Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Politics in the Workplace

I want to begin with an apology, which, by the way, is more than you will ever get from the sort of librarians I discuss in this post. I try to answer most of my email, but sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming. In general, this is a good thing, because kind readers often send in blog suggestions or questions, and I appreciate that very much. However, it also means that some emails get lost in the shuffle or it takes longer than it should to reply. So, if you write and I don’t respond, it’s not you. It’s me. You’ve probably heard that one before. Please keep those ideas coming, though.

Having said that, a kind reader forwarded me some comments from a library listserv discussion about how librarians can best dip their snouts into the public feed trough currently being constructed in DC, or something like that. This was my favorite comment:

"Outraged?  How about a trillion dollars and thousands of lives squandered on a war that was entirely unnecessary and trillions more on tax breaks to the richest one percent of the country?   Taxpayers finished eight years with a gigantic deficit and absolutely nothing to show for it.  While the Obama stimulus will further expand the deficit, it will also provide some equity value to the taxpayers in exchange for the huge expenditure.  Getting tax cut money into the hands of low-moderate income taxpayers and to be used on projects that will actually serve the interest of the public is not a bad dealcompa red[sic] to what we have been sold by the previous administration."

To which one can only respond: wow, what does this have to do with libraries? The only people who think it does are the same ones who tried to argue that the Alito confirmation was somehow of interest to American libraries and the ALA. In other words, fools and ideologues. It’s a perfect example, though, of how some folks like to browbeat us all with their politics. For political ideologues, there is no boundary between politics and professional discourse. The ideologues are happy to shout their political opinions at everyone regardless of the situation. For them, the personal is the political. The professional is the political. Everything is the political and every situation is therefore appropriate to prattle on about their politics. No doubt they agree with Mussolini: "All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state."

It doesn’t happen just on listservs; this sort of behavior happens in the workplace as well. I’ve heard from many readers over the years about colleagues who spout their irrelevant political opinions in professional meetings and other inappropriate places.

There are many  possible responses to this sort of behavior. First, we could just ignore it. That’s what polite people do, and we’re definitely more polite than they are or we would harangue everyone with our boring political opinions the way they do. After all, perhaps they just can’t help themselves. It might be an affliction, like Asperger’s Syndrome. The ideologues might be incapable of attuning themselves to their social environment, and so they just don’t know when to shut up. Instead of getting annoyed with their behavior, perhaps we should pity them instead.

Were we to respond, the responses could range from the hostile to the polite. Sometimes we might just want to shout "shut the hell up already!" That would be hostile. Less hostile than kicking them in the shins under the conference table and pretending the director did it, but still hostile. On the one hand, we wouldn’t get the amusement of having them shriek and leap in their seat after the kick, but on the other hand we couldn’t be arrested for assault just for telling them to shut up.

How might one respond politely? One could take the direct approach and just ask them politely to keep their politics to themselves. The same could go for their religion or basically anything personal about them we wouldn’t want to know, which is pretty much everything. The less direct approach would be to start delivering a monologue on some other equally annoying and irrelevant topic. Summarizing in detail a television show seen the night before might be a good one. At first, people would think there was a point to the summary, but after ten minutes or so someone would probably ask how it’s relevant to the discussion. "Oh, it’s no more relevant than Librarian X’s political opinions. I took my cue from her and thought it was time to babble on about irrelevant topics. So sorry. Won’t happen again." I guess this approach is still a bit hostile, but no shouting is involved.

There’s always the option of vomiting on the person if they won’t shut up, doing to them literally what they’re doing to you metaphorically. This only works if the person is next to or across from you, though. It might also require keeping some ipecac in your bag at all times, unless of course the harangue literally nauseates you, in which case go ahead.

One could just start arguing politics. That would probably make the meeting even duller than it was when the discussion centered on library issues, because there’s little more boring than watching people argue about politics. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible or practical. Never mind the possibility that the ideologue might hit you in a fit of pique. One must, after all, be careful with ideologues. They don’t tolerate dissent well. Consider only the possibility that one might even agree with the political opinion of the ideologue. I agree with a lot of people about a lot of things, but I don’t necessarily want those people to start babbling about them in library meetings.

