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Ignoring the Online Mob

Of all the library hills to die on, drag queen storytime seems like a pretty small one indeed, but that looks like what happened with one librarian, at least based on this article from Arizona.

According to the story, a librarian at one of the branches of the “19 branches in the Maricopa County Library District” came up with an idea for a storytime read by drag queens, which she posted to her personal Facebook page, which “caught the attention of library administrators,” some of whom cancelled the storytime and then tried to defend the decision with post hoc rationalizations that fooled nobody.

After all that, the librarian who proposed the drag queen storytime resigned. I hope that there was more going on than this incident, or that she was going to resign anyway, because this seems like a silly reason to quit a job.

That’s not a comment on drag queen storytimes. One of the many problems with this country these days is the pearl-clutching and knicker-twisting that goes on all the time. If people want to see drag queens read children’s books, they’ll come to the program. If they don’t, they won’t.

If drag queens bother you, the problem is you. 

If that really was the entire reasoning, maybe the librarian wouldn’t have quit, though. It sounds like the library administration is a lot more interested in controlling the employees than in anything else, at least based on the article. That’s bound to get annoying after a while.

The headline is a good example of another thing wrong with the country these days: people assuming that the opinions of random busybodies on the internet count for something.

Here’s the headline: “Gilbert Library Won’t Reinstate Drag Storytime — Despite Petition.”

The sentence before the dash is an accurate headline. The library didn’t reinstate the program, and even though there was a similar program it was held at another one of the branch libraries.

But “Despite Petition”? The headline and the story act as if a petition at Change.org is meaningful in any way other than to broadcast the opinions of random nobodies on the internet.

One of the drag queens involved started a petition to bring back the storytime and the article notes that “as of Thursday, November 16, nearly 1,200 people had signed it.”

“Still, Southeast Regional Library hasn’t budged on its decision.” OMG, what?!?!?! Random nobodies on the internet signed something and people aren’t changing their minds?!?! The mob has spoken, people!!!

Indeed, as of yesterday more than 1300 people had signed it. And what does that mean for whether a local branch of a county library should hold an event?

Nothing whatsoever. An administrator who took a Change.org petition seriously as evidence would be quite foolish, like the administrators who fire people because random nobodies express their self-righteous anger on Twitter, or administrators who make poorly reasoned decisions and then try to defend them afterwards in a slapdash manner.

“But,” you say, “I sign those all the time! They’re a very important way for the random nobodies to make their irrelevant opinions known to the world!”

Okay, maybe you don’t put it quite like that, but that’s the gist.

There are at least two problems with those petitions from the standpoint of a local administrator trying to make a decision.

First, we don’t know who signed it. Unless the signers indicate that they want to be public, the information is kept private. That’s great for the signers, but meaningless for the administrator. Sheer numbers are worthless on their own.

Second, the petition isn’t local. Look at the first few people under the “Reasons for signing” section of the petition. The three people listed at the time of writing are from the Bronx, Los Angeles, and Pennsylvania.

One thing even casual readers might notice is that none of those places are in Maricopa County, AZ, and thus none of them use the library or pay taxes to support it.

If the article insists on mentioning the petition, the headline should read: “Despite the fact that over 1200 people who aren’t from AZ want an AZ library to have a drag queen storytime, the library isn’t reinstating the event.”

Ideally, it would be shorter than that, but I don’t have time to write headlines. That’s what I have the Annoyed Librarian Action News Team for.

What we do know is that when a similar event was held last year, “Glitter Magic,” “more than 50 people” showed up. Probably not many more, or it would have been “more than 60,” or “300.”

“More than 50” is a far distance from the over 1300 people who have signed the petition, the vast majority of whom aren’t from the area, don’t support or visit the library, and wouldn’t go to the storytime anyway.

A meaningful petition would have been done the old fashioned way, by getting people in the area who pay the taxes for the library to sign a paper petition. Random nobodies who don’t support the library? Who cares what they think. They’re just an online mob.

The administrators in question probably shouldn’t have gotten their knickers in a twist over something as inconsequential as a drag queen storytime, but since a librarian chose to make it a national issue and then resign, they’re stuck with their hasty decision.

But they’re right to ignore all the non-local, random nobodies on the internet who are signalling their virtue by taking 30 seconds to type their names into an online form, just like they would be right to ignore a right-wing online mob complaining about a drag queen storytime.

Life’s too short to concern yourself with that nonsense.

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Comments

  1. At a CCLA conference last year, a SF librarian proudly told the audience that she spent “the years entire programming budget” on a drag storytime. So when I see this story, I wonder – how expensive was it going to be? Who is in charge of planning programs, and what is the approval process? Did similer programs in the area get relatively well attended? 50 sounds really small to me – our special programs have 400-500 attendees. You can’t spend all your budget on an event almost nobody cares to attend.

    • anonymous coward says:

      Harukogirl- you are being rational and thoughtful.

      It’s a spin machine. 50 people come and it’s great- unless you look at the cost per attendee. Then, if you do that, you are told it’s about quality and personal connection, not numbers.

      It’s often about what the librarian thinks is fun for them or the hot trend, not what the public wants.

  2. What a drag.

  3. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    So do local politicians who participate in story time also have to pass the literacy requirements? Seems like a steep hill for them to climb as well.

    As for the statement of programs hosting 400-500 attendees, that sounds like a major program with a famous author giving a talk and receiving an honorarium. This a local branch that is hosting a story telling time, which just happens to have a drag queen as the reader. I doubt the queen is getting a huge honorarium (if any). How many story telling times ever reach 400-500 kids? (seems like mayhem would be on the horizon) Would a branch library even have the capacity for that many attendees? Just look at the picture of the youth area in question. Children’s librarians are just like teachers, they have do almost everything on a shoe-string budget and often have to pay for things out of their own pocket.

    The whole thing is probably a behind-the-scenes conflict between the administrator and the librarian over the manner the program was planned, scheduled and promoted. This may not have been the first skirmish between the two, but who is to say but the involved parties? The children and the drag queen are the one stuck in the middle of the battle.

    • Libertarian Librarian says:

      400 is not an unreasonable number for children’s programs. We serve a community of about 100,000. We had 400 attendees for a juggler. If you run the program correctly it’s not mayhem. It seems that this is another case of a librarian competing to be the wokest of the woke instead of the program being about and for the children.

    • 400 is every puppet show, music guest ect we had over the summer. My weekly storytime range from 150-200 people.

  4. I think a librarian’s definition of a big program depends on the size of the meeting space. I know of libraries that have huge events, and that’s great for them. My meeting room’s limit is 100 people, so I’m pleased by a program that draws over sixty people.

    • That is very true. My main point was, cost vs estimated interest from the local area. 50 people for special, paid children’s event seemed very low. Even smaller libraries in my area get 40-50 attendees for their regular storytimes

  5. “It’s a spin machine. 50 people come and it’s great- unless you look at the cost per attendee. Then, if you do that, you are told it’s about quality and personal connection, not numbers.”
    Now I know where the coward works – my system! AC must have been at my last system meeting – when I mentioned the “cost-per-use” of a particular project was getting astronomical, I was told the benefits of connecting with our peers was worth it. In the same conversation was the classic line “spend it or lose it”; the logic never makes the connection that maybe my department did not need all the funds it was getting, so losing some would not be a real issue.

  6. No surprise one of the greatest and most fun library activities gets sunk by a bunch of old poops. I’m sure they are frightened to death of someone filing a law suit because their child became a cross-dresser. My husband looks fantastic in drag btw.

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