Friday, September 14, 2007

A Query for My Critics

Since it's Friday and I'm feeling giddy with excitement because I'm starting my weekend early, I thought I'd write about one of my favorite subjects - me. After I post this I'm off to what passes for a country house weekend in this country, so you can imagine me sitting on a lawn and sipping martinis by evensong.

I notice a lot of nitwits out in the Greater Bibliotek Blogland Area always complain that I'm anonymous. I'm really pseudonymous, but I won't split hairs. They've realized the folly of trying to argue with me, because if you meet satire with earnest disagreement you just come off looking like a loser who doesn't get the joke. Lots of people argue in the comments section, but usually with each other rather than with me. So since they can't out-argue me, and probably can't out-satirize me, they claim that I'm a "coward." My, how often I've read that accusation. Some of these nitwits seem to think I'm like some fifth grader who'll be hurt if someone calls me names. "The AL's a coward! The AL's a coward!" they all run around chanting. Yawn. Let's just call these earnest folk the Coward Crowd.

You might have noticed the Chronicle article I wrote about a couple of days ago was written pseudonymously under the name of Thomas H. Benton. Now it's true that we know the real name of Benton: "Thomas H. Benton is the pen name of William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College." But that wasn't always the case. For a long time Pannapacker wrote just as Benton until he outed himself.

If you're familiar with the Chronicle of Higher Education, you might also know they usually have several pseudonymous columnists at any given time, writing about job searching, life on the tenure track, etc. Some of the Coward Crowd at least pretend to have a nodding acquaintance with higher education, though it's not always clear from their reasoning abilities. Nevertheless, they don't seem to mind this practice of the Chronicle.

You might also be aware that there are a LOT of anonymous or pseudonymous library blogs. One of my favorites is Dances with Books, which should be required reading for all library managers, but there are many others of varying quality. If I'd ever had any thoughts about being a public librarian, these blogs would set me straight. You can be pretty sure that any blogger writing about her workplace or her patrons is blogging anonymously. One of the reasons I never write about those areas is because when I started there were already so many of these blogs, including one of my all time favorites, the now defunct Happyville Library with its soap opera cast and plot. However, I never read other library bloggers talking about how DWB or the Happy Villain or those Mofo librarians are "cowards."

So the query for my critics, and I'm just asking because I'm curious, is: why is everybody always picking on me? I certainly don't mind, because every time some earnest blogger talks about how terrible I am, they look like they've got their knickers in a knot and I get a big bunch of new readers. It doesn't hurt me when you call me names, because I really don't care. I write for the folks that get it, and to hell with the others.

Maybe my question is more psychological. Why does it bother some people so much that there's an anonymous blogger out there? And if it bothers them, why does the AL bother them more than other anonymous bloggers? I just wonder why some readers get so fixated on the anonymity and others couldn't care less.

It can't just be that they don't like what I have to say. Though the Coward Crowd are usually hostile critics, not all of my critics care about the anonymity. I know from reading blog posts inspired by the AL that plenty of librarians, perhaps the majority, disagree with me, but they don't get obsessed about the anonymity. Often, these are the bloggers who make some of the best points, because they focus on clarifying their own positions. These bloggers focus on ideas. I guess some people can't focus on ideas because they're too obsessed with personalities.

It also can't be that I've attacked the Coward Crowd. Plenty of librarians have felt the lash of the AL and laughed to tell the tale. I still get a chuckle of the remark that "the Annoyed Librarian is annoyed with me, so I must be doing something right." Perhaps he is. Besides, it's not always clear who I'm writing about. I couldn't help but notice during the twopointopia flap how some librarians self-identified themselves as twopointopians and then claimed it wasn't a cult, while others realized that if there was a cult of twopointopia, they weren't part of it, regardless of their interest in 2.0 technology. That post acted more like a Rorschach test than anything else, as I've noticed some of my posts seem to do.

So it can't just be that I'm anonymous, because the hostile critics don't bother to accuse other anonymous library bloggers of cowardice, only little old me. It can't be that they don't like what I have to say, because lots of librarians who don't like what I have to say don't worry about the anonymity. Heck, some of those librarians go so far as (gasp!) not even to read my blog. How dare they! And it can't just be because I've made them my...no, this is a family blog. I mean it can't be because they've tasted my pain.

