Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

But What about the Academics?

Someone at ACRL (I won’t tell you who!) opined that the AL doesn’t spend enough time making fun of academic librarians. It seems I mostly talk about public libraries, despite the fact that I work in an academic library. What’s up with that?

There are a number of possible reasons. The most obvious might be that I’ve been working in academic libraries for so long that I’m immune to the follies of academic librarians. I just don’t notice how silly some of them are. The field just becomes a blur of facial hair and lumpy sweaters.

There’s also the Public Library Privilege I wrote about a few weeks ago. For better or worse, when people speak or write in public about “libraries,” they almost inevitably mean public libraries. Thus, most of the library news that comes my way is about public libraries one way or another.

I haven’t done a count on this, but my feeling is that most of the prominent writing and speaking librarians out there, the ones who make waves for doing things brilliant or ridiculous, aren’t academic librarians. They’re either public librarians or speaking mostly about public libraries.

Academic librarians didn’t make that Library 101 video, nor were they leading the twopointopian lemmings over the cliff of nonsense. They don’t dominate the pages of American Libraries, which is almost overwhelmingly about public libraries and their interests and contains very little by or from academic librarians.

But for the sake of argument, what could I say to make fun of academic librarians? Hmmm….

Well, a lot of them are kinda stuffy and serious. I’m not sure about blog rankings, but the academic library bloggers I read have a tendency to write very long, very analytical posts about issues that would be considered arcane by the public, and even by most public librarians.

Some of it’s boring to outsiders, but it’s hard to poke fun at it the way one can with a cheesy video of librarians acting ridiculous.

What’s more, the area in which it’s painfully easy to poke fun at academic librarians is hidden from the view of most. If you really want to take academic librarians down a peg or two, start reading large quantities of what passes for peer-reviewed scholarly literature in librarianship.

It’s mostly bad, and it mostly follows one model. In case you, too, want to publish pointless articles in the library literature, here’s your map to success.

  1. Pick some boring and obvious library practice
  2. Do a quick search of Library Lit to see what others have said about it
  3. Prepare a survey about it
  4. Send out the survey to a randomly selected group of librarians, 90% of whom will ignore it
  5. Compile your 27 responses into a chart
  6. Report the insignificant findings of your pointless survey
  7. Ignore the fact that you’ve done no research worthy of the name
  8. Announce that more research needs to be done on the issue
  9. Repeat

There are good reasons, or at least excuses, for the shoddy state of most research published by academic librarians. In lots of universities, they have so-called faculty status and have to publish just like the real faculty, only while working 12-month schedules and attending fourteen meetings a day. With this, it’s no wonder their scholarship is so lightweight.

Librarians who aren’t under pressure to publish might wonder why anyone does it. The best answer is that it’s just the way things are. Nobody really needs more bad research from librarians, but librarians have to produce it. They practice on a smaller scale the vice that plagues academia, publishing junk because you must.

You might argue that they could go do other jobs, but in reality they probably can’t. Academic librarians tend to have already failed in their initial goal to be professors. Academic librarianship is what a lot of academically minded people take up when they realize that no, they won’t be the one in five hundred chosen for that tenure track professorial position.

I suppose one could pity these librarians as easily as mocking them, seeing as how they’re living the life of a shadow academic, mimicking the scholars they might have been in different circumstances, but go ahead and mock them. They’ll be too busy drinking coffee and reading to notice.

Which reminds me of some comments over the years resentful of academic librarians. Though they’re too busy to produce good scholarship, they do find time to travel and socialize a lot. Instead of slogging through grunt work, many of them prefer to delegate that to lesser mortals so they can jaunt off to another conference or coffee meeting.

Instead of finding that something to make fun of, I find it something to admire. Only librarians who have chosen less well resent it.

So there you have it. The mockery is complete. Academic librarians tend to be highly educated, frumpy, mediocre scholars who prefer knowing things to doing things and who would rather drink coffee or go to conferences than do tedious tasks. Nice work if you can get it.



  1. Fat Guy says:

    I suppose they could also keep producing repetitive, cynical blog posts pretending they’re the Diogenes of their profession, as if snark and mockery are valid additions to the “culture of criticism” the profession supposedly sorely lacks. Nice work if you can get it, indeed.

  2. Plus, when academic libraries are cut totally from budgets, the librarians that are left can form a committee and look to see if they should do something differently. They could issue a report in six months, look to hire someone to help rectify the situation, go through the year long hiring process, hire someone, put that new person into the committee, and after six months come up with some recommendations.

    Much like the Peoples Front of Judea.

  3. I will agree the bar is pretty low for library lit, and it’s reflected in their low impact factors. I find the best academic librarians are too busy working with faculty in their liaison departments on actual research to put much effort into the garbage that clutters up the library journals and the library conference proceedings.

  4. 2. AL…the reason that the public library is a more provocative subject for reflection, analysis, criticism, and satire is because its mission is always under debate given changing technology, a changing client base, a changing economy, and a changing political landscape. What is the public library? A community center? A gathering place? A homeless shelter? The University of the People? A computer education center for those on the wrong side of the digital divide? A gaming center? A free Netflix program? A repository of cultural mementos? An “info to go” resource? A purveyor of bestsellers? That debate is always current and always dynamic. On the other hand, the academic library is well defined. It exists to support the curriculum and the research needs of the institution that supports it. Its mission is pretty static and therefore its professional dialogue is not nearly as visceral.

