Wednesday, May 02, 2007

On library discourse?

I hate to say this, but I have to wonder after reading Mr. Bell's column for Inside Higher Ed on "Good at Reviewing Books But Not Each Other," just what corner of the library sector of the blogosphere was Mr. Bell hanging out at. "In the world of library blogging the sky is always sunny, and nary is a dissenting or argumentative thought expressed," he writes. Initially my reaction was, "oh really?"

  • We have the reactions to what has become known as Gormangate.
  • We have the semi-regular musings over the value of a membership in ALA. This often boils down the organization just does not do enough for its members given the high fees it extracts, and then some ALA defends the value of ALA and tells those questioning that if they don't like it, they can go someplace else.
  • The "should conference speakers be compensated" semi-seasonal meme and debate.
  • The whole 2.0 thing. This is usually manifested by someone going "ga ga" over the latest little toy. Someone else questions the value of said little toy. The evangelist then says "you either get it or you don't." Some more fussing ensues, and then it dies down until the next widget comes around. Personally, this is a big reason why I avoid touching any L2 or 2.0 topic altogether.
Now, the library literature, which Mr. Bell also brings up in his column, is a separate issue. We don't really talk about it in our profession, and maybe there Mr. Bell has a good point. The fact is you can tell pretty much right away that a lot of LIS articles are just librarians writing something for their tenure dossiers. Substance is not always present in the LIS literature. The profession does not like to talk about that because, after all, some of our academic brethren do have to play the "publish or perish" game, and in that situation, you do whatever you need to do to get tenure. Now, I am not saying that there are no battles to fight, so to speak, in our profession. But the battles certainly are not getting fought in the library literature. The library literature is, for the most part, a depiction of libraries where they always have the resources they need, full buy-in and support from the administration (or, there may be some drama as they get the buy-in, but they always get it), and faculty that just love their library and think the library can do no wrong. I read enough articles in the literature to know this by now. I make notes on the few I find useful or that contain something I can learn. However, readers here are fortunate I don't make notes on the many bad ones I simply glance and then toss out. How some people get published in LIS is beyond me. Because when I was in my Literature program, there was a lot more rigor back then about what one would write for publication or presented at a conference. But I am digressing.

The point is that if any controversy does happen in our field, you see it in the blogs. It's the nature of the beast. Blogs are swift and easy to publish. You can get the ball rolling on the controversy du jour fast. And once the A-listers of our profession cover the issue or gripe du jour, it goes down the list like an avalanche, ACRLog included. Sometimes it's polite; sometimes it is not so polite. Academic journals simply do not lend themselves to fast and controversial discussions. If the topic has already visited the library sector of the blogosphere, by the time it gets on a journal, it's pretty much old news.

Now, to talk a bit about the chill in the library sector of the blogosphere. Who knows? For me, it's more along the lines of who cares? Mr. Bell writes, discussing the 2.0 groupthink phenomenon, "and in the end then nice thing to do is just go along with the crowd." I'll say nay. The nice thing for me is to stay away from the crowd. Sure, keep an eye on it, but otherwise, let it run its course. Between my work locally, which keeps me very busy most of the year, and just other things I would rather explore and write about, I don't care a whole lot about where the rest of the herd goes. In that, to some extent, I may share more agreement with Mr. Bell that I think. Again, who knows? I am pretty much figuring this out myself as I am writing it.

In my case, I also value civility. I grew up with the maxim of "if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say it." It does not mean I can't be blunt if necessary. But why bother stirring a nest of hornets here and alienating people there with a lack of civility? By the way, discussion listservs seem to be the place these days where a lot of civility gets tossed out the window. Not to mention their annoying repetitiveness where a topic gets beaten to death and then dragged from the pit to be beaten some more after death over and over (and I get the digest versions). That is why I am seriously thinking about dropping the few listservs I still get. By the way, here is a piece of blunt advice for those of you who post on the listservs: learn to fucking (you see, I can be blunt) prune your posts. Last thing I need is to see the same thread 20 times in the digest version and have to dig for whatever "me too" or "atta boy" you added to the discussion because you are too lazy to highlight and delete the extra stuff from the text when you press the reply button on your e-mail to type your two lines of herd affirmation. Of course, if I said something like that on a list, the flame wars would begin because it is a no-no to point out any perceived faux pas on a list.

As for the self-esteem issue in the library profession, that would be a whole separate post, and it looks like one I can leave the stars of the library sector of the blogosphere. My self-esteem as a professional is just fine.

Here are a couple other people who have a take on Mr. Bell's column:


Barbara said...

Ohhh... I'm so glad you said the F word about that. I must be proving Steven's point in that I bite my tongue when I get those endless strings of copied replies in my digests. "Me toos" are annoying, but scrolling through the same stuff again and again, seven layers deep... That was bad online behavior in the era of clay tablets.

But I just primly sit, fuming silently. :o)

Angel, librarian and educator said...

I don't throw it very often, but I do when needed proudly. The scrolling issue really is bad because not only do people not trim, but they very often do not quite put their own post/remark where you can see it right away. At times I wonder, was that their remark, or part of the untrimmed part? We shall fume on.

Best, and keep on blogging.