Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Bad Criticism of Libraries

I was going to write about the controversy over a university (“university”?) that lost a lot of faculty and one librarian because they wouldn’t sign a “lifestyle statement” saying they wouldn’t be homosexual, have sex outside of marriage, or drink alcohol in public.

They presumably want everyone at their university to be more like Jesus, who of course never drank in public and was obsessed with abortion, same-sex marriage, socialism, and “family values.” That’s all he ever talked about, just like today’s Christians.

But what is there really to say? A “university” that was once a respectable college is now an intellectual joke, and the lives of some harmless former employees are worse off. Some library should give that librarian a job in a library without institutionalized bigotry. He’s obviously got plenty of integrity.

Or there was the man who was stabbed at the Brooklyn Public Library by someone accusing him of watching Internet porn. If only there had been porn filters! And maybe some body armor. But there’s not a lot to say about that either, especially since Safe Libraries Guy was nowhere near the BPL. Stabbing people is bad. Don’t do it. Get well soon. That’s pretty much it.

Instead, my favorite library read of the week was this one, asking the timeless question: “Does the Free Library even know what century it’s in?” My thinking is, probably. Libraries have lots of calendars. I’ve met some librarians from there over the years, and they definitely seem like they know what century they’re living in. Except for that freaky one, and you know who you are!

Criticism of libraries should only be done by people who know what they’re talking about, unless the criticism is purposely written so that the person looks like a fool, so that the librarians can step in and correct him. Maybe that’s why this article was published.

Take a gander at this quote, and see if you think it’s realistic:

For instance, visit your local library and request to speak to the branch manager, who might be earning an annual salary up to $70,000, while accruing a lucrative pension package, and ask how a specific Photoshop function works? You know what they are most likely going to do: walk you over to the outdated computer-reference section to find an operating guide on Photoshop.

Does that sound likely? Why would anyone ask to speak to the branch manager and then ask the person how Photoshop works? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to ask a reference librarian, who would be much more likely to Google the question than walk over to an outdated book? Also, how much does Photoshop really change over the years? Might a ten year old book still be helpful?

Then there’s some stuff about unions and photocopying. Apparently we should have less of the former and more of the latter and the world would be a better place. We definitely don’t need more photocopying in the world.

Up until the end, I was willing to go part of the way with the “writer and community activist.” Okay, libraries can be more efficient. Their collections could probably use updating. But then this happened:

Instead of the library system hauling the majority of its materials across town from one branch to another, as is currently done (with gas at $4 per gallon), digitizing the library collection is eco-friendly, the wave of the future. As global demand of fuel increases, the price of gas is just going to skyrocket, and even more tax dollars will be wasted on an obsolete system.

W, as the kids say these days, TF? This is the point at which anyone who knows anything at all about libraries, books, digitization, and the law would be forced to say, “sir, you’re an ignoramus.”

Digitize the library so we wouldn’t have to deal with physical books…why didn’t we think of that! My god, you’re right. It IS eco-friendly, AND the wave of the future! We’ll get right on it! Thanks for the helpful suggestion!

A fun response might be a cost-benefit analysis showing it’s probably less expensive to haul physical books around for decades than to scan the millions of items in the Free Library of Philadelphia. That’s expensive stuff, which it why it took a Google to do so much of it, and they still didn’t do it as well as it should have been done. Every once in a while it’s fun to enter into someone else’s delusion just to see the world through their eyes.

But of course, in addition to being prohibitively expensive, it’s also completely illegal, as anyone who’s not an ignoramus would know. Can someone really be a “writer” and not have heard of the Google Books settlement controversy? Good grief.

And good riddance to misinformed rubbish. If only all library criticism were as easy to dismiss.



  1. pt frawley says:

    Thanks for putting him in his place but he is right about the photocopying. In fact, Staples will copy a B&W for 9¢.
    …Twenty-five cents a copy at my FLP Branch – when the machine is in working order – and since you can’t take Ref books out of the building so you can to walk over to Staples, then what?