I once had a professor who at the end of the course asked, "what reading this semester did you dislike the most? And what intellectual failing on your part does that dislike highlight?" I feel sort of the same way about the Coward Crowd. Please, Coward Crowd, tell me what psychological tic you have that makes you worry about this so.

Oh, well. I'll probably never know for sure. I have a sneaking suspicion why they're so bothered, but it has a whiff of self-aggrandizement about it so I won't voice it. I'm nothing if not modest. I'm so modest, I won't even tell you who I am. And that bothers you, doesn't it.

32 comments:

David, Library Tech. up. North said...

Why are you, who I think is EXCTREMELY likeable, is not like by the "Cowards"? Well, it's because, now wait for this, you express your opinions! And in an editorial fashion. And in a borderline political style. And that upsets the "Cowards" who believe all librarians are partisan to one way of thinking. And that way does NOT inlcude a sense of humor.
BTW. I can vouch for Happy Villan as a friend. Her original blog is alas no more since she got "found out" by her colleagues.

Cowardly Librarian said...

If they knew who you were, they could launch ad hominem attacks on you, your job, your library, your career, maybe even your appearance. It really pisses them off that they can only attack based on the words you write.

Brent said...

Well AL, you know people go into denial about things. You pounce on the denial, and that is unnerving.

I am more concerned about our number literary author in America at the moment: O.J. Simpson. He is our generations Mark Twain, and yet he may go to prison! Protest I must!

Karin Dalziel said...

Dan Cohen had an interesting post about blogging pseudonymously a while ago (http://www.dancohen.org/2007/07/10/the-perils-of-anonymity/). He said:

"PhDinHistory’s rise and fall demonstrates, I believe, one of the principles I’ve outlined about academic blogging: we shouldn’t use pseudonyms. PhDinHistory may have been a thoughtful blogger, but he or she created a unnecessary distraction by writing under a pseudonym."

As you mentioned, some pseudonymous writers later out themselves. Who knows, maybe someday you will too. I think most of us don't really care either way. Like you said, you don't write slander- you may piss people off, but hey, who doesn't sometimes?

Personally, I would like to know who you are so I can say "great job!" at conferences.

janitorx said...

I think it is because you indict the profession as a whole. Your critics take this personally because their sole identity is wrapped up with being a librarian. There are many librarians who seem to be emotionally invested in this career. How dare anyone criticize the profession because you are essentially criticizing them! People in this field tend to meld the personal and professional. By the way, this could probably be the cause of why about 50% of libraries are toxic work environments.

DWB and LibraryMofo contributors mostly write about dysfunction @ their libraries. As you probably know (because you attended ACRL) there was a presentation about toxic work environments and the presenters claim that about 88% of respondents to their survey experienced these snake pits. Everyone can relate to this and point fingers at bully managers, irritating co-workers, etc., without having to look within.

mass librarian said...

Cowardly librarian said: "It really pisses them off that they can only attack based on the words you write."

There you have it. They can't contextualize or deconstruct you, they can't intimidate you through social pressure. They find it bloody annoying. Your work is done.

Anonymous said...

Those who you irritate the most are the most likely to resort to personal attacks or attempts to destroy your "day job," reputation, family life, etc. You not only don't think like "them" you expose their "cause" to criticism and even derision. Free speech is only tolerated if it is speech they find agreeable.

--Taupey

(PS: "Nitwits" is not an ad homeneim attack, nor is Coward. The former is an endearing phrase the second is a label, taunting perhaps, but not a personal attack).

Anonymous said...

mass librarian: Well said!

Anonymous said...

I don't care what they have to say, I think you are terrific. I've just started my MLS (or is it MIS, now?), but this is one of my favorite blogs, and I enjoy hearing the "other side."

Anonymous said...

Your critics take this personally because their sole identity is wrapped up with being a librarian.

Well said. Again, why did folks get their knickers in a twist over the NYT article? Because they're not people...they're librarians. Oh, I mean information professionals. Get a hobby, collect something, even hook up and have a kid. Then you'll realize there's more to life than labelling yourself a 24/7 librarian.

shade said...

