Wednesday, November 01, 2006

AL American Libraries Column #6: A Reply to Some of My Critics

This month's American Libraries column is about a subject dear to my heart--me. Well, it's really about my critics but I just liked saying that. It's been a tempestuous month here at the Annoyed Librarian and my whole team of writers and researchers is so worn out that I've decided to take the helm myself today and address my critics and detractors directly.

If the AL has any coherent purpose other than allowing me to say whatever I like in a public forum, and I'm not sure it does, then that purpose is to provide some criticism and some humor about the ALA and the library profession in general. Too many library publications and library blogs are just avenues for aggrandizing the profession and its professional organization and "education." To some blogs, everything is HOT!! Well, not to me. There's enough of that out there that I think some obstinate criticism is a good thing. It's even possible that in pursuit of my critical goal I exaggerate some claims for effect. You'll just have to figure out which ones.

I've been pleasantly surprised at how many people have been reading the AL as well, considering that this blog is something of an acquired taste and that many of my posts turn out to be so, well, long. It's certainly no mainstream blog and never will be, but I would estimate a few hundred people read it most days, which is not bad considering I've only been blogging in earnest for about six months. It will never reach the number of readers of, say, the Shifted Librarian (with 36K Bloglines subscriptions), but on the other hand the Shifted Librarian has been performing a useful and neutral service for several years, while I just criticize and make jokes.

And I've also been pleasantly surprised that some people seem to read the AL who more or less disagree with what I say. I think it shows a healthy intellectual openness to read what you don't agree with and engage it critically. I welcome critics, and gladly debate them. My critics range from those who provide thoughtful responses to the issues, or at least thoughtful responses to the irrelevant side issues that come up in the comments, to those who just splutter incoherently. Both provide their own kind of pleasure.

Some of my claims almost no one bothers to rebut. Library school is an intellectual joke, for example. Or that the ALA has been misrepresenting the "librarian shortage." Or that one of the stated goals for the ALA SPECTRUM initiative is both theoretically unjustified and practically impossible. Or that a lot of library jobs really suck. Or that the "Top 10 Reasons to be a Librarian" the ALA highlights on their website are pathetic. Or for that matter that the ALA Council shouldn't be passing non-library related political resolutions. No one's bothered to rebut that.

No, it seems to be irrelevant politics that brings out the hostile critics. Some people don't like it when you disagree with them on politics. That implies that you think they're mistaken, and how could they possibly be mistaken when they've spent years believing the same things and have read many other writers who confirm their prejudices? No one really cares about the ALA or library education; that's why no one bothers to respond to those criticisms. But just say how foolish Marxists and the radical left are and the Marxists and sentimental fellow travelers come out of the woodwork.

What I've found puzzling, though, is how many of my critics try to evade the questions I bring up, sometimes in a rather hostile manner. Few critics want to address the real claims of my arguments.

In my response to my claim that Cranky Marxist Dude was attempting to smear an opponent rather than engage in debate, Cranky Marxist Dude and his minions replied by smearing the AL. By at least a handful of nitwits posting either to the AL or the ALACOUN listserv, I found myself characterized as a fascist, racist, hatemongering, violence-inciting moron. I feel a little like the Pope. "So you say I'm waging an irrational and vicious smear campaign? I'll show you! I'll wage an irrational and vicious smear campaign on you, AL!" Someone even very foolishly claimed I was making fun of genocide. No, I wasn't making fun of genocide, I was making fun of you! Posting nasty and untrue comments about the AL certainly tells me that you're indisputably stupid and irredeemably vulgar, but it doesn't tell me that I'm wrong.

I suppose some of my opponents are so used to preaching to the choir that they've forgotten how to engage in rational debate, if indeed they ever knew how. This probably explains why my central claim about the politics of the ALA--that the ALA has no business making proclamations and passing resolutions about non-library related politics--has been met with hostility, attacks, and smears, but with absolutely no arguments that the ALA should in fact be doing this. This comes as no surprise, because when you don't have any good arguments you certainly can't offer any. Hence the vicious and insubstantial attacks.

When I joined the revolution, I was met by some irrelevant but very good-natured comments trying to get me to admit that not all leftists were childish and ignorant, which I'd implied but certainly not claimed, and that Marxism wasn't just juvenile nonsense. However, instead of arguments about the validity of Marxist theory, I got assertions about how influential and inspirational Marxism has been. I gracefully conceded to my opponents that I would agree that Marxism has been very influential and inspirational nonsense. However, these non-sequiturs and red herrings just distract from the main issue--the irrelevant politicization of the ALA.

Religion also seems to erode some people's critical faculties and bring out the non-sequiturs and red herrings. In September, you may remember, I posted about Islam and intellectual freedom, in which I argued that Muslim violence in response to free speech and criticism of Islam posed a very real threat to intellectual freedom, which is an issue supposedly dear to the ALA. I suggested with some seriousness that if the ALA wanted to make a statement about intellectual freedom, they should address that issue. (Somehow I doubt the ALA Council would have the courage to pass that resolution, though.) Imagine my surprise when some purblind, frothy-mouthed anti-Christ tried to argue in the comments that Muslim violence against free speech and intellectual freedom was nothing compared to the rhetoric of some Christian cult down in Texas that no one's ever heard of and that absolutely no one fears but, apparently, him. I felt like I was taking crazy pills. Again, odd responses like this tell me that you hate Christians and that you are illogical, but they don't tell me that I'm wrong.

