I realize that I had put myself into blogvacation, but this latest entry from the well known pseudonymous librarian at Library Journal pulled me from my writing hibernation. If you can hold your nose and read it, do so. If not, it is basically a rehashing of a old canard in which library videos are the public image villains that will kill the library. The premise is that videos such as ‘Library 101’, ‘Kickass Librarian’, and ‘Libraries will survive’ present a clear and present danger to the image of libraries and librarians that it will result in their eventual closing wherever these videos can be viewed on the planet Earth.
The title to this post is ‘I Told You So’ and the superficial explanation offered is that these kinds of library videos are a detriment to the institution and the profession. It is imagined that those with control over the library budget were sitting on the fence about the library funding when, SUDDENLY, they saw one of these videos. That the real reason for this particular library closing is not local budget woes, a bad economy, or the decline of tax ratables, but that video. The leap of logic to connect these two items is nothing short of breathtaking in the asinine lengths one person will go to bash another.
The real underlying message of the Annoyed Librarian in this post (and perhaps the last year’s worth of blog posts) is “creativity kills libraries”. Period. Do not do anything that could be considered outside of the norm. The profession cannot possibly risk the embarrassment due to the imaginative endeavors of a few. That anyone would have the initiative to tweak the public perception of a librarian is something that should be quelled or smothered. And if you must be expressive, then there are certain strict standards that must be met; the first of these is that when viewed from any angle, it cannot possibly detract from the reputation of the library, librarians, or the field of library science.
Color within the lines, dammit.
Furthermore, in this topsy-turvy demented viewpoint, all advocacy will be seen as a joke and any expressions of humor will be considered deadly serious. Nevermind what the library does for its community. Nevermind the programs, materials, and services that are provided. Nevermind the average return of investment for every dollar spent on the library. Nevermind the importance of information access in a digital knowledge economy. It’s a comical video that made the difference in deciding to close the library. It’s akin to telling a crime victim that the reason they were assaulted and robbed is not because they were in the wrong place at the wrong place, that the assailant has a history of such attacks, or that it was a crime of opportunity, but it happened because they are a bad person.
This kind of reasoning is why we can’t have a library renaissance during the greatest revolution of communication, information, and computation in the history of mankind. In an era that has seen the rise of the knowledge economy, the expansion of educational opportunities to every corner of the planet, and when information can be beamed into a personal handheld device, there is a cornucopia of carping and self doubt that is nothing short of staggering. In an age of potential, the conversation about the library is still controlled by the hyperactive risk adverse. It is one thing to take such risks into the overall calculation; it is another to say that any risk factors are fatal errors to the computation. I think this passage from the Seth Godin blog post, Fear of Bad Ideas, sums up the underlying issue perfectly:
A few people are afraid of good ideas, ideas that make a difference or contribute in some way. Good ideas bring change, that’s frightening.
But many people are petrified of bad ideas. Ideas that make us look stupid or waste time or money or create some sort of backlash.
The problem is that you can’t have good ideas unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones.
The other point that Mr. Godin makes in his post is that it takes a lot of bad ideas before a good one will emerge. That an idea may go through many generations, refined and rethought, before it emerges through the development process. Should people be allowed to examine these ideas or concepts and offer their critiques? Absolutely. But where it crosses the line is when this criticism is not given in good faith nor acts as a partner in the process.
The Annoyed Librarian is destructive hyperbole masquerading around as dissent. That’s not the tragedy in this instance. The tragedy is that this person is just one of many in the profession who engage in this sort of discourse. So enamored by their own self righteous banality, they seek to tear down the concepts and ideas of others long before they prove their worth or merit. They are the bane of innovation, the scourge of experimentation, and a foe of creation. They are not the voices of well reasoned doubt or Devil’s advocate; they are schadenfreude parasites on any meaningful discourse.
They tell us nothing for they offer nothing.
If parts of this entry sounds familiar, it is because it goes back to my second lesson learned in 2010. The balance between caution and risk has swung too far in the direction of the former. The vocal risk adverse minority are squeezing out the thinkers, creators, explorers, and adventurers within the profession on the basis of their biases and fears. The profession will not meet the challenges of this new century when any attempts at progress are smothered in the cradle. It simply won’t. The time has come to stand up to these bullies and announce them for what they offer the profession: nothing.
In closing, I want to share a quote by Dr. David Lankes that I think really nails the main issue for the profession:
“What will kill this profession is not ebooks, amazon, or Google. It will be a lack of imagination. An inability to see not what is, but what could be. To see only how we are viewed now, but not how that is only a platform for greatness… It [librarianship] only survives if we, librarians and the communities we serve, take it up, renew, refresh it, and constantly engage in what is next.”
(Excerpted from here.)
(I must give credit for some inspiration for this post to Karen Schneider and her post, The Devil Needs No Advocate. In my opinion, it’s a ‘must read’ post.)