You pose an interesting question, AL, and I think you answer it to some degree in your second paragraph - too earnest or otherwise unable to best you in prose, they seek to take you down by other means. Humor obviously is out of the question since it doesn't seem to exist in their arsenal.

I don't know if it'll help you to understand your Coward Crowd, but your post reminded me of a discussion I had with my father. I was asking him about the life or lifestyle of an author he liked (I can't remember the exact circumstances) and he told me he didn't really care who the person was, only what he had created. In other words - He didn't have to like the person to enjoy his writing. Which, in turn, makes me think of the furor over Gunther Grass' confession. Are his books any less because of what he did? Should his art be judged based on his personal life? I think the Coward Crowd would number among those who felt "betrayed" by that confession. Do you have to like the artist to like the art? Or if you dislike what someone is saying does that mean you don't like them? I think people have a real problem distinguishing the two.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

One of these days when I have time to dawdle I'll write a book. The title will be "Being Professional" and it'll be about how some professions don't really need to be professions, they're just jobs. At the very best the very best they may be crafts or trades.

And (obviously) librarianship is one of those. One of the things I've seen over and over is the "defending the faith" of professionals--always speak well of the profession and uphold it. The pragmatic view is to keep your job and future safe, but the larger view is to keep everyone in line.

That's part of the reason the Coward Crowd hates you, you're down on the profession and that's a no-no. However, since I felt the whole time I was in libraries that anything I said or did could be held against me, stay anonymous.

Being anonymous also keeps someone from being quantized. I argued and long and deep on newsgroups (remember those?) before I finally grew out of it. One thing I found was someone revealing a truthful fact about themselves would change the whole argument.

If your adoring competitors found out that say, you were a cataloger, they would be flaming that you shouldn't say anything about reference. Others would get personal and nasty about your job and life; it simply drives them crazy they don't know who they're arguing with. Being anonymous means you can challenge an issue and not have someone start deriding your qualifications.

The two sides to being anonymous is it's empowering; you can talk about things would never feel able to bring up otherwise, which is why whistleblowers do the same thing. The other is it encourages irresponsibility--taking on personas or flat outlying. You've been inconsistent but that's about it.

But I also see plenty of people who boldly put their names on their blogs and portray themselves as they never were. Matter of fact I knew one professor who was very dull and not very interesting, but made herself a persona in the field solely by the articles she wrote. Go figure.

If I do have any critique, is it's where will this get us? Yes, it's nice to finally vent without repercussion, but it won't help me pay my student loans off or move on from libraries.

And what about the library field itself? The whole thing is falling apart faster than anyone wants to admit; although to be honest if the Gubberment said tomorrow they'd be taking all the funding out of libraries and putting it into Wikipedia I'd fall over laughing with schadenfreude.

So what I think you should be looking at isn't what the Coward Coward has to say, but what to do with your blog aside from letting people blow off steam.

Sincerely,

AL Cheering Crowd member #16

Anonymous said...

I don't care if I'm in the minority here of worshiping the writer of this blog or offending her. I once wrote a comment that I didn't think her posts were all that daring due to being anonymous. Yes let's point the obvious. I'm writing anonymously as well. But let's get one thing straight. I don't think it's offensive that she's anonymous. Let's just not get all crazy and say anything on here is groundbreaking or going to change anything about the field because it isnt and never will. Most of this is due to the fact that she doesn't own up to her words and can easily hide out. But as far as I'm concerned I could care less if a name (real or otherwised) is attached to this blog or any other library blog.

Anonymous said...

oh and major typos to my comment. (see above)

Anonymous said...

I considered signing my comments until the uproar at the Blatant Berry blog. I really felt, reading those comments,that the McCarthy era had been reborn. I also felt ashamed of my profession. Some of those posters might have been better off posting anonymously.

What I like about this blog is that you engender discussion without any horrible repercussions. It's OK to disagree with you and the posters. Most of them are polite. No one will hunt anyone down and try to get them fired because of the AL posts.

Actually, reading this blog has made me realize that I need to get out of librarianship.

