Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Non-Disparagement Disparagement

Apparently I “confused” someone last week when I started a post by mentioning a controversy at one university library and ended by discussing criticism of a public library system in a completely different state. There was no secret hidden meaning connecting the two. I was just discussing two different issues regarding libraries that week. I do that sometimes. In fact, I might do it now.

For those of you on the market for temporary library jobs with low pay and no benefits, you’re in luck! Two different kind readers have sent in this job.

Temporary Position, 2012‑13 academic year (September ‑ mid‑May)

Maintenance of library website, database vendor management, reference desk
scheduling, teaching information literacy, liaison and collection development
for several academic departments, backup for interlibrary loan and

Qualifications: Master’s degree in library science from an ALA‑accredited
program, knowledge and skills related to current college library technologies,
ability to deal effectively with library patrons and staff.

Compensation: $ 22,500, no benefits.

I’ll skip the link, but if you’re desperate I’m sure you can use your librarian training to find it.

Both readers were critical of the ad, and it does seem to ask for a lot of skills considering the low pay and no benefits. You’d either have to do or be prepared to do just about everything except cataloging. For that kind of broad knowledge, they really should ask for someone with a PhD!

At least if you got the job, once you left you could complain about it in public, which is more than some former New York Public Library employees can say about all the NYPL brouhaha lately. If you’re not aware of the brouhaha, and you don’t live in NYC, then it doesn’t really matter for you anyway.

If you use the main NYPL location on 5th Avenue at 42nd Street, then you probably care a lot, and judging by what I’ve seen your reaction is, “I don’t like it.”

The employees “signed a nondisparagement agreement when they left, promising not to criticize the library in exchange for the additional pay known as severance.” (Isn’t that just known as “severance pay”? Was this writer being paid by the word? Am I being paid by the word? Is that why my posts are so long?)

That’s the first I’ve heard of something like this from a library. If all librarians were required to sign those, there are various pseudonymous bloggers who would have nothing to write about.

And if the disparagement extended to conversations, half the librarians I know would have nothing to say. That would just be wrong, so I’m assuming it doesn’t extend to casual conversations.

Otherwise, I’m trying to figure out what I think about such “nondisparagement agreements.” My first instinct is to think that any organization requiring them probably has a lot to disparage. Why else would it insist on them?

On the other hand, just about every organization has something to disparage, and even if it didn’t, every organization also has disgruntled employees. Even a library with mostly gruntled librarians will have a few malcontents.

However, considering the reams of criticism leveled at the major changes being proposed for the NYPL, someone up top probably knew this was coming.

From the librarian perspective, it might seem harsh to be bound by such an agreement when you want to criticize something that you might think is a) really stupid, and b) bad for the library. But are any of those librarians regretting their course of action?

I bet it depends on the size of “the additional pay known as severance.” Think about the deal. The library isn’t paying them to say good things about the library. They’re getting paid to not say bad things about it.

Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Though the NYT article does make a good point against them. “Critics say that for an institution with a tradition of championing free speech … the clauses seem inconsistent.”

Yeah, they sort of of do seem inconsistent. So basically they’ve bribed former employees to give up their freedom of speech. Doesn’t really seem like a library kind of thing to do, and a lot of the employees probably agonize about being coerced into signing a document or not getting the additional pay known as severance (formerly known as Prince).

Except that fortunately for us it doesn’t really stop criticism, just outright and specific disparagement. “I’d like to comment, but I can’t,” said a retired curator. If he would like to but can’t, then obviously he would be disparaging the proposed changes since nothing is prohibiting him from saying nice things about the library. Thus he gets to keep his agreement and we get one more public statement against changes to the NYPL from a longtime employee. That’s a win-win scenario!

In the movie (and probably the book) All the President’s Men, Nixon’s henchmen keep issuing what Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee calls “non-denial denials.” Thanks to this shady agreement, librarians have to issue non-disparagement disparagement.

The librarians get paid to put their criticism in veiled terms, but it could be worse. They could be working a temporary job for low pay and no benefits, and then they’d really have something to complain about.



  1. Libraries who offer those kinds of jobs should pretty much be ashamed of themselves. Sadly, with the extremely crappy economy and worse LIS job market, they can get away with it because there will always be some desperate sucker willing to break and take said job.

  2. Development Arrested says:

    Hey it could be worse… it could be a para”professional” position.

  3. mgumbah says:

    The ALA has non-disparagement language in their severance agreements.

    • @mgumbah, would you please specify/link?

    • mgumbah says:

      Can’t do that or ALA’s big Chicago law firm would squash me like a bug.

    • @mgumbah, understood, but the ALA uses anonymity to its advantage from time to time, such as to promote itself and its political causes on Wikipedia. Here’s your chance to turn the tables. Stay anonymous and reveal the ALA’s non-disparagement language in it severance agreements. Send it to me and I’ll publish it. Law firms do not rattle me.

