Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Handheld Annoyance

Believe it or not, I generally like being a librarian.  I enjoy my job and most of my colleagues.  I like having access to a good library.  I like that I work at a university with a reasonably attractive campus and not in a strip mall or an office park somewhere.

So what annoys me?  It’s all the vapidity in the profession as a whole.  It’s the low standards that allow the dimmest of wits to become “librarians.”  And it’s all the times I look at a conference presentation or a library speaker and think to myself, my god, how could anyone take this stuff seriously?

The latest is the Handheld Librarian Online Conference, which seems appropriately named because it looks like a bunch of sub-normal masturbatory low-jinks.

Get a load of some of the “keynotes.”

KEYNOTE: “Creating the Future of Mobile Library Services”

Description: This audience-driven session will use input from you to highlight current trends, best practices, and emerging futures of mobile services. Together we will push the boundaries and pull the horizons to invent the future of mobile libraries and establish best practices for continuing success.

I mean, really, how are we supposed to take this seriously?  I have to admit that the speakers are clever enough to have a “keynote” where they don’t need any ideas. If I ever deliver a keynote address, I’ll have to remember that little trick.  “Audience-driven,” indeed.

And the second sentence offends the intellect even more, from the cliched “push the boundaries” to the nonsensical “pull the horizons.” And we’re led to believe that the hapless librarians silly enough to participate in this are going to invent the future of anything, and in only an hour!

But wait, there’s more!  Librarians aren’t just going to pull horizons and invent futures, they’re going to take risks! Maybe.

KEYNOTE: “Risk, Reality, & the Mobile Revolution”

Description: Mobile technologies are taking the world by storm. New products, services, and features and hit the market (and the news) each day – all with much related fanfare and debate. How do we separate what’s hip from what’s hype? How do we determine what’s worthy of attention and exploration in our libraries? Librarians are well-positioned to take the lead in this rapidly changing environment.

I know presentation descriptions are often exaggerated in order to excite the easily excitable, but this is just too much. The only thing that seems to be “taking the world by storm” here is the desire to use more cliches. Oooh, new things hit the market every day! How exciting! Intelligent people already know that you can’t separate the hip from the hype, because hip is hype. It’s all hype. For example, Apple makes some useless modifications to a product and sheeple line up to give them money. That’s how it works.

The final sentence is a holwer, too.  Are there really people gullible enough to believe that librarians, despite all evidence to the contrary, are leading in any “rapidly changing environment”? Especially in a technological environment? This demonstrates the mentality common among many “techie” librarians that using tools other people create somehow makes one a technological leader. It’s very clear who are the leaders in the so-called “mobile revolution,” and unless there are librarians designing and coding for Apple, Google, Motorola, etc., it’s definitely not librarians.

This description isn’t quite as absurd, but from the tone it’s not clear if the intended audience is teenagers or librarians.

KEYNOTE: “Meta Social: Online Interactions (& How to Make them Rock)”

Description: Online is social and mobile these days – do you know what’s out there, and how to make it work for your library? This presentation will introduce you to the different types of social interactions available on today’s web. More importantly, you’ll leave knowing how to improve each type of social interaction, and how to make it ROCK for your library.

Unless this is supposed to be social about social, I have no idea what the title means. Actually, I don’t even know what “social about social” would mean either, come to think of it. The conference is supposed to be about mobile, not social, but apparently no one bothered to inform this keynote speaker. I’m still trying to figure out the relationship between “handheld” and “the different types of social interactions available on today’s web.” I mean, without getting dirty minded.

And good grief, how hard is it to “know what’s out there,” especially, as we’re told in the last description, this stuff makes the daily news. It’s also just as obvious to most of us that most of this stuff doesn’t do much for libraries except keep the “techie” librarians occupied so they don’t bother everyone else. I can’t channel my inner juvenile boy enough to care if something ROCKS or not. And when it comes to “social,” I bet he won’t even talk about the latest fad, Friendface.

I would go on, but I couldn’t take any more and stopped reading after those. I’m in a profession surrounded by people obsessed with style over substance, glitter over gold, and who would spend time and money attending stuff like this. That’s enough to annoy any librarian.



  1. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    My mentors in LibraryLand haven’t been conference goers, conference presenters and most didn’t belong to ALA. These were men and women who knew their stuff, knew how to work with people and knew how to teach baby librarians (library school does not prepare people for the profession). In 25+ years I’ve known some huge conference hounds – they were, by and large, a waste of space in the library. I worked with one woman who thought SLA’s annual meeting the best vacation ever! She couldn’t think her way out of a paper sack.

    I’ve had my arm twisted and been forced to attend library conferences (seems I’m not “developed” enough) and came away uninspired while being bored out of my socks. I would far rather read articles, papers, books, review presentation slides than have to listen to conference drivel.

  2. Real Librarian says:

    Amen AL.

    If patrons can’t navigate our card catalog, we don’t want them in our building touching our books.

  3. I agree with AL. And most conference presentations are no better than the obscure descriptions. Most conferences are a waste of time, unless of course they are held in good places to visit.

