Emily Ford over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe has written what I think is a fascinating article on anonymous professional librarian discourse. She takes the position of being against the practice for a lot of sensible reasons: one cannot judge the credentials of the author, no professional ramifications for their words, and the vitriol that can sometimes spew forth from such anonymous prose. These are pretty sound evaluation criterions for judging the work as it is presented and its context. Where I differ from Mrs. Ford is with her conclusion that undisclosed publication being the “last resort” of professional librarian discourse.
If you have this well established reasoning basis in place, then to me it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are surrounding the undisclosed authorship. I think that of all people librarians should have a finely tuned (for lack of a better phrase) bullshit detector. Information appraisal is one of our our bread and butter skills and the rationale that we give to when asked what the profession contributes to society. Under this concept, I don’t think it matters whether the author is known or not when it comes to evaluating their writing; it will either stand up for what is written on the page or not. The missing data regarding author background is just another variable in the equation of the weight you give the piece, not a fatal error that prevents it from being taken as serious discourse.
With the rise of the reputation economy, what matters is the establishment of the identity. If they are a consistent writer of meaningful content, then it builds towards that of a contributor. If they are loaded with divisive and invective terms or attacks on one’s person (as opposed to ideas), then it shifts towards a detractor. Of course, nothing is that simple: the presence of both qualities puts people in the position of judging whether they are building or taking away from the topics. It is left to the reader to judge whether they are a credible commentator on the subject matter. Personally, I would like to give people greater credit in their ability to make decisions regarding the value of content, especially in this profession.
In the end, the reputation created matters more than whether or not they disclose their name. I’m not unmoved by the desire to make people accountable for their words; it’s an undeniable social justice urge to attach the negative connotations of their content with their person. Likewise, there is desire to be able to display support for those whose words move you, make you think, and otherwise affect you. But that should not be an eliminating factor in determining the value of professional discourse.
I find it odd that a profession so hell bent on freedom of expression that it has an entire week devoted to it has such issues with anonymous authorship. Is it not simply another form of expression? If one was to remove the names of the authors from some of the books that are held in such high esteem that week, would that make them less worthy of defending? Should libraries only defend the controversial works in which the author is known? (Go Ask Alice, a book attributed to an anonymous author, is on the Banned Books list.) Is there a compelling reason not to extend this courtesy to professional discourse when the content is well written, well reasoned, and within the scope of professional literature?
I should note that I’m not saying that the Lead Pipe people should accept undisclosed articles for consideration. They have defined their editorial controls to include that authors need to be known; that is their well justified prerogative. In my gradually increasing collection of library and librarian blogs, I have found some anonymous or pseudonymous blogs out there that would pass muster for professional writing in my estimation. (In the efforts of full disclosure, there is also a share of blogs that write pure drivel.) To treat their lack of identifying authorship as a slight is the equivalent of judging the book by its cover. Let the words speak for themselves and then determine its worth.
Identity should not be a barrier to contribution. It’s a luxury that has been afforded to us by the creation of an online world, but it is not simply a last resort.