Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Embrace Your Shallowness

I had an exciting couple of days at ACRL in Philadelphia last week, where hundreds of academic librarians gathered to discuss QR codes and the virtues of next gen librarians. Their virtues seem to be that they’re playful, flexible, and seldom wet themselves when boomer librarians give them withering glances for being so whiny.

It might take a few posts to get through all of the annoyances of ACRL, but the most annoying had to be the choice of final keynote speaker.

“What happens when a renowned fashion expert with an international following comes to ACRL?” asks the program? Obviously, the AL is going to make fun of it. Some were annoyed because they dress so badly. I was annoyed because of the shallow anti-intellectualism the choice of speaker implies.

Academic librarians sometimes have the reputation of being the intellectual snobs of libraryland because of all their advanced degrees and book-learning and such. Then there’s all those terribly serious endeavors ACRL involves itself with: scholarly communication, information literacy, and the like.

However, ACRL has officially shown that academic librarians are just as ordinary and vapid as everyone else, or at least those who actually enjoyed the final speaker. After decent keynote speeches by smart, serious people like Jaron Lanier and Raj Patel, the conference closed with the musings of Clinton Kelly, “renowned fashion expert.”

It makes perfect sense to have a “renowned fashion expert” at a collection of academic librarians. It just shows how academic they really are, since Kelly just finished a speaking tour of meetings of the American Historical Association and the American Chemical Society. ACRL was a natural next step.

Meetings of real academics don’t have “renowned fashion experts” as speakers. That’s because they prefer substance over style.

Attendees were told by the “renowned fashion expert” that we should stop hating our bodies. Ooooh, now that’s food for thought, at least for people who can’t handle hard thoughts. I don’t hate my body. I don’t even hate silly, shallow people. I just avoid them when I can.

Oh, and we’re not suppose to say “hate.” We’re all supposed to be happy and perky and upbeat.

Kelly urged librarians to embrace change, as if changing libraries is as easy as changing your clothes.

We’re also supposed to surround ourselves with people who make us feel great. The easiest way to do that would be to leave the profession of librarianship and join the Up with People troupe.

After all, professionally – and this was an address to a professional conference – we have little choice over whom we surround ourselves with. We can avoid certain colleagues and choose others as boon companions, but ultimately we have to work with those around us.

Besides being vapid, this is the last advice that librarians need. Do you want a good example of someone who surrounds himself  with people who make him feel great? Charlie Sheen.

Surrounding yourself with people who make you feel great is the surest path to megalomania. People who do revel in their mediocrity and go about completely unaware of their shortcomings. It might be a recipe for happiness for the eternally shallow, but it’s not a recipe for innovation or improvement.

When you’re talking about something like fashion, that probably doesn’t matter much. Fashions don’t improve or innovate, they merely change. I like to look as good or better as the next librarian, and in fact I do, but that doesn’t mean that dressing fashionably requires anything more than finding the most appropriate clothes for your body among current styles.

Admittedly, lots of librarians would love to follow that advice. They don’t want anyone pointing out problems with libraries, unless the problems are already ones they agree are problems. For a lot of librarians, the only problem is criticism.

I know, I know, you’re all thinking that of course I would criticize this shallow, vapid advice rather than embrace it. People who surround themselves with the AL, so to speak, don’t just want to feel great. They want to be challenged a little, and maybe even dare to read something they disagree with.

But others aren’t so capable of criticism or independent thought. It’s these librarians who are least in need of such vapid advice. They’re the ones mostly responsible for the lack of a culture of criticism that pervades our profession, and it’s only a culture of criticism that will lead to any sort of positive changes in libraries. Nevertheless, they’re the ones who will take such advice and confirm their prejudices.

Kelly also said other silly, vapid things about style, though he failed to mention how much easier it is to be stylish than substantive. We could have hoped that a conference of alleged academics would have avoided such shallowness, but I guess there are librarians who would rather embrace their shallowness than criticize it.

The only good thing was that I wasn’t the only librarian annoyed at the vapidity. Academic animadversions abounded. Maybe the planners of the next ACRL will have better ideas, and not get Charlie Sheen to tell us all how to WIN.



  1. AL…on the other hand why are the Yankees the most successful sports team of all time? It’s the pinstripes.

  2. Will, if it’s the pinstripes, then how do you explain the Cubs?

    AL, I agree that Clinton Kelly was an inapropriate choice of speaker, only present as a feel-good, fun, and “hip” guy. Although there are plenty of librarians who would benefit from a visit from his “What Not to Wear” crew…

  3. “Admittedly, lots of librarians would love to follow that advice. They don’t want anyone pointing out problems with libraries, unless the problems are already ones they agree are problems. For a lot of librarians, the only problem is criticism.”

    You certainly hit the nail. That is the one thing that really ticks me off about librarians and the profession overall. And have we fallen so low now that ACRL, the supposedly “premier” organization for academic librarians has to bring a “fashion expert” to be a keynote speaker? Makes me glad I dropped my ALA membership years ago.

  4. Annoyed Librarian says:

    “Although there are plenty of librarians who would benefit from a visit from his “What Not to Wear” crew…”

    No one could argue with you there!

  5. Retiring Librarian says:

    Dear AL…

    Isn’t it generally the case that library conferences of all types finish up with something cheerful, frivolous and upbeat? Last PLA I went to ended with Paula Poundstone, who was very funny and who, by the way, truly loves libraries.

