The Librarians Who Stare At Goats

After reading the editorial entitled “’Annoyed Strikes Again”, I feel Francine Fialkoff owes the readership of Library Journal an apology followed by an immediate correction to the situation. Of course, the issue that I am referring to is the use of “hissing cat with hackles raised” image for the blogger avatar of the Annoyed Librarian. This is a blatant case of false advertising at the basic animal representation level. Simply put, the Annoyed Librarian is not a irritated cat, ready to pounce or scratch or claw upon those things that cross its path, tearing them apart bit by bit into tiny pieces that cat owners tend to find in their shoes and/or sock drawer. If anything, they have more hiss than actual claw or fangs because that would require more effort than simply writing a commentary on a trade journal website. No, the Annoyed Librarian should not be represented by a hissing cat, Francine; the Annoyed Librarian should be represented by a goat.

The prevailing reason that a goat would be the best animal representation is due to its reputation of being able to chew on anything. That’s what the Annoyed Librarian persona does in its wide ranging topical commentary; it is subject omnivorous without regard to popularity or sentiment. That’s why Library Journal hired this blogger in the first place as roughly detailed in Francine’s editorial “Librarians Too ‘Annoyed’”, although it was as much as business decision as it was an editorial content one. (“Both critics and supporters have pointed out that AL has helped us reap more hits on our web site. Numbers count in our for-profit world, as they do in your nonprofit one.”) In establishing this relationship, Library Journal has hired the services of this metaphorical goat to write critiques on all manner of library topics, both tasteful and unsavory.

I’m disappointed in Francine’s attempt to create a barrier between Library Journal and the AL by saying, “AL is not LJ, and LJ is not AL.” If you’re willing to spend the time and money to own this proverbial goat, don’t shy away when this blogger does the things you hired it to do: generate page hits and create discussions on the website. (As to this latter point, there is a world of difference between discussion and its useless cousin known as agitation. For an individual who wishes to debate on the merits of an issue, the AL tends to have their salient points be outshined by overly distracting insults and the occasional cheap shot.) If LJ is going to pay for their prose and promote them as one of their blogger voices, then LJ should stand by their investment in one of the few online commentators that they’ve chosen to include on their website.

It should not be forgotten that while librarians are the intended audience of Library Journal they are not the shareholders in Media Source, Inc., the company that owns Library Journal. Keeping the doors open at Library Journal is a priority as a for-profit company as mentioned by Francine above; if hiring such an individual as the AL helps them do that, then LJ has made its move. On the opposite side, librarians also play a role in this equation as consumers. We have the option of taking our wallets and pageviews elsewhere; judging from some of the responses LJ has received, some of my peers have taken that option.

It’s as simple as that. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, view it, link to it, or otherwise promote it. A letter or phone call to LJ is a courtesy to tell them your reasons for doing so, but it doesn’t carry the same weight as an unrenewed subscription card or denying them web traffic through avoidance. If you still really feel strongly, then organize a boycott or write a letter of protest and send it to Media Source executives. There are still avenues of outrage and indignation left to explore, although I don’t see this as anything more than just flipping the channel and never returning. I can understand the disappointment and disapproval, but I can’t see the continued rage over a commercial blog written by an anonymous writer that was hired to draw people in to the LJ web domain.

If there is any group that the library collective should be disappointed with, it really should be with ourselves. If the most viewed online opinion voice of a popular professional magazine is that of an anonymous satirical blogger of varied reputation, then what exactly does that say about us? If they were not getting the page views and the advertising revenues generated with it, the same business rationale that brought them to LJ would be the one to see them off the site. There is a demand for this kind of content which makes me wonder as to why. Does this blogger brings something to the library commentary world that no one else in the community is fulfilling? Can we not have open discussions on the so-called sacred cows of library science, from intellectual freedom to the greying profession myth to divergent approaches to the profession’s common problems? Is there a reliance on satire and sarcasm as a means to introduce a controversial subject? For as awful, horrible, angry, and wicked as people proclaim the Annoyed Librarian to be, its status as being the most widely read blogger at LJ says something for librarians as the intended market. In this instance, I find fault not in the writer but with the audience.

As regular blog readers here will note, this just generates deeper questions for me. Does the profession have a problem being honest with itself? Can librarians have discussions that are controversial, difficult, and otherwise unhappy as adults? For a profession that prides itself on showcasing divergent voices in the collection, have we abandoned it in our professional discourse?