  5. You are so right. It’s because we HAVE to publish to get tenure and promotion and it HAS to be peer-review and HAS to be in the library field or we don’t get credit for publishing anything.

  6. Annoyed Librarian says:

    Fat Guy, you must be one of those people who are chained to your seat and forced to read the AL. For that, I’m truly sorry.

  7. Definitely concur on the description of library lit. and those who write it. It always boils down to “We made a survey. Sent it to 100 people. 30 replied back. 15 were not filled out correctly, and two were left blank. Out of 13 responses, we can conclude, without saying you can make generalizations, blah blah blah.” That nonsense is probably one of the big reasons librarians should not have tenure. Let them concentrate on their actual jobs of reference, being liaisons, collection development, so on, and drop the “faculty” pretense. Besides, you know the rest of the faculty will never see librarians as peers.

  8. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing says:

    Actually, the most disappointing thing about the tripe that is published is that it has almost no possible application for the real world. I keep trying to write grants for our library and cringe whenever I have to find supporting literature for any project we are trying to create. There isn’t any, and half the time what we are trying to do has been in practice elsewhere for years. I wonder if other professions are plagued with the same problem.

  9. Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian says:

    Although my Library Research class professor was a decent prof and researcher, the class had been dumbed down so much for all the weenies with humanities undergrad degrees, it was pathetic. My stats and research classes in my psych undergrad degree were rigorous and I worked hard to get a B- and C+. The research literature I used for my graduate class were exactly as has been described above; badly done surveys with no statistical validity, badly written and just sad. I haven’t bothered to read ‘research’ by librarians for the past 14 years.

  10. Spekkio says:

    Speaking of academics, look at this….

    A nice follow-up to February’s “Women and Wikipedia” post.

  11. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    AL you forgot a point in your map to success:

    10. Sit back in revel in the thought that you have doomed future library school students to read your article(s) in a pain inducing review of the literature (and write a 10 page reaction)

  12. Hood Librarian says:

    Academic librarians, like public librarians also make stupid library videos. Librarians at the U. of Washington made that stupid Lady Gaga catalog video and librarians at Florida St. made a stupid “Lazy Sunday” parody. This should be noted. The ability to demonstrated you are professional does not just exist in public libraries.

  13. “Fat Guy, you must be one of those people who are chained to your seat and forced to read the AL. For that, I’m truly sorry.”

    I guess when you can’t counter a point all you can do is ignore it and make fun of the person who raised it.

  14. I’m glad to know my desired career is exactly as I imagined it. Yay me!

    I hope I can find an academic position soon, although I don’t think I’m stuffy enough (I eat too many pixie sticks and wear bright colors). I tend to prefer the teaching and reference aspects more than I do the “publish or perish” part. At least the publish part is pretty easy in this field.

  15. Faculty librarian says:

    Dances with Books wrote: “Besides, you know the rest of the faculty will never see librarians as peers.”

    Some will, some won’t. My career at a middle-sized state university includes terms as faculty senate president and an upcoming term as president of the faculty union. Our library’s RPT Guidelines acknowledge the importance of service to both the campus and the profession, and it is hard to avoid tripping over a librarian at any campus meeting or venue concerning curriculum and instruction. We pull our weight here, and in my experience most of my colleagues in the academic departments appreciate it.

    As for research, we get some done and published, and some is actually useful to the wider world. Still, the criticism that our research efforts lag in comparison to the academic departments has some validity. As the AL wrote: “In lots of universities, they have so-called faculty status and have to publish just like the real faculty, only while working 12-month schedules and attending fourteen meetings a day. With this, it’s no wonder their scholarship is so lightweight.”

    However, I don’t think that the research model of the Carnegie R1 research university is appropriate to all academic libraries. We have to find a balance among our commitments that best supports our institutions. RPT guidelines and practices can account for this, and they should be explicit in expectations and priorities.

  16. Your article is so uncomfortably true that I fear for your safety. I have shared it with my stuffy colleagues and I hear the rumblings of an angry mob. If they weren’t so busy going to coffee or “working off site” you would be in real trouble!

  17. I am outraged and demand to see more mockery of special, corporate, military, government and school librarians. And archivists.

  18. Spekkio says:

    Follow-up to post #10, including appropriately snarky Slashdot comments:

  19. Bruce Campbell says:

    I am outraged and demand to see more mockery of special, corporate, military, government and school librarians. And archivists.

    Yes. And children’s librarians. They get paid to dress up and talk in funny voices.

    The public library is more interesting to talk about and it’s more accessible, thereby more bloggable. Where else can you see a homeless man make overtures to a woman while she tries to help an eight year old find books on bull frogs? Nowhere.

  20. overmatik says:

    I’ve worked in Academic Libraries in the past. The routine is boring, but your patrons are usually very educated, while working in public libraries will put you in contact with all the spectrum of lunatics.

  21. CattyCataloger says:

    Personally where I work I’ve got the best of “both” worlds. By definition I’m an academic librarian but I work at community college so I get to be in contact with a full “spectrum of lunatics” (to quote overmatik) It’s true! Really! We’ve had flying cops; huge overstuffed bears; porn watching folks; you name it’s happened here. I know this really doesn’t fit the thread but I just wanted folks to know that not all academic libraries are boring and routine.

  22. It’s so sad you all can’t leave your librarian jobs to do something you like!

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