  2. It would be a mistake to dismiss these stories. The number and kernel of truth in their criticisms signal the library brand is tarnishing. Along with a whole bunch of other things swirling in the ether* they nurture a “truth” about libraries in conflict with the widely accepted truth of library as democratic lynchpin and People’s University.

    The criticism will stick to the degree it fits with a person’s idealogy. Someone who favors smaller government will heavily weight a story about library wastefulness. Stories of how low-tech libraries are will resonate with technophiles. Still others will use anecdotes from library users or personal observation to mediate these conflicting views. Increasingly it will reveal an organization heavily invested in retail work and unique in its lack of identity … resembling a combo book store/rec center/coffee shop/social service agency – basically anything except the library model they grew up with.

    Seems discouraging to me. Oh sure, there will always be people who LOVE libraries – but will there be enough of them as time passes to keep libraries afloat?

    * stories by prominent newspapers about library porn; scathing satire from Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, The Onion; disintermediation by hi-quality information services; bypass from publishers.

    • Tessa Winters says:

      Jean, you have mentioned Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, and the Onion several times in your posts. Would you kindly provide links to these examples? I would like to see for myself just what this scathing satire is saying.

    • Randal Powell says:


      What’s wrong with drinking coffee in the library? I like to get wired when I’m learning.

      I’m totally with you when it comes to the old-school, back-to-basics, People’s University view of libraries, but drinking and buying coffee while you’re there is not mutually exclusive, and for me, coffee makes the experience more productive and enjoyable.

    • Hi Tessa – thanks for the follow-up. I continually cite these examples because to me they signal a shift in our public perception of libraries. As recently as a few years ago, even though the “internet will be the end of libraries” narrative was in full swing, articles about them still seemed to exude a sense of esteem for the Institution. Additionally, libraries seemed to be “under the radar”, of interest to people within the library community/ecosystem and a small number of outsiders like me.

      Then, we started seeing a few prominent/popular cultural influencers taking an interest in them as the butt of jokes. And, as the AL notes in this post, criticisms of libraries are now coming from a lot of directions. The teflon coating is starting to chip and peel.

      In May 2010, Jay Leno quipped “People here in Los Angeles are upset that the mayor’s proposed plan to cut the budget of libraries… This could affect as many as nine people.”

      In June 2010, during National Library Week, the Huffington Post promoted a collection of “passive-agressive library signs” with the descripton “Librarians can be VICIOUS.”

      Also in June 2010, The Onion ran a spot-on spoof of the decline of the newspaper industry in which one of the few remaining subscribers was the library where a man used the newspaper to cover his masturbating at the computers.

      I was hoping it was a blip until I saw Jon Stewart incorporate it into his January 2012 coverage of the Wikipedia blackout, asking “do they expect people to go to the library like a common masturbator?”

    • Aw Randal – surely you know it’s not the coffee I object to :)

    • Jean, here’s another to add to your list, fresh off the presses:
      “Shame, shame, shame”

    • Jean-
      In general you are correct about not dismissing stories regarding negative publicity for libraries. Regarding this one you are incorrect. It can be dismissed. The entire story is completely ignorant and shows someone who is downright misinformed.

      Also, libraries should not be immune to satire and jokes. No other governmental entity is. I also wouldn’t call this satire “scathing” either.

    • Hi Me – what I found so damning about these satires is how dismissive they were of libraries — almost as if libraries aren’t worth anything more than saying “no one uses ’em except the perverts”. As strange as this may sound, it would seem better to me if they were to receive an extended treatment like the Onion gave to newspapers.

  3. Michelle Sellars says:

    A ten year old book on Photoshop would be pretty out of date, since it does change a bit with every version. But most respectable public libraries would have a book on the latest or next-to-latest version, which would be fine. Or the patron using Photoshop could just use Google on the same computer he is also using to enhance images.

    So, this guy wants more photocopies, but fewer paper books? Maybe more critics should visit the 020 section of their local libraries and learn a bit about the profession.

  4. AL said, “But there’s not a lot to say about that either, especially since Safe Libraries Guy was nowhere near the BPL.” Hahahaha – very funny! Thanks for the mention!