Or, simply put, what’s up with all the angst?

duty_callsFor myself, I’ll still continue to read the Annoyed Librarian blog. Why? As I see it, it’s part of the job of being a librarian blogger. In striving to be informed across the vast range of the library blogosphere, it means reading lots of viewpoints from lots of sources, including Library Journal. My personal opinion is outweighed by my desire to remain widely read and knowledgeable about what people are saying in different corners of libraryland. I’m proud to say that my Google Reader reflects this ideal. While I certainly respect and encourage people to take the action that they feel works best in a situation such as this one, I’m headed in the opposite direction. For all those fleeing the flames of particular locations of internet discourse, I am headed into those fires. It’s just who I am and what I want to do.

11 thoughts on “The Librarians Who Stare At Goats

  1. No, goats will not chew on “anything.” They are actually quite particular about what they eat. They are also very intelligent, independent minded social animals. They like company but don’t act like lemmings in a herd. So, yes, the goat is a great avatar for the AL, just not for the reason you state. (Speaking from personal experience regarding goats and their behavior.)

    • I think you are confusing the acts of chewing and eating. Chewing does not equate to eating which if I why I say they will chew on many things but never say eat many things. So… there.

      I’m glad you accept the rest of the premise of my post. Thanks for the comment.

        • Then I suggest you write to the companies that make gum and inform them of their misnomer. That, in fact, it is not actually ‘chewing gum’, but ‘eating gum’. And be sure to let me know how that goes, especially in light that chewing does not necessarily lead to eating.

          I’m not going to waste anymore time on this tangent.

  2. This is a big reason I don’t read or pay money for Library Journal or link to the “Annoyed Librarian”‘s blog posts. I like satire and I like some agitation, but the AL isn’t funny, just whiny, petty, self-indulgent and childish, lashing out at anyone s/he doesn’t like and basking in whatever praise s/he can get. The AL is the library world’s Saturday Night Live character who has gone on far too long in sketches that stopped being amusing long ago.

  3. I’m with Joshua on this one. I do subscribe to LJ, but I no longer read AL either in print or online. I tried. And then I kept trying even though it wasn’t enjoyable (I, too, chalked it up to wanting to be informed across a wide range of viewpoints). But AL rarely offers solutions, and AL’s writing comes across exactly as Joshua notes. I just don’t need that kind of negativity and snark in my life. I’d rather be inspired by the people writing about and sharing solutions and results. Or real humor.

  4. But something also should be said about journalistic principles, Andy. Regardless of its profit-making motives (because face it, most organizations, are for-profit), LJ does have a role in what is written in the AL column. Making a connection between the stand in the schoolroom door and U of A’s FYE posting is not only illogical, but it is crass and border-line offensive. I could put up with how offensive it is if there was a real thread between the two, but there isn’t, so it perhaps shouldn’t have been written or published.

    And this is where LJ comes into the equation. LJ should consider pulling the plug on the column, or at the very least have asked the AL to tone down this piece in particular. Some one might cry foul, yell “censorship!” or talk about first amendment rights, but frankly, LJ is completely in its right to edit for content in its own publication, and they should have in this instance.

    Librarians of all stripes hold by professional codes of conduct. We have our ethical codes drawn up by various professional associations, and we **choose** to abide by them in one form or in varying degrees. The same can be said about journalism: LJ should hold itself to a higher level than it is doing here. It shouldn’t be crass simply to garner more hits, especially when what was written in the column was as outlandish as it is (i.e., satire is used to prove a point and not to find eyeballs). LJ shouldn’t think that they just because they only publish AL they can wash their hands of the means and methods that column uses to carry its opinions forward.

    In the end, this issue has whipped up a storm because it’s speaking to professional values and principles in two different professions. There won’t be an answer on this and a consensus likely won’t be reached. But I don’t think we can let LJ walk away thinking that they have no part in this.

  5. Pingback: To Library Journal and The Annoyed Librarian: it’s about professional principles and codes of conduct | The Zeds

  6. “If the most viewed online opinion voice of a popular professional magazine is that of an anonymous satirical blogger of varied reputation, then what exactly does that say about us.”
    Exactly. I think there is a lot of angst in librarianship and the AL is catching that, especially when she complains about the job market. What I find most disturbing about AL is the fact that s/he even is anonymous. Why can’t anyone complain about the field and critique ideas while putting their name behind their words? I try also to cultivate my google reader so that it is balanced and interesting, but, aside from complaints about AL, I just don’t see very much criticism coming from the library world.

    All that said, I like AL and read what s/he has to say not because I always agree (I don’t), but because it’s an interesting point of view and the snarky, crass, dark humor doesn’t bother me at all (but I am not one to be bothered by that sort of thing). Then again, I love goats and think that they are fantastic creatures, especially when they are chewing on stuff that they shouldn’t be and head butting each other around the yard.

  7. Pingback: With goats and cats, perhaps the library should become a zoo « bringyournoise

  8. Pingback: Back to business « bringyournoise

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