The same sorts of approaches could work for listservs, too, except the shin-kicking, but we’d pretty much ruled that out anyway. The virtual discussion would be even more heated, because everyone’s pen is mighty when sitting alone behind a keyboard. (Forgive the mixed metaphor, but I think you know what I mean.) And as we’ve seen from the comments section on various AL political posts, political blowhards get that name for a reason. They do like to go on. One could unsubscribe from lists and miss what little good stuff there might be, but if there was too much of it unsubscribing might be easier than scanning the library-related wheat for the political chaff and hitting the delete key. Having to read even a few sentences of this stuff to determine its utter irrelevance to libraries is a waste of time, and library listservs mostly aren’t worth it. I unsubscribed to all mine years ago and haven’t missed them at all.

Though you might make suggestions, I recommend the polite approach. Treat the loudmouthed ideologues as if they have a dysfunctional disease and pity them. Perhaps feign interest in their dull opinions and nod concernedly. When the offensive colleague is there in person, gently pat her on the shoulder as you leave the room and say, "There, there. I know you can’t help it." They don’t understand appropriate professional behavior, which might be why they became librarians. They probably became librarians because they "like to read," and didn’t realize it was actually a profession and people have to get along. Still, it’s not their fault they’re so professionally rude and inappropriate. They can’t help themselves and they certainly won’t help anyone else.



  1. John Berry, Library Journal says:

    Sometimes AL’s annoyance is simply foolish and fatuous. It must be obvious that libraries, especially publicly supported libraries, are directly involved in and at the mercy of politics. To deny that and to try to stifle discussionof it at library meetings and workplace discussions is to remove libraries from the mainstream of American society. Possibly the most important contributions of our national organization, the American Library Association, are political, as a lobby for legislation we support or against legislation we oppose

  2. John Berry, Library Journal says:

    Here’s the rest of my comment, cut off for some reason:
    and as a staunch defender of free expression, and fighter against censorship. These are political efforts. They need to be discussed at library metings, workplace debates, and as part of our professional discourse. It surprises me that AL, who is apparently intelligent, would deny us this discourse, so very crucial to our survival.

  3. John, there’s a big difference between what the state legislature is doing that might impact my library’s budget, and coworkers for eight frakking years complaining about Bush’s foreign policy. One is appropriate workplace behavior, the other is entirely annoying.

  4. Yes, the annoyance is not only fatuous, but also transparently political, which is kind of ironic. Of course, incontestably, obviously, the spending priorities of the government(political) have something to with the funding of public institutions (political). Knee-jerk anti-liberalism is perhaps no worse than knee-jerk liberalism, but it’s no less political either.

  5. RichLeC says:

    There used to be some wisdom in the phrase, oft quoted by my father: “Children should be seen and not heard.” Children used to be taught to keep quiet around their parents and their friends and not barge into conversations yelling about some offense a sibling has committed. In polite conversation, you were never to speak of religion or politics for fear of offending the other person. I was taught that, and if I were a wiser person, I’d practice it more. Today, however, we encourage children to express themselves whenever they feel the need, or else we’ll be stifling their creativity or, worse, trampling on their self-esteem. This new philosophy coincided with the emergence of the World Wide Web, in which millions of people now express themselves freely. I participated in one such listsev, for Wesleyan University, until it grew too annoying. Thus in any listserv, you will get irrelevant rants. I usually just ignore them.

  6. This post might be “transparently political” or it might not be, but a blog post is different than a library listserv or a committee meeting. Librarians don’t subscribe to library listservs in order to wade through political rants. I just read the post again, and I’m also not sure where the “knee-jerk antiliberalism is.” The closest I can find to anything like that is the remark about the public trough, and that can only be interpreted as anti-liberal if it assumes that every liberal supports this stimulus package, which isn’t the case. I’m a liberal and I voted for Obama, but I don’t support it either in its size or the freewheeling nature of its creation. Political rants are protected forms of free speech, but seriously, John, are you really arguing that someone bashing George Bush yet again on a library listserv is “crucial to our survival”? Expressions of political outrage have their place, but they are hardly a part of our “professional” discourse.

