Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bothersome Blogging

There's a letter to the Library Journal by a librarian bothered by some library blogging.

"Dear LJ: One of my staff has taken to blogging. While the library encourages staffers to be active online, this person seems to think that no one else is going to read what she writes. She discusses work, of course, including other staff and problem patrons using some pretty stiff language, and I’m afraid she’s seriously going to offend someone and the library is either going to get pulled into a lawsuit or a union problem. The blogger writes at home on her own time, and the library doesn’t have a policy in place preventing staff from speaking publicly about the workplace, but I think this is a ticking bomb. What should I do?
—Ready To Explode

The response from LJ was for the most part outstanding, including a couple of lines I wish I'd written:

"'Freedom of expression,' the mantra of the public library, library associations, and the profession, is also the main attraction of the blog. The hypocrisy of the yawning gap between librarian lip service to this freedom and library practices to curtail it is legendary."

I'll say.

There's also advice to write a policy about who speaks for the library, though I doubt that would stop the blogger from writing about work. And then there's this tidbit to help co-opt the blogger: "
Creating blogs on the library’s website, and letting staff openly express themselves there, is a great signal that staff are trusted to know enough to speak and write well for the library. If you find some who don’t know enough, you tell them and teach them. If they still don’t get it, you tell them to look for work somewhere else."

I thought the last bit was a little harsh, but difficult decisions are the responsibility of management, I suppose. But the advice about creating blogs on the website and letting the staff actually communicate in an official forum is great advice. Some managers want the illusion of communication without the consequences.

I'd like to look at this from another perspective, though--that of the blogger. Obviously the AL is a pseudonymous blog, and there are certainly reasons for that, only some to do with a profession that pays lip service to freedom of expression but really doesn't value it. I should also note that among the reasons is not to protect my job, since in fact I don't have many bad things to say about my library and I don't have many negative patron interactions. I've been treated remarkably well, and certainly didn't start blogging to complain about my library or share my thoughts and feelings with the world. Also, if you worked in my library, you'd realize very quickly that the AL is not necessarily in the minority on a lot of the issues I write about and my colleagues couldn't care less about the ALA and its idiocies. But that's neither here nor there.

I have another response to Ready, which she might not like. Obviously I don't know what blog this is, but I've read blogs like it. Maybe the problem isn't the blogger. Maybe the problem is your library, its working conditions, and its patrons. Heck, maybe the problem is you. Maybe the blogger is really unhappy, and it's not just because she's a silly malcontent. Maybe the staff she works with are a bunch of annoying idiots and they should be fired. Maybe she can't tell you these problems because you don't want to hear them.

I was tipped off by the possibility of being pulled into a "union problem." Do you be any chance have some unionized staff who grieve a lot, over everything? Or some that just don't work very hard because their raises and promotions are guaranteed by seniority, not performance? Just asking. If that's the case, the problem might not be the blogger, it might be the staff. If she's saying bad things about the staff, they could very well be true.

And consider the patrons. I wonder how closely Ready works with the general public. It's hard to say based on the letter. "My staff," the letter says. I love the possessive there. But it could be, and I'm just going out on a limb here, it could be that Ready doesn't work much with the public, and the ranting blogger does, and the ranting blogger is frustrated at having to lick the boots of some of the deranged and nasty patrons public libraries sometimes get. And I'd also be willing to bet that if there was ever a contretemps between the ranting blogger and some disgruntled jerk of a patron, that Ready would support the patron. I hope I'm wrong about this, but it's certainly possible.

So my advice to Ready would be slightly different. Why don't you try to see things from the blogger's perspective? You might already do this, but you certainly don't present that perspective in you letter. No, it's all about your staff and all the hypersensitive folk who might be offended by some sad blogger. Take the beam out of your own eye and think about how she might feel. Why is she frustrated? Why is she ranting about your library? Are the problems she writes about real, or just in her mind? If they're real problems and she's telling the truth, then what moral right do you have to stop her blogging or fire her if she doesn't?

That's the central question I would ask. Instead of asking whether she's being too critical, why don't you ask if she's telling the truth? Don't ask whether someone will be offended. Ask whether she's right or wrong. If she's lying in the blog, I take back my advice and say sue her for libel. That'll show that poorly paid little librarian who's in charge!

Oh, and my advice to the ranting blogger: What, are you an idiot? Go anonymous, baby. It's been done before.


Repressed Librarian said...

Boss Ready appears completely oblivious to the idea of actually talking to the unhappy blogging employee and discussing her concerns. But, then again, the road to [library] management all too often fails to include acquisition of good interpersonal skills or common sense.

Dances With Books said...

That was what I wondered as well: you twit, you need to go anonymous (if you need info on that, go visit the EFF site. I know, I may sound a bit harsh, but in this age, if you are a blogger, you should be informed). While it is true she does not sign away her Freedom of Expression, why risk the grief? I do agree it may be the boss really needs to get a clue and actually look at the library as the blogger sees it. Sure, if it is libel, it is wrong. But otherwise, the boss just has to deal.

sassymoll said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sassymoll said...

How can any blogger not have heard of dooce? If you want to complain about your workplace, do it anonymously. Or if you must be known, accept the consequences. Though I agree that Ready should speak to the blogger instead of writing a letter to LJ, which just seems weird to me. Does LJ have a Dear Abby (Dear Liberry) column? I guess I really should start reading our "professional" literature...

Kathleen said...

I have seen blogs where library workers complain about their patrons in both specific and general ways. And the bloggers a not at all anonymous.

I think that this is tacky and ethically suspect, since it means that the library and the patron both might be identifiable. It is sort of like talking about a patron when they are within five feet of the desk.

It is better to talk about your patrons over drinks.

Anonymous said...

LJ gave an award a few years back to Christine Borne. Her writings made me think twice about applying to Ocean County Library.

But maybe others would look at what she had to say and think it's a great place to work; she was kinda a granola-muncher.

Anonymous said...

Library management and library administration, at least in the public library sphere, all too often consists of people who are not open to listening to staff. Often those roles are filled by people who don't respect librarians and library workers overall, making it very difficult for those employees to find any way to mutually respect their management. I'd bet Ready and the staff at her/his library are in that boat.

That said, anonymity is great!