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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Some Lessons Learned

A few weeks ago this blog published its thousandth post. I was so caught up in the hurly burly of existence that I didn’t even notice, but after a thousand posts and almost ten years at the Library Journal, it feels like time to take stock of a few things I’ve learned over the years.

The AL has always been provocative, and a good way to be provocative is to be gloriously wrong. Being gloriously wrong provokes people to have an opinion, and once in a while forces them to defend those opinions rather than merely sputter them, which is what usually happens on social media, especially Twitter.

People hate to have their half-baked ideas poked at. If the AL’s done anything over the years, it’s poke at people’s half-baked ideas about libraries, whether it’s librarians crying “censorship” when there’s no such thing or trying to foist their political agendas on the ALA.

And boy have the librarians hated that. The best of them come to the defense of their ideas and bake them fully; the worst complain about my alleged “anonymity.”

Which reminds me of another lesson, ignore the critics, especially the ones who criticize everything but the ideas being presented. The most ridiculous criticism has always been that about anonymity; it’s wrong because the blog is pseudonymous, not anonymous, and it’s always been used to evade having to defend the half-baked ideas I make fun of.

Sometimes there are critics who are gloriously right. I ignore them most of the time, too.

In the last few years the critical climate has changed some, as social media has morphed into a shallow platform for people to vent their manufactured outrage. Those people are best avoided, because their virtue signalling vituperation is impervious to discussion. They’ll feel just as self-righteous venting in a vacuum anyway.

There’s always something for people to manufacture outrage about, and it always changes. Another lesson learned: “controversies” come and go so you can usually ignore them. People want something to be angry or self-righteous about, and the latest unimportant controversy just fills up that space in their sad psyches.

If there is a problem with the latest trend of manufactured outrage, it’s that the unimportant controversies drown out the important ones, and everything becomes an equally annoying buzz that most people just wish would go away.

The AL’s been controversial at times. Maybe that’s because librarians can sometimes be a sensitive and insecure lot, desperately trying to fill their professional lives with an importance they don’t really feel, or trying to make their profession seem more important than it really is, sometimes joining the latest buzzword crusade (e.g., Library 2.0).

Librarians hate criticism, but they love praise and self-congratulatory publications. It’s why American Libraries magazine, AKA the Other AL, exists. They love to hear about how great they are and how they’re saving the world. Watch the reaction when the rare celebrity mentions libraries favorably. That celebrity becomes the librarian’s new favorite famous person.

On the other hand, librarians are often great, or at least what they do is great, just not for the reasons they sometimes think.

What libraries do well, and should keep doing, is from the outside kind of boring. Supplying books and magazines and information to the public and increasing the possibilities for literacy and knowledge isn’t very exciting, but it’s worthwhile and beneficial to society in a way that providing makerspaces and videogames never will be. And let’s not even get into social work or emergency medical response.

I still can’t tell if it’s the odd librarian who gets excited about trends that don’t have much to do with libraries, or if it’s just that those get the most attention because they make such a show of themselves. My guess is the latter, and that librarians in general got into the work to do librarian things.

Despite all that good work, there sure are a lot of people who have no ideas what libraries do, even the public libraries that they could potentially use. I’ve criticized numerous articles over the years by clueless journalists and pundits writing nonsense about libraries.

However, it doesn’t do much good to publicize what libraries really do. The news angle for the entire career of this blog has been that libraries have changed dramatically, that they’re not just warehouses for old books anymore, etc.

Walk into most libraries and it’s hard to miss the books. People like books. Libraries have books. People like libraries because they have books. It’s a simple fact that makes for terrible news stories, which are so driven by the desire for novelty they invent it when it doesn’t exist.

Libraries do important work for the public good, and librarians should be prouder of it as it is.

Instead of chasing after fads, worrying about their relevance, or trying to persuade the world they’re something other than what they are, librarians should embrace the fact that boring doesn’t mean irrelevant and glamorous doesn’t mean important. That’s a hard lesson to learn, though.

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Comments

  1. Amanda Rayburn says:

    My favorite things you’ve ever written. So many amazing quotes that I can’t list them all so I won’t list any! But I am sharing this with everyone I know! It goes so much deeper than just applying to libraries…this is for everyone on the internet!

  2. I’ve been in the library profession for over three decades. This “not your parents’ library!” nonsense has been going on for longer than I can remember.

    I have been well trained in, and am really quite good at, connecting people to the stories and knowledge they want and/or need. I am not trained in, and am really pretty sucky at, being a social worker, a therapist, an entertainer, an activities director, a plumber, a physician, a tax consultant, or a Geek Squad technician. I cannot fathom why my employer keeps on trying to make me do things I am bad at and not those I am good at – especially since the majority (although, admittedly, not all) of those coming to my place of employment seem to be seeking the latter.

    I still have two decades before I can afford to retire. I appreciate and share your annoyance.

  3. Still Here says:

    After 20+ years in the gig, I could not agree with you more. Well said. Bravo. Enjoy the next chapter in Life.

  4. Jessica says:

    I hate how libraries are today. But I agree with you about the last paragraph of this article. I’m happy for you that you left that out.

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