  7. oh so anonymous says:

    Everyone except the actual politicians is talking about crucial issues. They are spending work time making monkey transport legislation. The ALA is similarly busy ignoring the reality that libraries are fast becoming obsolete. Rome is still burning…

  8. I’ve gotta ask Oh So Anonymous: if my library is “fast becoming obsolete” then why are we the busiest we’ve ever been? I keep hearing that about libraries, but somehow the evidence never matches the sentiment.

  9. anonymous says:

    It seems to me AL just pretty much did exactly what it is she is complaining about. Her Delete key must be missing, else why would she waste so much time even reading these things?

  10. ConfusedByItAll says:

    to RL: Libraries are only the “busiest we’ve ever been” because we have public computers. Take away those, and we’d be pretty damned slow all day. People aren’t lining up at the reference desk making inquiries, or figihting over the latest Patterson novel, they’re using ‘free’ resources to look for jobs.

  11. anonymouse says:

    I have no problem with colleagues discussing what projects, if any, are going to be funded by the stimulus. What I do object to is the gratuitous snark thrown in about a different, unrelated, political topic.

  12. ConfusedbyItAll –

    1) That is still being busy. And, if patrons are using your public internet stations to look for employment, that still contradicts the statement that libraries are “fast becoming obsolete.” In fact, I’d argue the opposite. The fact that people can come into a public library and look for work, type a resume, find a book on interviewing, makes us as, and I hate this word but I’m too lazy to grab the thesaurus (online or print version), relevant as we have ever been.

    2) I was actually thinking circulation statistics. Ours, at least, are at their highest level ever. Popular fiction authors, like Patterson, are just as popular as they have always been.

    3) Perhaps they’re not lining up at the Reference desk like they used to… but, I find myself just as busy helping them navigate the internet. My job isn’t the same as it was, say 15 years ago, but I am still just as busy. I’ve just had to adapt to new tools and different types of inquiries.

  13. AlwaysWanted2B says:

    As Tip O’Neill famously said, “All Politics is Local” and things such as stimulus bill to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do indeed affect our libraries and funding.

  14. AlwaysWanted28 –

    The problem is, that means ANYTHING that could potentially affect library funding should be addressed. Funding for the national parks affects us, spending on research for global warming affects us, WIC affects us. Think how much more money for libraries there would be if we didn’t fund those programs.

    To me there is a huge difference between discussing bills and policies that have a direct effect on how we provide service to the public, and applying a thin veneer of “it’s library related” to legitimize a discussion of our personally held political beliefs.

  15. Display Name says:

    When people start talking politics, religion, last night’s episode of Lost, their wonderful children, etc, I smile, around and walk away.

  16. Before I start lecturing people at work about politics or religion, I make sure I have them backed into a corner so they can’t get past me without physically pushing me out of the way. Librarians are so shy and polite they usually just stand there quietly until I’m done.

  17. Weak AL, my god hates your library. Also down with capitalism.

  18. Oh So Anonymous says:

    I typed that too fast. I meant librarians more than libraries are becoming obsolete.
    Yes, we are busy, and the computers are full and people are lining up to check out James Patterson. It’s great they are using it to look for jobs. I help them, and that’s gratifying. But ConfusedByItAll is right that if you take that away it would slow way down. And I don’t know how many patrons never venture past the bestseller tables at the front door.
    They use machines to checkout, and dropboxes to return them. Mostly they can use the computers and catalogs by themselves. It doesn’t take any advanced skills. There is nothing I do that only could be learned in library school or that can’t be learned on the job. Time and money were merely spent to buy the title “librarian” (it paid off because I did it long ago). It’s just an arbitrary way to protect a hollow position that’s getting harder to justify. I love my job and I’m lucky to have it, but everybody where I work could do it. There’s nothing intellectual about what I do, and 90% of the job is physical book handling (and they know that, so as our circulation increases, our staffing decreases and we’re all working harder to make up the difference). If it wasn’t for the general ignorance of the patron, the library could just open with little or no staffing. So I don’t want to hear the ALA’s proclamations about the war and intellectual freedom when our budgets and hours are being chopped almost daily right now, and we do need to be relevant more than ever.