Even in a recent post about jobs, I was told that I'm frequently out of my depth and that any readers who agree with me are dimwitted minions. It's certainly possible that I'm out of my depth on a lot of issues, including library jobs. However, maligning my readers and attacking my veracity just tells me that you're excitable and that you disagree with me, but it doesn't tell me that I'm wrong. I was also called "elitist." Again, that tells me you consider "elitist" a term of opprobrium, but it doesn't tell me I'm wrong.

A couple of different incoherent splutterers have implied that I delete all my hostile critics and leave only the cheering section, which as anyone who has ever looked at the comments knows is ridiculous. But I think it bothers some of my critics that so many other people would agree with something the critics find so disagreeable. The very fact that a few people agree with me, at least on some issues, just irritates the hell out of some of my detractors. They remind me of Mencken's definition of a Puritan as a person possessed by the haunting fear that someone, somewhere might be happy. Political ideologues are possessed by the haunting fear that someone, somewhere might find them ridiculous.

Another of my critics called me a hatemonger who belittles my profession, my boss, my colleagues, and my library. I mention this only because it's so amusing. It's amusing because it shows almost a complete ignorance of my blog. While I do criticize the profession of librarianship relentlessly, nowhere do I say it's unimportant. If anything, my criticism is of others who make the profession seem ridiculous by their ALA resolutions or their incredibly easy library "education" or their frenzied calls for blindly following every foolish trend. The fact that I bother satirizing the things I think are wrong in the profession shows that I think the profession is worth satirizing.

And as far as I can remember, I've never said anything about my library, and have in fact praised both my boss and some of my colleagues. I suspect this comment was by one of the political ideologues who sees what he believes rather than believes what he sees. "Someone told me you were evil, so I'm going to claim you're evil!" Comments like this tell me you are dogmatically ignorant and incapable of understanding plain English, but they don't tell me that I'm wrong.

So to all my critics, no, only to my especially hostile spluttering critics, I have a polite request. The next time you read a sentence or a paragraph with which you disagree, stop spluttering, calm down, and take a deep breath. Reply in a calm and rational way and address the issue at hand. Because if you can't do that, I'm certainly not going to take you seriously and neither is anyone else.

20 comments:

Dances With Books said...

Hey, just keep irritating them. Someone has to. Now, the Islam and Intellectual Freedom, there is an idea that one would think the National Org. would support, I mean, they do stand for Intellectual Freedom and all. I am not quite ready to discount Christians either, maybe we should say something to both of them. Then again, I am not one of those who finds religion useful. Way I see it, if it moves you to do good works, be a better person, and maybe make the world a bit better, hey, go for it in whatever faith you choose. If it moves you to be a bigot, intolerant, close-minded, retrograde, violent person, I don't care what religion you belong to, you have to be denounced. I guess what I am trying to say is I found that idea of yours intriguing, even if I don't see the National Org. asking it anytime soon.

So, it's only been 6 months? The way you write makes it seem like you have been around forever, and I will bet you'll overtake the Shifted and the Hot one in time. In the meantime, keep it up.

Dale said...

I find your blog interesting and enjoy (mostly) reading it. I do think that there is intellectual rigor in some graduate programs of library science. I know there was in the program I was in, LSU in the mid-1980s. My friends in law school were daunted by the readings, case studies, and writing we did in that program. I've heard similar comments about U. of Wisconsin at the same time. I've recently been involved in some small ways at both the University of Alberta's and the University of Oklahoma's program. I certainly saw academic rigor there at the same level as other professional programs--law, social work, and so on. This is a professional degree, rather than an academic one, after all. So it makes more sense to compare with other professional programs. Now, that's not to say there aren't many programs that lack academic rigor. I just haven't have enough first hand experience with them to know. Keep up the work!

Reactionary said...

The first thing Hitler did after he came to power was to start a blog critical of the ALA. Think about it.

Cybrarian said...

GO AL GO AL! Cheers! Keep up the good work! I love your writing and read it all faithfully.
Can I please be one of your loyal minions??

Library Guy said...

First, I love reading your blog. I have recently discovered it and have found your comments on library education to be refreshing. You say exactly what I feel about that area of librarianship. The term "ALA accredited" is such a joke...maybe the ALA could come up with some actual standards so that all librarians could have somewhat comparable degrees. I worked full time, took classes full time and got all A's in my program. I assure you that had I attempted to work full time and go to school full time while getting a degree with even a slight bit of academic rigor to it, I would have fallen flat on my face (and certainly would not have had a 4.0 at the end of it all).

As to your critics, I agree...keep irritating them. Even though I don't agree with everything that you say, I think that you say it in a playful, respectful manner. If people who have a problem with you can't see that...well, it's their problem, right?