  4. I couldn’t get past the line where you said you actually like working in a library.

  5. I definitely second NotMarian. Here we completely had all funding cut for travel, so after I managed the first year to get into a state committee (which the campus requires some degree of “professional involvement”), it was all, “oops, sorry, you have to drop it.” But that aside, even if I had managed to maintain the work, it would have driven to boredom beyond belief. The state association here is pretty much in the stone age (they still give presentations on how to blog for your library as if blogs were the new thing. Really. I kid you not). Like NotMarian, I much prefer to”read articles, papers, books, review presentation slides than have to listen to conference drivel.” It really is an embarrassment to the profession that such inane drivel passes for professional development.

    As for handheld, the boss here got the undergarments all in a bunch about it. I think money was scraped somehow to send somebody (the golden boy we just hired who is all into mobile like it was the second coming even though no one here really uses mobile). So, I may hear more of the inanity when he gets back, and we have the mandatory two hour librarian meeting that will include his “report.”

    I like being a librarian. I really do, but schtick like this just makes me lose hope.

  6. Don't Care says:

    Ha!! This is hilarious. I work with one of these, and can tell you it sucks to have one of these narcissists around. Despite this person’s obsession with mobile, and poser status as the messiah of mobile, we don’t even have a webpage about what limited mobile services we could offer because this person is too busy traipsing around the country going to conferences to bother to put one together for our students. Meanwhile, the rest of us are doing the actual work that he/she can’t stoop to do, and I think actually does not know how to do. It’s really tiresome. I feel like this person should just be managing a Verizon store or something, not working as a librarian. Oh yeah, and Foursquare? Nobody cares.

  7. cynical me says:

    I suspect the AL is actually just promoting this for her pals.

  8. Fourzeez says:

    Thanks for your comments, Don’t Care. I wondered how these types get any work done if they are always at conferences. It is so hard not to be negative about some newer librarians who deem themselves to be movers and shakers, but they seem to be so much more about “me, me, me” than anything else. I am sort of acquainted with two of the keynote speakers and their names are everywhere.

  9. You want to know the really sad thing? I read this post, wholeheartedly agreed with everything in it (Meta-Social? give me a f***ing break, people!), but I also work in a backwoods bumfark public library system in America’s “heartland”. I work on the admin side of the system and talk with small-town public library directors on a daily basis. These people DO in fact need these ridiculous, nonsensical, “DUH!” type of sessions. Some of these little libraries (town population of 600) don’t have websites. Simply putting digital photos up on Flickr is HOLY CRAP FUTURISTIC TECHNOBABBLE. I sent a woman a new password for some online form she was filling out and she was in mortal fear that I was somehow resetting the passwords to her computer, her email, her life…

    I need a new job. But as we all know, the economy is farked and there are no jobs. wheeee! (Did I mention I have a 90-minute commute each way to get to a job that I hate?)

  10. Techserving You says:

    Too hilarious. I know one of the keynote speakers mentioned here, and she has made a career – quite quickly, actually, so really more power to her – of speaking on these issues around the country. I can’t tell if she truly thinks she’s cutting edge because she knows how to use applications small children can use, or if she is consciously spewing BS, taking advantage of the fact that in the library world, if you have the desire and energy, you can become “famous” quite easily.

  11. Mr. Kat says:

    You talked around it and around it and around it but never hit it – and it’s a perfect description of this new revolution. It’s called “Handheld Arrogance” and it’s what hte handheld people get as soon as they discover htey can be on the internet at any time they wish and they rest of the world cannot. In short, they can find anything, including be the reference librarian to all those around them [well, they do what reference librarins would do] but then they would be so quick to look at reference librarians as being an a class far below themselves!

    I notice a real change in people once they get their first blackberry.

  12. Joodles says:

    I can’t tell you how it soothes me to hear these voices of reason and agreement. I had curiously joined-in on one of these virtual-conference-the-future-is-mobile Brought To You By the Vendors Vending It to see if I could discern what in the world all the fuss was about. Upon side-mailing one of the 14 panelists with a “Gosh, that speaker really jumped the shark with that comment” and getting a tepid response I was beginning to think I was the moron. Thank you all so much for validating that indeed, The Emperor is wearing, at best, a be-dazzled denim vest – and calling it cutting-edge couture.

  13. I Like Books says:

    I know someone who is enthralled with the whole hand-held, always connected, can look stuff up any time thing. And let me tell you it’s a real wet towel when the conversation stops while he’s looking something up, and then starts extensively quoting blog opinions.

  14. This is something that’s been bothering me about library science for a while. I’ve been to conferences in other academic fields and I can’t believe how brutal people are to each other when they give papers. They really take research seriously. If you’re an academic, you have to be prepared to 1) have something to actually say and 2) coherently defend whatever it is you’re saying. With library conferences, you can say any stupid thing or do show and tell, and as long as you don’t look like a stereotypical librarian, everyone just thinks, oh how nice, at least that person isn’t making us look dowdy. That’s all you have to do. Librarians will walk out before a paper is over if they’re bored, but you’ll never see people actually debating someone’s research. And that peer reaction/interaction is actually a very important part of academia. Is it because we’re too nice, or because we don’t even care?