      Look, I can only imagine the ALA language is essentially boilerplate. So I cannot see any harm to the ALA due to disclosure of such language.

    • mgumbah says:

      ALA’s severance contract also requires that the terminated employee waive a long list of constitutional and civil rights in order to get their one additional month of salary.

    • Wonderful. Does anyone else wish to confirm, perhaps provide the exact text/link?

      @mgumbah said, “The ALA has non-disparagement language in their severance agreements.”

  4. To @NYPL former employees or any other librarians having any concerns at all, I will be happy to host your comments and keep them anonymous on my SafeLibraries blog. Contact me.

    To AL, funny, not only what you report but also what you write about it. Thanks.

  5. Tired Librarian says:

    If I were a former NYPL employee, I would NOT forward ANYTHING to someone who cowardly tries to “out” librarians to their employers by using out-of-context quotes to claim that they are not doing their jobs on his whacko webpage.

    • @Tired Librarian, if u r referring to me, I give everyone the free speech they do not now have. Some have used the opportunity I provided. The topic may be any topic that is library related. I am the ALA’s acknowledged top critic, so what they write will get a lot of views.

      To @NYPL former employees or any other librarians having any concerns at all, I will be happy to host your comments and keep them anonymous on my SafeLibraries blog. Contact me.

  6. Tired Librarian says:

    Being the top critic of the ALA is like being the top critic of Cornville, Kansas 4-H club – no one cares.

    • Okay, @Tired Librarian, two comments attacking me and not addressing the issues AL raised is enough, no? Any more may be considered trolling. Besides, the ALA cares, and so does some media that seeks to report instead of repeat. Further, I raised it only in response to your first attack.

    • incognito says:

      The Safe Libraries guy calling someone else a “troll”
      now that’s rich…

    • Joneser says:

      This is assuming that anyone cares that the ALA cares (except for Mr. Safe Libraries).

  7. These clauses are actually pretty common among employers who layoff employees and offer severance pay. Every firm I’ve worked for which laid employees off did this. The only employer I’ve worked for which didn’t do this was a public university.

    This doesn’t mean the practice is acceptable but rather that it is common for employers to treat soon-to-be-former employees like this.

  8. I don’t understand why Safe Libraries guys is always in such a tizzy about what ALA says or does. Patrons could care less about ALA! I’d say 95% of them don’t even know it exists. They are only worried about what their library is doing. To them the highest library authority is the director.

    • @Me, to get a sense of the problem, you need to read this:

      “CIPA Author Exposes ALA Deception; Ernest Istook Who Authored Children’s Internet Protection Act Calls Out American Library Association for Using Legal Tactics to Claim First Amendment Protection for Public Library Pornography Viewing, Causing Librarians to Be Indifferent and Leave Children Unprotected”

      No library media, other than myself, wrote on the issue. Francine Fialkoff, Editor-in-Chief, LJ, recently mocked Mr. Istook and excused why the LJ did not cover the story, all behind a shield of anonymity in comments on LISNews.

      So why am I “in a tizzy”? A better question is why did the LJ leader mock the CIPA author and refuse to cover the story of his exposing ALA control over a third of American libraries, which is essentially what I’ve been saying for years. What is the effect of such actions on the trustworthiness of LJ as a source for unbiased information on the library industry? The fundamental unfairness of one-sided library media has something to do with why I’m “in a tizzy.” If the library media treated matters honestly and openly, there would likely be little opening for people like me to be critical of the ALA.

      And it’s people like Francine Fialkoff who use ridicule and anonymity from a position of power to control the media to keep the library media and ALA status quo, anything goes. It is fundamentally unfair to communities nationwide.

      So perhaps now you can “understand why Safe Libraries guys is always in such a tizzy about what ALA says or does.” 1) The ALA is misleading many, many communities and I’m allowed to advise people of reliable sources saying the opposite of the ALA misinformation, and 2) library media does not do its job but backs up the ALA misinformation full throttle, even using the same dishonest tactics. Eventually people will oppose this–I’m just the one doing it the longest at present.

      It is problems within your own profession, any profession actually, that bring out whistleblowers like me, and it is especially egregious in a profession purporting to support free speech that its leaders use anonymity and ridicule to silence others, among other means.

      Speaking of whistleblowers, the Annoyed Library wrote a great post about non-disparagement disparagement. Can we get back to that now?

  9. This is the kind of help I spoke of when I commented on an article about grads bemoaning the fact that they have children a degree and a low paying job and can’t pay student loans. What I said was, no one cares what your burdens are once they get the money, honey…and no one helps. Yep, these are the kinds of “jobs” they help you get. I think librarians are the worse when “helping” others in the field. I once had a librarian say they only hired the creme de la creme at her library (I imagine was was showing off her command of the French language). To this day I have yet to find the creme in that library. However, I know the librarians are proficient in surfing the net when no one is asking a reference question…

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