Monday, January 08, 2007

Reflections on Pseudonymity

Now that I've been writing this blog off and on for a while, I thought it might be time for a little self-reflection. Very little though, since I think a large amount of self-delusion helps one get through the day.

I have a confession to make that's probably obvious to many people who read this blog. "Annoyed Librarian" isn't my real name. It's a pseudonym.

But why, you might ask, am I "hiding" behind a pseudonym? There could be several reasons. For example, am I living in fear of the wrath of the SRRT? Am I afraid they'll set their secret police on the AL? No, I don't think that's it. Am I afraid for my job? I've heard stories about blogging librarians who are blackballed by the profession. That must be quite a blow. But no, that's not the reason either. Certainly I don't want cranky old marxists calling up my director and spreading scandal and lies. He gets enough of that from the staff without importing it from the outside. And I've heard those blackballed bloggers complained mostly about their own libraries. It should be obvious why the Happy Villain is pseudonymous. But unlike some library bloggers, I don't detail the buffoonery of my colleagues or patrons. Also unlike a lot of librarians, I don't really have any significant work problems. It's only when I think about the larger profession that I got so annoyed.

Sometimes I even regret the pseudonymity, and not just because I can't post pictures of myself on the blog all the time. I've made some online acquaintances through the blog and exchange the occasional email and IM with librarians I'd probably like if I got to know them better. And while I would soften the tone a bit, I could most likely revise and republish a lot of the AL in library journals and it would be at least as interesting as most of the stuff there now, plus it would add a few more lines to the vita. Or, if I still chose the publish in the blog, I could use it to build up a national reputation as a librarian gadfly and take my show on the road performing library satire for lucre. Or I could make a run for the ALA Presidency! That would be exciting. The limousines! The ALA Secret Service protection! The life pension!

On the other hand, I do enjoy having a writing outlet that's completely separate from the work I publish under my own name. My own stuff's okay, solid though pedestrian, but academic discourse doesn't allow much space for satire and very little for polemic, which are two of my favorite genres. It's not that I couldn't say the same things, but that I couldn't say them in the same way. No, come to think of it, I probably couldn't even say a lot of the same things because by the time an article made it through the publishing mill some of the topics would be much less urgent and would never generate the enjoyable community of discussion that the blog sometimes creates.

One reason for the pseudonym is related to the nature of the blog. A lot of blogs post a link to some current affair and then make a brief comment on it, or they muse briefly on a passing fancy, or they quickly snipe at some politician, or they share their thoughts on useful stuff. The posts are usually short. Plenty of blogs don't do this, but most of the ones I read regularly fall into this category.

Some of the AL is like this, but I also consider the AL to be in the tradition of pseudonymous political pamphleteers and essayists dating back to at least the eighteenth century. A lot of AL posts, particularly the ones that draw the most fire, are political essays somewhat like John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon wrote as "Cato" or Madison, Hamilton, and Jay wrote as "Publius." I'm not saying that my essays are as good or as enduring as those by any means, but they're in the same tradition of pseudonymous political arguments fighting for space in the public sphere. It's just that where they were writing about important issues like politics and freedom, I write about unimportant things like the ALA and the SRRT.

Another library blogger who has been known to gratuitously insult the AL recently wrote an odd post responding to comments by saying he never responds to comments. Ironic, I know. But in this he says, "I don’t answer those who hide behind anonymous postings because I have no respect for those who are afraid to openly stand behind their views." He's obviously not talking about the AL, since I've never left a comment on his blog and I am not anonymous, but pseudonymous. Nevertheless, I'm sure he would include the AL in his pantheon of disrespect, along with, apparently, the writers of Cato's Letters and the Federalist Papers.

I think differently on the matter, since I am more interested in ideas and arguments than personalities. I don't care if comments are anonymous because I try to respond analytically rather than with insubstantial ad hominem attacks I've sometimes gotten. Thus, I don't care who says what, just what they say. As I've noted before, I've been struck by the inability of some of my opponents to engage with ideas and arguments. Too much of political discourse, including the unimportant discourse surrounding librarianship, focuses on personalities and emotions rather than issues and arguments. Pseudonymity helps fight this trend.

So I suppose I will remain pseudonymous because I want people to focus on what I say and not who I am. It doesn't really matter who I am. What matters is whether I'm right or wrong, witty or dull, thoughtful or foolish, or all at the same time.

I realize I've just written one of those dull bloggy posts where I share my thoughts and feelings. Oh well, maybe it'll be better tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.


Dances With Books said...

Hey, it's ok to share some feelings now and then. Your fans and minions want to know. And anyhow, tomorrow is another day.

Anonymous said...

When Will Manley retires I want YOU to take over his column.

AL said...

I'd be happy to do that if the money was right.

contrarian librarian said...

Blatant Berry isn't nearly as cool as you, AL.