  5. As far as the cafe in the library-good idea. However, given the decreasing funding on libraries (particularly in the city of Philadelphia, which is this guy is located)how does he propose to get the money for building renovations? Oh yeah, just shorten the hours the library even more to get funding for building renovations. That will work. Free fax privileges? Not a function of your local library, but your local 7-11 probably has a fax machine they will let you use.

    As far as paying fines or ordering things online, I agree with him. Libraries could set up a PayPal account for this.

    • Randal Powell says:

      New construction for a “cafe” is desirable, but is not strictly necessary. A large coffee maker behind the circulation desk with some disposable cups will get the job done. If you bootstrap it that way, you can pay for new construction and furniture if and when the profits are sufficient to self-fund it.

  6. Christian Librarian says:

    If you do not support the ideology (in the case you mentioned theology) of an institution, why would you work there? I don’t plan to apply for a job where I would be promoting or curating the LGBT lifestyle or agenda because I am a Christian first and librarian as a career choice. So why was the gay librarian working at a Christian University in the first place? He was wrong… the lifestyle statement is not wrong.

    Faithless aka worldly godless people do not understand or respect spiritual things.

    This was the worse blog post by AL that I have ever read… you were rambling and did not make one valid or intelligent point.

    • Actually, there are plenty of queer people and atheists who work happily for religious institutions/people and respect the values of others although they do not share them. Likewise, there are many Christians who are not flaming bigots like you. Thankfully, I have chosen to work at an institution where people mind their own business, and I guarantee that it’s nicer than working with people like you.

    • The question, Christian Librarian, is actually simpler – what is it about his choice of sexual activity in the privacy of his own home that affects his ability to do his job as a librarian professionally and effectively? In civilised countries like Australia, most of the things in this ‘lifestyle statement’ would actually be unlawful to require of staff, for the same reason it is against the law to discriminate against people because they are women or have different coloured skin to you. There is nothing ‘spiritual’ about being a bigot.

    • “Christian”- Synonym for bigoted, closed-minded, and seeking to control what other people do between the sheets or in their personal lives.

      Also see: “Right-wing” or “Christian Right”.

      Those first two paragraphs were some of the best pieces of writing the AL has ever written.

    • No, I think Christian Librarian has a point. It worked for him to work in that institution for many years, but now the university is going back to its more conservative roots. As the general culture and religious culture part ways more often now, there is a bigger divide between secular-minded people and religious-minded people. Maybe we can acknowledge that now is the time for him to move on, although he used to be happy there.

      If those religious people are paying for his salary, and he is working in an openly church-run institution, then they are within their rights to ask staff to follow certain tenets. This would be a COMPLETELY different case if it were public dollars, a public institution, etc.

    • I don’t identify as a Christian, CL, but I have studied the Bible in and out of church. Your attitude seems different to me than the one Jesus Christ expounded on in teachings like the Sermon on the Mount.

  7. Tired Librarian says:

    I would think that the library “brand” would have been damaged irretrievably by the nasty librarian in “Sophie’s Choice”, what was it? 30 years ago? Not to mention a zillion other stereotypes…

    Why don’t accountants hoard up every negative comment and depiction of their profession? Because the average Joanne can’t Google a pretty good answer to most of their questions? Because most people can’t keep accounts?

    • Hello Tired – many library folk have told me “we’ve been hearing libraries are doomed for years”. They seem to either not believe it – or believe downsizing will happen far enough in the future that it won’t affect their job. I’d probably feel the same way if I was hearing the same thing year after year and not seeing significant change in my work environment.

      My take is the doomsayers have been right for 30 years. What they’ve appreciated, and institutional insularity has prevented libraries from truly appreciating, are the myriad developments – social, economic and technological – challenging the Institution. Social change doesn’t happen overnight. It often comes not as a bang, but as a whisper. The library dilemma has been unfolding for years and (IMO) will run its unfortunate course toward the end of this decade. I believe there is still a small window of opportunity to change the trajectory, which is why I beat the drum the way I do.

