to embrace change, as if changing libraries is as easy as changing your clothes.
We’re also supposed to surround ourselves with people who make us feel great. The easiest way to do that would be to leave the profession of librarianship and join the Up with People troupe.
After all, professionally – and this was an address to a professional conference – we have little choice over whom we surround ourselves with. We can avoid certain colleagues and choose others as boon companions, but ultimately we have to work with those around us.
Besides being vapid, this is the last advice that librarians need. Do you want a good example of someone who surrounds himself with people who make him feel great? Charlie Sheen.
Surrounding yourself with people who make you feel great is the surest path to megalomania. People who do revel in their mediocrity and go about completely unaware of their shortcomings. It might be a recipe for happiness for the eternally shallow, but it’s not a recipe for innovation or improvement.
When you’re talking about something like fashion, that probably doesn’t matter much. Fashions don’t improve or innovate, they merely change. I like to look as good or better as the next librarian, and in fact I do, but that doesn’t mean that dressing fashionably requires anything more than finding the most appropriate clothes for your body among current styles.
Admittedly, lots of librarians would love to follow that advice. They don’t want anyone pointing out problems with libraries, unless the problems are already ones they agree are problems. For a lot of librarians, the only problem is criticism.
I know, I know, you’re all thinking that of course I would criticize this shallow, vapid advice rather than embrace it. People who surround themselves with the AL, so to speak, don’t just want to feel great. They want to be challenged a little, and maybe even dare to read something they disagree with.
But others aren’t so capable of criticism or independent thought. It’s these librarians who are least in need of such vapid advice. They’re the ones mostly responsible for the lack of a culture of criticism that pervades our profession, and it’s only a culture of criticism that will lead to any sort of positive changes in libraries. Nevertheless, they’re the ones who will take such advice and confirm their prejudices.
Kelly also said other silly, vapid things about style, though he failed to mention how much easier it is to be stylish than substantive. We could have hoped that a conference of alleged academics would have avoided such shallowness, but I guess there are librarians who would rather embrace their shallowness than criticize it.
The only good thing was that I wasn’t the only librarian annoyed at the vapidity. Academic animadversions abounded. Maybe the planners of the next ACRL will have better ideas, and not get Charlie Sheen to tell us all how to WIN.