Someone at ACRL (I won’t tell you who!) opined that the AL doesn’t spend enough time making fun of academic librarians. It seems I mostly talk about public libraries, despite the fact that I work in an academic library. What’s up with that?
There are a number of possible reasons. The most obvious might be that I’ve been working in academic libraries for so long that I’m immune to the follies of academic librarians. I just don’t notice how silly some of them are. The field just becomes a blur of facial hair and lumpy sweaters.
There’s also the Public Library Privilege I wrote about a few weeks ago. For better or worse, when people speak or write in public about “libraries,” they almost inevitably mean public libraries. Thus, most of the library news that comes my way is about public libraries one way or another.
I haven’t done a count on this, but my feeling is that most of the prominent writing and speaking librarians out there, the ones who make waves for doing things brilliant or ridiculous, aren’t academic librarians. They’re either public librarians or speaking mostly about public libraries.
Academic librarians didn’t make that Library 101 video, nor were they leading the twopointopian lemmings over the cliff of nonsense. They don’t dominate the pages of American Libraries, which is almost overwhelmingly about public libraries and their interests and contains very little by or from academic librarians.
But for the sake of argument, what could I say to make fun of academic librarians? Hmmm….
Well, a lot of them are kinda stuffy and serious. I’m not sure about blog rankings, but the academic library bloggers I read have a tendency to write very long, very analytical posts about issues that would be considered arcane by the public, and even by most public librarians.
Some of it’s boring to outsiders, but it’s hard to poke fun at it the way one can with a cheesy video of librarians acting ridiculous.
What’s more, the area in which it’s painfully easy to poke fun at academic librarians is hidden from the view of most. If you really want to take academic librarians down a peg or two, start reading large quantities of what passes for peer-reviewed scholarly literature in librarianship.
It’s mostly bad, and it mostly follows one model. In case you, too, want to publish pointless articles in the library literature, here’s your map to success.
- Pick some boring and obvious library practice
- Do a quick search of Library Lit to see what others have said about it
- Prepare a survey about it
- Send out the survey to a randomly selected group of librarians, 90% of whom will ignore it
- Compile your 27 responses into a chart
- Report the insignificant findings of your pointless survey
- Ignore the fact that you’ve done no research worthy of the name
- Announce that more research needs to be done on the issue
There are good reasons, or at least excuses, for the shoddy state of most research published by academic librarians. In lots of universities, they have so-called faculty status and have to publish just like the real faculty, only while working 12-month schedules and attending fourteen meetings a day. With this, it’s no wonder their scholarship is so lightweight.
Librarians who aren’t under pressure to publish might wonder why anyone does it. The best answer is that it’s just the way things are. Nobody really needs more bad research from librarians, but librarians have to produce it. They practice on a smaller scale the vice that plagues academia, publishing junk because you must.
You might argue that they could go do other jobs, but in reality they probably can’t. Academic librarians tend to have already failed in their initial goal to be professors. Academic librarianship is what a lot of academically minded people take up when they realize that no, they won’t be the one in five hundred chosen for that tenure track professorial position.
I suppose one could pity these librarians as easily as mocking them, seeing as how they’re living the life of a shadow academic, mimicking the scholars they might have been in different circumstances, but go ahead and mock them. They’ll be too busy drinking coffee and reading to notice.
Which reminds me of some comments over the years resentful of academic librarians. Though they’re too busy to produce good scholarship, they do find time to travel and socialize a lot. Instead of slogging through grunt work, many of them prefer to delegate that to lesser mortals so they can jaunt off to another conference or coffee meeting.
Instead of finding that something to make fun of, I find it something to admire. Only librarians who have chosen less well resent it.
So there you have it. The mockery is complete. Academic librarians tend to be highly educated, frumpy, mediocre scholars who prefer knowing things to doing things and who would rather drink coffee or go to conferences than do tedious tasks. Nice work if you can get it.