  15. Skipping conferences says:

    Sandra, most other academics believe the Truth is out there to seek and defend. Library science is overwhelmed by social constructionists (some who know the term and others not) who are certain that there is no reality; we create our truths. Thus, “civilization would fall apart without public libraries” and people with smartphones can redefine anything to mean anything else. I’m OK; you’re OK…pass the weed. Or in the case of SRRT, scream into the interwebs because nobody else will ever listen to you. The socially powerless and awkward unite, and everytime one of us speaks, it just confirms to the rest of the world what dweebs we are.

  16. I Like Books says:

    Sandra, that’s interesting. I haven’t seen that side of the library world, but I’ve seen the physical sciences. I wouldn’t say they’re brutal to each other, exactly. The folks I’ve associated with have been quite friendly. (I’ve heard of exceptions, but haven’t witnessed them.) But they’re rigorous, and they’ll call you out on how you’ve analyzed something or about control measurements you’ve taken or whatever.

    I think I’d be annoying at a library conference. I’m not sure I could, say, let sloppy statistics, or no statistics, go without a comment. I hope you’ll voice up. Rigor has to start somewhere.

  17. Techserving You says:

    Ha ha ha, Sandra, you summed things up perfectly when you said that as long as someone presenting at a library conference doesn’t look like a stereotypical librarian, everyone just thinks oh how nice, at least that person isn’t making us look dowdy. The bar is set SO LOW for so many things in this field.

    I learned long ago (starting in my first library job) that most librarians CANNOT take any kind of constructive criticism, in any context. I had but one job where the meetings were spirited and people would at least point out the ramifications of someone else’s poorly-thought-out plan, and that sort of criticism was usually accepted fairly well. Unfortunately, the “spirited” discussion usually revolved around mind-numbingly boring cataloging minutae. But, in NOT ONE of my other (several) library jobs has any kind of real discussion been acceptable. As at conferences, in most staff meetings I have attended, some dimwit (and, I am sorry to say that most of my coworkers have been dimwits) can come present some idiotic plan, and you CANNOT question it. Even if you matter-of-factly point out errors or lack of understanding of the greater context, or just question the need for something, you’re “mean.” I’m not kidding. Everything must be accepted at face value, and every plan implemented even if there are obvious problems from the very start. This mentality extends to other forms of communication, too. I actually had a coworker almost in tears, and suddenly copying the boss on our e-mail exchange because I told her (quite nicely) that in the future she could feel free to just contact me directly (with an issue that is my job – and my job alone – to make decisions about but I didn’t say that) rather than going through a chain of two other people to pass the word to me and pass my word back to her. (I was copied on the chain of e-mails, and she didn’t go this inefficient route because of any official hierarchy by which she had to abide, but rather because “this is the way it’s been done for 30 years,” before my position existed, and she can’t wrap her brain around the “new” way of doing things.) When I went to talk to her in person (after suddenly noticing the boss copied on the e-mail) she told me, red, and shaking, that NO ONE had EVER been so rude to her before.

    But I digress from the thrust of these comments, and even more so from the AL’s original post. In any case, until librarians can handle any normal kind of disagreement, they are never going to openly debate the validity of research.

  18. Wow, there is a lot of cynicism on this website. I am somewhat amazed that AbFab’s comment did not get much of a response. There are places in the world where the web, let alone web 2.0 applications, is pretty brand new for libraries. Sure it’s nice to think that there are some cutting edge technologies out there that libraries could be exploiting, but there’s a wider world. The techie librarians using other people’s applications to do their work might be doing something important for users. It’s not all about innovation.

    The true irony of a conference on librarianship through mobile devices is that people even show up. If the technology is really that good, why not have a conference over everyone’s phones?

    The value of a conference is not necessarily the content of the presentations, anyways. It’s a chance to network face to face with other people in the profession. This article provides some interesting ideas about conferences:

    As established librarians, it may be easy for you to gripe about the graduates that our library schools are producing, but in an uncertain economy, new graduates are also having to explore options beyond traditional librarianship. There is a demand on library schools to produce graduates to fill these non-traditional roles. You can’t please everyone, and if your library is seriously considering helping new librarians to learn the profession more thoroughly, consider offering internships to library students, or advertising for volunteers.

  19. FearOfSubstance says:

    While I am all for libraries taking advantage of increased mobile device capabilities, there’s a shocking lack of substance in these conference sessions. A class on basic programming for popular mobile platforms would be far more beneficial, but that sounds like actual work rather than “audience-driven” keynotes that “push the boundaries.” Lots of talk, not enough action.

  20. It is good to see so many like-minded people. Librarians should refrain from partaking in the mobile industry. We have already seen how librarians have done so poorly with use of the Internet. Let us not poke our noses in places where we do not belong. We should stay in the stacks with the books and forget about learning from other areas and networking. Little good can come of it. If you didn’t learn it in library school, why would you need to know it?

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