Friday, June 25, 2010

Revisiting whether I should or not blog something

C.W.'s recent post at Ruminations for her seventh day in her 30 day blogging challenge made me think a bit. It made me think because some of the questions she is answering are questions that I have pondered myself at one point or another. For some reason, I have been pondering some of those questions again. I figure then this could be a good time to revisit the topic of things I blog and do not blog about.

For reference, let me start by boiling down some of the key questions from her post and the post C.W. is replying to, which you can find at C.W.'s post. I am basically rephrasing the questions as I understand them from the readings so I can then address them.

  • Do you feel constraints in terms of speaking/blogging about the profession? This is applicable to those who blog but do not do so professionally.
  • If you blog professionally, do you feel it has threatened your career? Then again, I think this is applicable even if you have a personal blog.
  • Is it concern even when you are blogging about general LIS issues?
  • Would you be uncomfortable or feel restraints if you knew the boss or other powers that be read your blog?
The above are the basics. C.W. raises other questions as she writes, but I may or not get to those as I take a look. Let me start with the first question on that list.

Do I feel restraints in terms of talking about the profession?

I do feel some need to be restrained. It is not so much that I worry about others in Librarian Blogsville (though I have had at least one visitor who got a little defensive in making a comment. Let's just say I don't always have a good opinion of the powers that be, and said commenter was a member of the powers that be club, and leave it at that. After a while, it's best to just let things go). It is more that I worry about what my current employers may say or think. Even though I keep this blog, as well as my personal one, very separate from the workplace, one never knows when some post might trigger a superior's reaction. As for Librarian Blogsville, I am very much below the big radar as my three readers know. In terms of others in LIS, the only real restraint is trying not to beat dead horses. If a topic has pretty much made the rounds, I avoid blogging about it even when I may have an opinion. For one, the big boys and girls already took care of it. For two, I don't always have the time to reflect and come up with a good response in a timely fashion; after all, some of us do have to work for a living. So at that point, I just don't feel like making the effort. It is not that I lack ideas or opinions. It just seems that by the point X topic has made the rounds, it is already old news.

If you blog professionally, do you feel it has threatened your career?

Locally, I don't think my professional blog would represent a threat to my career. Though I have some strong opinions, I don't think I have blogged anything that would displease the university president (the mantra here is that I "serve at the pleasure of the president") or any of my superiors. If I have to be concerned, it might be if I went back out on the job market. It is not because I think I have blogged anything terribly controversial in the professional blog, but what I may consider tame someone else may consider incendiary. I have no control over what someone chooses to be offended about, so I try not to let it bother me much. I also try not to be intentionally incendiary just in case. A few years ago, Rochelle Mazar wrote the following:

"Apparently, when it comes to getting a job, it would be best if candidates appear meek, mild, and without opinions, ready to be inoffensive to everyone she meets. Again, I realize full well that there are inappropriate rants that get published on blogs, and I'm the first to cringe at them and work on writing up the blogging policy, but doesn't it seems odd to disqualify a candidate because s/he is prepared to express opinions in any forum? It would be nice if the concept of academic freedom actually meant that academics generally respected and supported the idea of free thought and expression for everyone, but apparently this doesn't work everywhere."

I quoted that passage in a post of my own considering the hazards of blogging and applying to library jobs back in 2005. I dislike the idea of being forced to appear meek, mild and without opinions. The one thing that a lot of the celebrities in Librarian Blogsville fail to realize is that many of them are a little more shielded than other folks. Whether it be due to tenure, which grants certain privileges of academic freedom, or to their fame, a lot of those folks can afford to say what they want in relative safety. Let's be honest: if your library is the library that employs one of the big celebrity librarians, you are not going to fire them over a blog post because they may express a strong opinion that may or not be popular or controversial (this of course does not apply if said blogger does something that is libelous, illegal, so on. Do I really need to make that distinction? I am sure my three readers get it). Hell, Library Journal hired the Annoyed Librarian, who is often both controversial and incendiary at times (then again, she, assuming it is a she, is a pseudonymous blogger). In the end, we are talking reputations here for the employer, and that employer does get the bragging rights of being the place where so and so works. Now as for the point of academic freedom that Rochelle brings up in her writing, it's interesting how that works. You get the academic freedom when you are employed. When you are in the market, all bets are off, and you better watch what you say or blog about. It's the reality of the profession, and by now I accept it. I am not saying it is right; I am just saying it is what it is. I know I may take a risk or two, and I know it is part of being a librarian blogger. Again, it is what it is. I don't think it threatens my career. I think it makes me a stronger and better librarian that I am able to blog and write about my profession, express my thoughts and ideas, and overall reflect on what I do to see what I can learn.