    It seems to me that academic librarians should quit taking themselves so almightily serious. But that is just the opinion of a lowly public librarian.

    Three comments:
    1. Lighten up!
    2. Give it a rest.
    3. Get over yourself.

    With great regard,

    Someone with 8 weeks to go…..

  6. Saint Minutia says:

    It’s not the vapidity of the choice that bothers me. Librarianship remains a female-dominated profession; bringing in a fashion consultant implies that, as women, we’d better look hot or we’re worthless. Wear heels, and funding will rain down upon your library, you will be promoted, and all of your patrons will want to sleep with you — and, as a woman, isn’t that last part what *really* matters?

    Does anyone bring fashion consultants to the conferences of male-dominated professions? I thought not.

  7. Annoyed Librarian says:

    Oh, Retiring Librarian, I never get over myself. That’s part of my charm. Paula Poundstone is smart and funny. Bringing this vapid speaker so totally at odds with the educational mission of the academy to an academic library conference is more like having Sarah Palin speak at PLA.

  8. I believe Clinton Kelly was at ALA Midwinter so he’s definitely getting around.

  9. LittleLibrarian says:

    Re: Saint Minutia – While our culture may largely believe that a woman is only judged according to appearance, how can we assume that is what was implied by hosting Mr. Kelly? You know and I know that this judgment of a woman isn’t true, even if many people act as though it is. I also know, and I believe that AnnoyedLibrarian would agree, that many librarians are not actually terribly up to par when it comes to their professional appearance.

    Can we please separate this issue from the issue of the stretch that this conference made when they contracted with Mr. Kelly? Odd choice, maybe not entirely substantive when it comes to talking about change, maybe would have been better to have him come to a targetd professional development seminar rather than addressing the entire conference as a keynote speaker. The vapidity can be separated from your frustration with assumed implications.

    Librarians as a whole may not dress well, we could possibly. Some do, some don’t. This needs to stop being such a fun cultural issue to discuss. HR departments need to address it. We like to think of ourselves as creative human beings, but you can dress well for work and not wear heels. Where is the middle ground of feminine professionalism? This is not the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s! I, as a 20 something woman, do NOT have to dress like a man in the workplace, and I do NOT have to dress like I’m going out on the town. Yes, patrons will still make inappropriate comments no matter what. We work with the public (in public libraries anyways) Can we advocate this middle ground instead of making the conversation about prudery vs sexiness?

  10. While I certainly agree with all of your points, I have to point out that a lot of professional conferences do this brainless stuff for their finales. I’m an eye doctor when I’m not blogging books and most of our national conferences seem to wrap up with comedians or some other form of celebutard. As if that’s what we’re travelling all that way and sitting through all of those lectures to “really” see. Bleh.

  11. ACRL attendee says:

    I was surprised at how few people attended Jaron Lanier’s talk. It was very good and gave us lots to think about. I’m sure the two-point-opians hated it.

    I was disappointed with the invited speakers. None of them had anything to do with libraries or librarians or books or anything related.

    Hopefully, lots of people did what I did, which was blow off the final speaker and go sight-seeing in Philly. Mainly, I had never heard of him before, and reading the description did not make me want to hear him speak.

    AL, I did miss your annual April 1 retirement gag. You always catch some people out!

  12. rpglibrarian says:

    I’d be more impressed if Kelly gave every library $5000, on the condition that they bring their needs-to-be-weeded books to New York; and then take them book shopping for two hours.

  13. Ah, another post reporting from the cushy locale of another librarian conference where you gaily point out the “shallowness” of everyone else without giving your readers much evidence showing why those “other” librarians are so much shallower than thou. Does the Snoopy dance of Smugness ever get tiresome for you? You’ve tilted at these windmills before, sweetie, and at least somewhat more interestingly in the past. Don’t you think it’s time for you to get out of your wheelhouse?

  14. François Mitterrand says:

    Given that Rutgers paid Snookie $32k for a Q&A session and paid Toni Morrisson $30k for giving the commencement address, I don’t think that this should be all that surprising. It’s certainly representative of our value system of society as a whole. It’s the same reason why Donald Trump just won’t go away or how legitimate news organizations treat Sarah Palin like she can sprinkle fairy dust on people and make them think they can fly.

    The truly sad part is that we have been like this forever. Just 25 years ago we were listening to how Michael Jackson and his friends were out there to save the children. Reporters would interview Bob Hope about politics like he actually had two brain cells to devote to anything other than golf. We actually live in a world where Keith Richards (KEITH RICHARDS!) is paid money to speak to kids not to do drugs.

    So no, it doesn’t surprise me at all that they great ACRL thinks that some fashion guru is more important to listen to than, let’s face it, any person with a library degree or working in a library related industry. I could have put a student worker on the podium and the talk would have been more relevant. For that matter, Dewey the library cat!

  15. Librarian with a sense of humor says:

    I must be a terrible librarian because I would have enjoyed his speech much more than the speech I saw at my state’s library conference, which was from a “relevant” person. Give me a break. Anyone who attended the conference knew who the keynote speaker was and could have chosen to skip his “shallow, vapid speech.” It’s just an opportunity for fun(something that seems to be severely lacking on this blog and in the comments). So for all of you who found Mr. Kelly not intelligent enough for the likes of you, I say bah humbug. You all probably still wear nude hose underneath your dress pants too…

  16. Gary Barthe says:

    You speak of dealing with “whiny” co-workers…this entire work is one big whine!

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