AL said...

A very kind comment, to which I'd like to add--if anyone out there agrees with EVERYTHING I say, then it's quite possible that you are insane. And thanks for reading.

Bob H. said...

Well, you piss me off once in a while, or more correctly, I find your writing to be awfully depressing from time to time.

But I keep reading it.

For a while I thought that, politically, the AL and I were on the same page, but now I'm not so sure...either way, in terms of the profession and the ALA, I think you're (mainly) right on.

shade said...

I think it's sad the state to which debate has fallen. I think you're right in that maligning one's opponent has taken the place of rational argument and very few people have noticed. Sometimes I'll encounter a scene in an old book or movie where two characters are arguing and one convinces the other of the rightness of his position by reasoning and logic. Wow! That used to be possible. It's less so now and part of the reason may be because we are intellectually lazy. Dumbing down hasn't just happened in library school -- it's happened in most schools and it's progressing apace.

AL said...

bob h., you probably won't be able to categorize me politically, both because my politics are complicated and because I don't necessarily say what I really believe. It's more fun that way.

Contrarian Librarian said...

You're terrific AL. As for your nasty and ignorant critics, sounds like a plot by the Social Responsibility Round Table.

Bob h. said...

I used to be all over the map politically too - I used to like Ayn Rand and I even used to call myself a Libertarian - until I found out what big assholes those guys are!

Anonymous said...

"until I found out what big assholes those guys are" Well, that's probably true. However, judging libertarianism by Ayn Rand or the jerks in your college libertarian club is a bit silly. If you want to be an intelligent anti-libertarian, you'll read the work of Nobel laureat F.A. Hayek, especially his _Constitution of Liberty_ and the 3 volumes of _Law, Legislation, and Liberty_. If you can wrestle with the work of Hayek on classical liberalism, then you will have accomplished something.

JanitorX said...

After reading other librarian blogs, it seems their professional puffery is simply a thin veneer that belies professional insecurities or perhaps the realization librarians are not truly academicians. Perhaps the fact that librarians are important to an institution in a similar manner to the registrar, counseling center, residental life, etc. and are not information freedom fighters or whatever pablum was shoved down their throats in library school is utterly disappointing. It's better to hide behind the guise of librarian scholar earning a salary that barely covers the ol' student loan. Maybe I am cyncial because I've been in this field for 9 years, but I can't help but think some more bloggerific nextgens (or whatever ALA calls new grads these days) are sorely misguided. For example, I cannot comprehend their undying desire to make the library a cool place. They themselves weren't undergrads that long ago and should be able to understand that most undergrads don't want to play all day on MySpace or IM with librarians. Trivia night--let's face it--is best left to bars. I'm often embarrased of what this profession has become. So, please soldier on and be the voice of reason!

Anonymous said...

OMG, I can't believe I am just discovering you and your blog. I love you, I love you, I love you. May I be one of your minions? If so, let me point out that "Library" is misspelled in an entry under "Websites" (as in "Flea Libary Newsletter"). Now back to teaching students how to use the copier...

AL said...

""Library" is misspelled in an entry under "Websites" (as in "Flea Libary Newsletter")." That was intentional. Thanks for reading.l

Anonymous said...

Duh. I obviously need to read your blog in a more complete fashion. My apologies for "correcting" what seems to be an intentional misspelling. I suppose this means I have no future as a minion? Oh well, I am really enjoying showing students the green button on the copier today, not to mention the slot where the dime goes.

sassymoll said...

As usual, I agree with you, AL. Never give in, never, never, never, never.

I am also surprised you've only been blogging in earnest six months; you're a natural.

Speaking as someone who graduated from both law school and library school, library school is a joke. I find it really hard to believe that anyone's friends in law school were daunted by the work required in library school. And I went to library school at LSU, though more recently than dale @10:54. Of course, it could be the law school his friends went to; some are notoriously inadequate.

toiletbrush said...

I find your blog to be a breath of fresh air. The air here is pretty thick with the leftist, ALA-worshipping drivel that leaves the mouths of 95% of the "professional" staff. The rest of us who haven't yet been assimilated get by each day on Zoloft and your blog. I too thought about going to library skool, then I woke up! Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your blog. So far, I'm reading some of the past items. So far, the jury's out: but that's just me (I use 'so far' too much, and I have a sloth-like internalized jury).

Here's a question for you and anyone else, for that matter.

Design your dream Library Sci program. Maybe you'll pepper some of the infectious humor with some valid recommendations for the watchful eyes of your detractors...

Anonymous said...

I actually found law school to be easier than library school, and I never thought I'd say that, because not a month went by that I didn't think about quitting law school. In most of my law school classes there was only a final exam, and occasionally a mid-term, and all were anonymized.

My first three classes in library school were relatively easy, I guess. It's only this semester that I found out that I don't know how to write a proper paper. I'm a 'C' student for the first time in my life. I suppose that means that the school is "more rigorous." I'm having all kinds of second thoughts about the path I've taken.