  19. I am a member of that listserve. Political comments that lean to the left are often tolerated, while anything right-leaning is quickly squelched with instructions to please stay on topic. It’s really annoying because said ideologues don’t understand that there are varying points of view about politics, even among educated, thinking librarians. Anyway, thanks for the post. I will try the puking tactic next time this happens to me in person.

  20. Mr. Kat says:

    We have to remember that our protocol in our current society is guided towards a very benign, quiet, passive, open policy – towards what is called “politically correct.” We are a culture of appeasement and retribution rooted in guilt for past ills redefined by our present culture.

    This leaves us as a society weak and unprepared for dealing with people who live contrary to the current social norm. We have to remember though that things have not always been like this nor will they always remain. If there is any one constant in history, it is the constance of change.

    the fact that politics exists in our field reinforces the fact that librarinship is a socail construct and not a natural construct. If you take away the people who believe in this fireld and advocate for it, it would be as if this field never existed. Naturally no human is solely one shade of color, so no matter where you go, you will see contamination from one bilgewater vat seeping into those that are around it. But then we must rememebr that no profession exists in a vacuum – it exists within a social construct. Politically correct separations and segragations in the name of professionalism be damned. If you want unbiased objective purity, get a computer. Cats are also pretty good.

  21. I’m sorry, and I must be slow, but I honestly have no idea of what you’re trying to say.

  22. Mr. Kat says:

    Politics is a fact of life no matter where you go, the quality [type and depth] of which is colored by the temporal crowd nonetheless.

  23. Dan in So.Dak says:

    Unfortunately, you are exceptional! Please maintain your efforts, you are appreciated beyond the world of librarians, out here in the world where norms are observed and ideas matter.
    Regards from a former citizen legislator.

  24. I guess I just feel it needs to be pointed out when the discussion strays into the ridiculous. As in we (librarians) need to speak out about x policy because that money could (but probably wouldn’t) be better spent on libraries. Which, if you think about it, could be applied to almost any policy… righty or lefty.

    Or.. when harangues from particular staff members is so annoying that I almost voted for the candidate I didn’t want.

  25. anonymous says:

    re: We have to remember that our protocol in our current society is guided towards a very benign, quiet, passive, open policy – towards what is called “politically correct.” We are a culture of appeasement and retribution rooted in guilt for past ills redefined by our present culture. < <

    This is one of the most vacuous, meaningless string of words thrown together I’ve seen in quite a while. It means absolutely nothing and cannot logically be parsed. I’d ask for clarification, but I’m pretty sure I really don’t actually wnat to hear it “explained.”

  26. I interrupted our dean of libraries at a faculty meeting today to give my opinion on whether Nino Vieira ever actually did get all the Balanta out of the top ranks of the Guinea-Bissau Army, and if Waie still contends Vieira was behind attempts to off him.

    But then my colleagues reminded me that it’s irrelevant commentary of *American* politics that it’s OK to insert into meetings.

  27. anonymouse says:

    I just want library-related discussions to stick to the topic and not wander off into other fields. I’m just as inclined to tell one side to STFU as I am the other. There’s a time and a place for everything, and discussion of library budgets and projects is no place to air one’s opinions on NON-GERMANE issues.

  28. Snowed In says:

    Now I’m dying to know which listserv! Someone spill!

  29. “I just want library-related discussions to stick to the topic and not wander off into other fields. I’m just as inclined to tell one side to STFU as I am the other. There’s a time and a place for everything, and discussion of library budgets and projects is no place to air one’s opinions on NON-GERMANE issues.” The kind of opinion you would get from someone who is clearly anti-gay pro abortion and is for the right to arm bears.

    Grow up.

  30. YQV –

    Really.. wanting to stick to the topics of a meeting, and get the h3ll out of there as fast as possible, means I’m anti-gay, pro abortion and for the right to bear arms?? Really? You can determine that from that sentiment alone? I think you seriously need to do a little reality check. Believe it nor not, some of us just want to get the meeting over. And veering off into other topics is just going to prolong it. To the point where I seriously start to consider trying to saw through my wrists with my micra. Grow up indeed.

