Steven Bell has an interesting essay at Inside Higher Education entitled "Good at Reviewing Books But Not Each Other." He claims that academic librarians are too nice, and that, for example, "In the world of library blogging the sky is always sunny, and nary is a dissenting or argumentative thought expressed." Obviously he doesn't read the AL.
However, despite writing one of the more critical library blogs around, I can only agree. Though niceness isn't necessarily the issue. The failure to engage in rigorous intellectual discourse is the issue, as Bell observes: "But perhaps we have become too welcoming, too complacent to remember that we share a responsibility to take our profession forward through intellectual discourse. Maybe a good place to start is with a well thought out response to this article." Okay.
First, we're constantly bombarded by librarians who have only contempt for the virtue of niceness. Plenty of librarians aren't nice. Consider the regressive librarians, who are about as nice as an unpleasant rash and who share the political idealogue's typical willingness to sacrifice civility and truth for political victory. Sure they're not nice, but on the other hand a barrage of ad hominem attacks and logical fallacies doesn't do much for intellectual debate. The regressives confuse rudeness with criticism.
Plenty of non-political criticism exists as well. There are the numerous anonymous blogs that detail the degrading working conditions of a lot of librarians, especially public service staff in public libraries. These often aren't by academics, and so escape Bell's criticism, but they do provide a critical perspective on working conditions relevant to all librarians and managers, and always missing from the library literature. Managers like to talk about motivation and communication and human resources, but rarely seem to be interested in the problems of the actual human beings on their staffs. These blogs seem for the most part to be by nice people put upon by others.
This is a serious practical and ethical issue that, for example, doesn't resonate much with the regressives, whose only concern seems to be to unionize so that the poorly treated and disgruntled librarians don't get fired, and get their guaranteed step raises regardless of their quality. Improving civility, cooperation, caring, and consensus isn't sexy when you're trying to revolutionize the world. And since most of these blogs are anonymous, they wouldn't be taken seriously by the regressives anyway. Unless librarians are willing to come out in public and detail for the world the failings of their library administrations, then there isn't really a problem, at least according to Snipey Fellow Traveling Dude and his Fellow Travelers.
There does seem to be very little criticism of the technological and business faddishness that seems to impress so many librarians, but I've done a little bit in that direction. It would be nice to have more literature criticizing the notion that libraries are like businesses, or that "Library 2.0" is going to create a brave new world, presumably called Twopointopia. (I thought I'd made that one up, but I Googled it and someone beat me to it.)
The problem isn't a lack of criticism, but a lack of intellectual rigor and a lack of concern for intellectual rigor. Librarians, including academic librarians, in general don't seem to have developed the critical and reflective habit typical of academics. It makes sense. They're not people who make their livings by making arguments. They don't sit in classrooms several hours a week articulating their subjects of study. True, some of them publish, but they often publish case studies and how-i-dunit-good articles that don't engage the arguments of others in a meaningful way, and that's usually because there aren't any arguments to engage. Even if they have advanced degrees and in general a critical habit of mind, their work isn't such that it requires the sort of intellectual debate common to academics.
Even the most critical among the bloggers are often reacting to a real or perceived injustice rather than developing larger systemic criticisms. And most of the problems librarians face qua librarians may resist intellectualizing, because they're not intellectual problems in the same sense as understanding a field of study is an intellectual problem. Librarians may be nice because most disputes don't affect their jobs, and because they really have nothing to say and they don't care about intellectual debate.
The truth seems to be that even most academic librarians are more like office clerks, technical trainers, and technology repair persons than intellectuals. I don't see how this can ever change, given the workaday nature of most library jobs.