April 24, 2018

Zero to One Degrees of Separation (and Counting), AKA the Library Kevin Bacon Game

A loonng time ago (almost 11 years) my colleague Ed Tallent and I wrote a BackTalk for LJ entitled, “Beware Blogging Blunders” (it was so long ago that we had to define blogging for our audience). In it, we talked about how whatever you put online will follow you around, personally and professionally, for, well, forever. How very naive that sounds today, when folks are laying bare their souls (and much else) on social media sites, and it seems that many individuals want you to be aware of their every move and bodily function. At the time we wrote that piece, we posited that three degrees of separation were in operation in the library world; now, as you know, it’s more like none to one, since so often we get to know someone virtually long before we meet them in person (if we ever do), and that network can extend to librarians everywhere.

Discussion among friends of various cohorts makes me believe that the amount we reveal online is truly apportioned according to a generational difference, and that most folks of my generation (seasoned librarians) are uncomfortable with the rest of the world having access to our personal lives online. Newer librarians (Gens X, Y, Z, to infinity and beyond), on the other hand, seem more comfortable with sharing much. One of my newbie library friends believes that to share a lot online is to be a good contemporary citizen. Frankly, that statement makes me shudder. Having grown up under the influence of such books as Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World, and having had the bejeezus scared out of me about identity theft, I try to limit the personal information I put out there (and now Facebook is giving me the shivers. Should I delete my account? Does it matter? Won’t it be preserved, in situ, in the virtual ozone like a mutant sample in a jar full of formalin?).

Just how much information is too much information to share—personally and professionally? I leave it to you to ponder regarding personal information, although I’ve always found the “ick” factor to be one effective yardstick (any information someone reveals about themselves that makes you think, “ick!” means it was too much information to reveal. Of course, for this to be effective, the revealer has to be sufficiently self-aware to anticipate the possible response). I sincerely hope no one reading this will be tempted to test the theory. But I’m really thinking about professional revelations here. The problem is: when someone goes looking for you online these days, they’re going to scoop up all kinds of information about you, both personal and professional, some of which you really wish the world would forget about (that unfortunate, then-trendy haircut you opted to get your senior picture taken with, for instance?).

It’s probably no surprise that, before participating in interviews, I continue to check candidates’ online presences to see how they’ve chosen to represent themselves for electronic posterity. And I listen to how much a candidate has scoped out our websites to gather as much information ahead of the interview as possible (folks who don’t take advantage of this sink in my estimation, since it’s kind of a no-brainer). But the reality is that, having been working in libraries for X years (with X rapidly increasing to infinity) I have a pretty far-flung field of library friends, most of whom also have multitudinous library friends, and word gets around that network pretty quickly. Which is why I try to keep my professional nose clean both in person and online, and am pretty conservative about telling all on the web, even if it’s not in a professional venue.

Am I being paranoid? Old fashioned? Narcissistic? All three? You can tell me—I’d really like to know others’ thoughts about this. If you don’t want to comment here, by all means email me at: claguard@fas.harvard.edu. If I get enough responses offline I’ll summarize (anonymizedly) later. Thanks!

P.S. Curious about the Kevin Bacon game? Wonder no longer.

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Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.



  1. I’m with you on this one. Each time I write a blog post, I do it with the thought in mind that someday a student, parent, or someone from my job may happen upon what I write. If I would be uncomfortable to say it to them in person, then it shouldn’t be on my blog.

  2. StevenB says:

    I would hate to see folks sharing their good thoughts about issues in our profession – perhaps being critical of the status quo – for fear that their ideas might be misinterpreted by future potential employers. By that I mean, an employer may prefer to choose a candidate who never speaks their mind in a public forum over someone who does for fear that candidate might turn out to be a problem employee. However, what someone writes in a blog post isn’t necessarily an indicator of how they perform as a library professional. When you write a blog post you might be intentionally challenging in order to create something worth reading or responding to. That doesn’t mean you take the same approach with workplace colleagues or in teamwork. I do agree that there is a problem with the sharing of too much information – but simply because it increases the noise to signal ratio and therefore makes it that much more difficult to come across the information that we really need to focus our attention on – which I recently wrote an LJ column about: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/06/opinion/steven-bell/less-noise-for-more-signal-from-the-bell-tower/

    • Interesting, Steven. What I’m getting at here is all about taking responsibility — and considering the outcomes — for what you put out there about yourself, and unnecessarily increasing the “information” overload (especially if there is an “ick” factor) is certainly a part of that!

      Thanks much for writing,