  8. Confused says:

    I have to say I am not seeing the link between AL’s rant about a private university asking for a lifestyle statement from their staff and the rest of this post about people’s misconceptions about libraries and their future.
    If a rant is needed – I would love to see one on why the ALA is not spending its time addressing these publicly held errors with a national publicity campaign instead of wasting it on lobbying and statement making for non-library issues.

    • hypocritical says:

      You (meaning “me”), Hugh, and MLIS apparently have yet to work in Academia, so they do not have an understanding of University policies and procedures. Amazing, pathetic responses. Let’s play the bigot card! Really??

  9. Christian Librarian says:

    Wow so now I’m the persecuted librarian. Many of you appear to be the angry atheist librarians. I stand by what I said and I know the truth. So the readers of this blog are faithless and judgmental. You aren’t accepting of freedom of religion or speech not when it relates to a Christian.

    • You (meaning “me”), Hugh, and MLIS apparently have yet to work in Academia, so they do not have an understanding of University policies and procedures. Amazing, pathetic responses. Let’s play the bigot card! Really??

    • I do work in academia, just around people who don’t vocalize their judgment against other people’s personal lifestyles…which is pretty Christian of them, actually.

      Not all Christians share your narrow-minded views, so why would an applicant assume that a Christian institution is anti-gay? Unless they, you know, TOLD him. Maybe by making him sign a lifestyle statement *upon hire*.

      Some Christians sure have a hard time understanding that no one else really cares what they think. Glad my Christian friends and colleagues are not like that!

  10. Oh, you “know the truth.” Debate settled, then!

  11. JW Librarian says:

    No “Christian” Librarian otherwise known as Christendom Librarian. I, a Jehovah’s Witnesses, only have the Truth. You may have shavings of (T)ruth, but only We have The Truth. I know this for a fact and also know you are not a true Christian which probably extends over into the fact that you are not a True Librarian, either. A False Librarian, otherwise known as a False Teacher.

  12. Christian Librarian says:

    I stand by my original response which was I do not feel one should seek employment with an organization if you do not agree with the philosophy of that organization. I would not work at a casino or a strip club because those establishments are not in line with the way I choose to live my life. That is my right. It makes good sense to align oneself with a company with which you share a passion for their products and services. So, likewise a nonbeliever should not seek employment at a Christian organization.

    As for all of the bashing here. Well it’s a shame that my colleagues can be so evil and rude. I will not return your insults. If you are happy with your faith or lack thereof, that is your business. It is not necessary to persecute me. All you know about me is that I am a librarian and that I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe that He died for the sin of the world. I am not ashamed of this belief. No scathing comments on a blog’s comments section can do that. God Bless you all!

  13. Tired Librarian says:

    Christian Librarian – debate,discussion and disagreement is not persecution.

    I agree with Hugh – if an organiztion needs and hires a librarian, what business of their’s is it that staff member visits a pub? or what they do in the privacy of their home and with whom?

    What next? fire somebody because they go to family picnics where their gay brother also attends?

    • To tired librarian: Do you get it that a church-run organization might have different criteria for hiring than a purely secular one? Do you get that the Baptist folks paying this man’s salary might not want someone openly living a lifestyle that is in conflict with their basic beliefs?
      There’s an issue of what someone does in their private life, and then the separate issue of openly living in a way that is in conflict with the “brand” of the institution (a concept that some might call “scandal”).

    • I’m not saying I support this approach, but unfortunately “lifestyle discrimination” is perfectly legal in many states. In those states you can be denied a job if you are a smoker (or even if you were previously), drink alcohol, etc., etc.

    • The problem isn’t that an openly gay person would be working at a christian/religious institution. It is that these “Christian” views are inherently wrong. It is WRONG to deny people rights and opportunities because of their sexual preference or other lifestyle choices. These people are bigots. Anyone who tries to control what other people do in their personal lives that isn’t causing them or some else harm is bigotry. Plain and simple.

  14. JW Librarian says:

    I personally don’t have a problem with Christian Institutions firing those they don’t agree with. I have fired many Christians in my day because I abhor their lifestyle. We should all be able to fire someone based on their choices in life, and choosing to be a Christian is a poor choice and does not fit my institution’s goals and outlook on life.

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