  31. Liberals believe in free speech as long as it’s speech they agree with it. And why not, average/moderate/polite folks have been conditioned by the blathering of left-leaning professors since our college days. Many librarians seek to emulate the ‘cool profs’ with all their 19 year old groupies.

    Why talk about library business and issues, that’s hard. Much easier to go on some political tirade.

    While there are blowhards of all political stripes, the Lefties are the most aggressive and seem to think everyone must agree with them. There is a time and place for everything, most adults have figured this out, some haven’t.

  32. Mr. Kat says:

    Betty, I don’t think you will find anything different on the right side of the aisle. Conservatives believe in free speech so long as it is speech nobody can hear…

    You’re at a Hillbilly Wedding called American Politics. Now why that wedding needs to take place in the middle of a library meeting, I cannot imagine. Like someone esle said, “Grow Up.” Yes, take your political Triades outside and grow up!!

    But we haven’t gotten to the most amusing “politics” yet. You know the kind where five people get a promotion but for some reason the sixth does not? or why department X keeps getting denied more funding while Department Y keeps getting a bonus for doing nothing? Or how about the “Girls Club Syndrome” as discussed in an OLD AL Blog Long ago?

  33. Vegans For Meat says:

    Two things:
    The public library I work for has a vast array of inquires put forth everyday at the reference desk. Our library is devided into subject special departments. The questions vary from, “it says my floppy disk needs formatting, what do I do?” To “I need a cup of Vampire blood” To “I need to research the census back to 1910 as well as the Moody Industrials back to 1935, do you have those?” To “where are your books on quantum phyics?” It’s a very busy and diversified experience. I know some public libraries are nothing but bestseller warehouses, such as Baltimore County PL. And, that’s fine, I suppose. Still that’s not every library collection and clientele

    Secondly, politics will always seep into conversations, but at least amoung my collegues, no one steps beyond the boundaries into extreme partisianship. I’ve never had a political evangelist try to convert me or humiliate me into one position or another and have never had to argue with anyone. Granted, I may be working for an anomolous library, but for the most part, and I think it’s obvious, that all persons, including AL, are only arguing from their own current circumstances, yet turning it into a broad and sweeping statement about all libraries. We all know that’s a logical fallacy.

  34. Consider this gem from Autocat

    Typo of the Day for Librarians
    Tarrif* (for Tariff)

    Right before leaving the White House, Dubya managed to pull off one last-gasp galling gallophobic maneuver. He effectively banned the importation of Roquefort cheese by placing a punishingly high tariff on it in order to get back at the French for spurning our own specialty, hormone-riddled beef. There were 27 cases of Tarrif* exported to OhioLINK, which makes it a “high probability” typo on the Ballard list. Fortunately, Mr. Obama likes fromage and the French and, unlike Bush, isn’t cheesed off at them for being sharper and more sophisticated than we are and not supporting the war in Iraq. The current president even had a domestic cheese named after him back in 2007: the Barick Obama, made by Lazy Lady Farms in Westfield, Vermont.

    I am glad we are all liberal democrats and can bust a gut over former presidents we don’t like. I have some knee slappers about Ike and Hoover. Don’t get me started with Nixon, humor about him and misteaks in cataloging will leave on the floor.

  35. anonymous says:

    Freedom of speech is always for those who disagree, even in the workplace. Americans don’t check their first amendment rights at the workplace door, or shouldn’t. I suffered through many a homophobic rant by evangelical Christian co-workers when I worked down South, and even at my first library job in NYC. They had a right to their ignorant opinions as much I did to think they were in-bred peasant halfwits with MLS degrees. There’s still plenty of time to cut budgets, downsize staff, and eliminate expensive books from libraries, but please A.L. don’t think that people are going to stop being petty and political in the workplace just because you don’t like it.

  36. Display name says:

    Betty’s comment=projection, cut-and-paste, liberals stole my lunch money=boring. Get some new material.

  37. PBI Librarian says:

    Good to see Berry still spouting his socialist garbage. Where’s Red Rosy? We could have a party.

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