Saturday, July 20, 2013

Time for a little dissent

A series of blog postings on blogging in librarianship have rattled the library blog-world.  Andy Woodworth started it with his rant (used with the best of intentions) on his own blog, Agnostic Maybe.  In Waiting for Batgirl (am I the only one who saw the reference to Waiting for Guffman?), Andy skewers library blog writers, and even librarianship as a whole profession, as "mostly been either puppies-and-rainbows positive or uncontroversial benign kinds of things."  When referring to the difficulty in expressing discontent, he writes:
Public dissent is considered gauche in a profession that proudly supports the societal provocateurs, miscreants, and iconoclasts but wants to keep discontent in-house. I could easily write a thousand entries about helping people on a daily basis, but the whole library façade will collapse and burn if I was write about my frustrations regarding a policy, decision, or the work environment.
I must admit that I was a bit bewildered at Andy's own bewilderment - at the predominance of "banal" topics that top the library blog-charts, at the "energy" spent pointlessly rebutting that which "people stroke themselves into a self-righteous lather over," and the hypocrisy of the ALA hailing Edward Snowden as a "whistleblower" (the analogy provided in the comments by Shalom is spot-on).  Why is this such breaking news? Are there other professions that are notably better? Isn't this just being human?
OK, I did relate to his comments about waiting - for the right time, the right place, the right people - to tackle problems that stir the passion in me.  Is this just being pragmatic?  Or is that a cop-out?
All of the comments to his post were supportive - interestingly, nobody reproached him, nor provided any rebuttal to his ravings made with very colorful language.  Indeed, it seems almost hypocritical not to be expecting any negative or at least critical (in the highest sense) response.
In this vein, Chris Bourg posed the question, Does the Library World Squash Dissent? on the Taiga Forum.  He genuinely asks (not rhetorically, he stresses) -
(H)ow can we as leaders encourage healthy, honest, public conversations about our profession — the good, the bad, and the ugly? And where exactly is the line between unprofessional trash-talking and healthy, thoughtful critical dissent? Those of you who are afraid to speak out, what would have to change for you to feel safe making your thoughts known? And how do issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and other dimensions of difference and power play into this?
Regarding the idea that librarianship may not be different from other professions, Chris retorts that "librarians SHOULD be different. We have stated values of Diversity, Democracy, and Intellectual Freedom — we ought to be a radically open profession. One that celebrates dissent, and that recognizes that there is tremendous power in disagreements."
Not surprisingly, the Library Loon offered her own answers to Chris' questions.  In Silencing, Librarianship & Gender: A Preface, the Loon delivers her answer in her characteristic third-person, confirming the charges Andy made regarding reprisals and recriminations for speaking out.  When asked how to encourage "healthy, honest, public conversations about our profession", the Loon commands to "not discourage or punish the open expression of anger or frustration, especially while it is still small and remediable. "
The Library Loon then refers to her own numerous writings on silencing dissent, which makes me wonder if the situation is like the weather - everybody complains, but nobody is doing anything about it.  I, like you, had followed the travails of Jenica Rogers' open rejection of ACS and the ensuing discussion that devolved into name-calling and not-so-vailed sexism.  True, the focus was deflected (and rather effectively, I might add) from the issue at hand - notably extraordinary price increases for resources "required" for accreditation by the same body that publishes them (note eyebrow raised) -- to "professional behavior" (how many envisioned the ACS spokesperson as a caricature of a 1930's Lionel Barrymore sniffing at Audrey Hepburn?).
So, after all have added their comments (and Tweets) to all of the blog postings that Andy's post has spawned (including this one), will we be better off?  Or will this be another rant in the wind?

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