As for my personal blog, that is a different ballgame, and I may have to address that at a later time so as to prevent this post from getting too long. I do have a thought or two on that since I don't really buy into the idea that a librarian has to remain strictly neutral, or at least maintain that illusion. Sure, we do it at the reference desk for it is what is expected of us being professionals. But outside of the library, the way I see it, what I do is my business. As I said, that is another story of another time.

Is it a concern even when you are blogging about general LIS issues?

Honestly, I am rarely concerned when I blog about general LIS issues. If it is some big issue that everyone talks about, I probably won't blog it in the first place (see above). If it is a small issue, since I am flying below the radar, I don't worry much either (again, see my reply above). There are topics I find interesting, that I have opinions and thoughts on, and that I can write about. I just choose what to write about in the blog versus what I choose to write in my private journal. In the words of the wise Walt Crawford,

"There's a lot to be said for responses not posted, and blog essays never blogged. Writing it down is great as a safety valve. Submitting it for anyone else to see is frequently pointless (and sometimes dangerous). "

You can find where I quoted him originally here. If you follow the link, you can dig up the context. Sometimes I just need to write it down, to express myself, to explore my thoughts. It does not follow that I have to share them with the rest of the world. It does not mean I am any less thoughtful, reflective, informed, or passionate.

Would you be uncomfortable or feel restraints if you knew the boss or other powers that be read your blog?

I already know my boss reads the blog. She told me so. I don't know if she has read it recently, but I do know it is on her feed reader. It has not bothered me, and I have not changed the way I blog because of my boss. I came in to my current position as a blogger. Since I do not write on any specifics of the workplace, other than the occasional chronicle of an outreach event for documentation, I do not worry or feel uncomfortable over the boss reading it. As for the other powers up the food chain, I do have some concerns. But as a good friend of mine once said, I try not to poke the bear if it is not necessary.

What I have learned overall is that I need to exercise some common sense as a blogger. There are things I can do, and there are things I cannot do. The things I cannot do are often labeled as such because I have an interest in remaining employed. One needs to be discreet in this line of work. I do take some more risks in my personal blog, but even there, I still exercise some degree of caution. The main question is where do you draw the line? This will vary for every blogger. Where do you take a stand, and where do you let the line slide back a bit in the interest of self-preservation? I have found that as a librarian blogger, you learn to choose your battles. Librarian Blogsville can be exciting, interesting, educational, but it can also be an unforgiving and hostile place; it depends on what the mood of the community may be at the time. Write something on a blog that gets interpreted the wrong way, or taken in a less charitable light, and the shells will fly. Skewer the wrong sacred cow, and you may find yourself labeled as "someone who does not get it." Again, it is what it is. I have been blogging as a librarian long enough by now to now what I can write about, what is not worth my time, and the minefields that I definitely should avoid.

At this point, this reflection is pretty much like a status report. It is kind of where I stand in terms of my blogging. It does not address everything; I could still consider my personal blogging. For now, this is just a snapshot, a work in progress. There is still much to explore and consider.

For reference purposes, here are a couple other past posts where I have explored some of the ideas I am trying to express here. If nothing else, from looking back, I can see that this is not a new issue or concern for me. Pretty much I have been thinking about this in one way or another almost since I started blogging. And from what I can gather, I will likely continue to consider it, explore my boundaries, evaluate, and keep blogging within my comfort zones:

1 comment:

The.Effing.Librarian said...

to answer: yes. yes. yes. yes. yes. I don't trust anyone to not use something I said against me at some point. I'm not paranoid so much as I know human nature. People will try to harm one another if given the chance. It might not be their specific intention to harm, but they will reveal what they know because it benefits them somehow, however fleetingly. "did you know Angel said blah blah?" even on my "named" twitter page, I wrote on my wallpaper, "if I write anything that might get me into trouble, please tell me so I can delete it."