-Cowardly Anonymous

Kevin Musgrove said...

Long may you post pseudonymously, AL!

They can't point at you for being a cataloguer; or a reference libarian; or even (aaagh!) a library manager. They can only get upset at your arguments and your writing and they don't have the wherewithall to counter.

It's the same bunch of kiddiwinks who say: "you can't do that!" when you demonstrably just have.

From one figment to another: only Sicilian olives in the Martini. Pip pip!

Dances With Books said...

I do notice that. Those critics never know the difference between anonymous and pseudonymous. But that aside, they usually find it easy to be against those of us who are pseudonymous. In my case, I happen to like the profession enough I want to stay in it, thus my choice. Your choice likely allows you to speak your mind with more freedom. Usually, I notice, the critics are people with nothing to lose. If they had something to lose, I wonder if they would be so adamant about their "stand by your writing" line.

I agree with cowardly librarian: they probably want to know so they can attack you ad hominem.

Anyways, I am not sure I would consider my little notes as required reading from anybody, but I am humbled and honored you read them. When I started, I just figured it was to point out some foibles. It grew from there. While management is management in any profession, somehow librarianship attracts that certain "je ne sais quoi" when it comes to management dysfunction.

At any rate, keep on blogging and telling it like it is. And enjoy the weekend.

Anonymous said...

at the Blatant Berry blog. I really felt, reading those comments,that the McCarthy era had been reborn.

Blatant who? Let's have a look.....HOLY S---! Well okay then, glad I wasn't around for that. They'd be hunting me down with torches and pitchforks. Whew, glad I'm an anonymous coward. No, not that one, I'm #136.

No one will hunt anyone down and try to get them fired because of the AL posts.

Thank goodness for that, and that there's a sense of humor on this blog.

Actually, reading this blog has made me realize that I need to get out of librarianship.

Welcome to the crowd; whatever happened to just working at a job?

faithless minion said...

I am surprised that neither you, nor any earlier commenters, have seen fit to mention the obvious, earliest, most annoying aspect of all: that you practice, rather than preach, a truly sensible, CONSERVATIVE (there's the word - deal with it!) attitude towards our profession and our colleagues.
Oh, I did I mention you do it with some sense of fun & style?

J said...

I love you and all your anonymousness (I made up a word), AL. You say what we're all thinking, anyway.

Anonymous said...

shade said:

"Do you have to like the artist to like the art? Or if you dislike what someone is saying does that mean you don't like them? I think people have a real problem distinguishing the two."

Valid point: Do you have to like the infamous composers who wrote such beautiful music?

Anonymous said...

Cause, like, the head cheerleader would so totally demote you to JV.

Go books!!

contrarian said...

If your identity was known the regressives would throw you to the wolves and I would kiss the ground you walk on. Better to remain pseudonymous.

leo said...

FWIW, anonymity is considered a human right:

"Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse."

Read more...

Anonymous said...

I didn't care who you were til you wrote this:

--I once had a professor who at the end of the course asked, "what reading this semester did you dislike the most? And what intellectual failing on your part does that dislike highlight?"--

And since that sounds like an LS prof I had, I'm wondering if we went to the same school.

Can you at least clarify if that person was an LS prof? If not, I'll stop thinking about this.

AL said...

No, it wasn't a library school prof.

Anonymous said...

I've just finished reading the EFF statement. You would think the Regressives would love anonymous and pseudonymous speech the since the SCOTUS stated that pseudonymous and anonymous speech are protected under the First Amendment like pornography.
Privateer6

Anonymous said...

Response about Mr. Leonhardt,

Do you honestly think Mr. Leonhardt will admit that the Library Schools are not preparing students for the real jobs that are out there? I wonder what his qualifications are? Probably Reference, BI, Cataloging etc. Not Web Programming, Digital Initatives, Systems Coordinator Digital REsources Library 2.0(Keeping patrons out of the Library)

Anonymous said...

Janitor X wrote:

Your critics take this personally because their sole identity is wrapped up with being a librarian. There are many librarians who seem to be emotionally invested in this career. How dare anyone criticize the profession because you are essentially criticizing them! People in this field tend to meld the personal and professional. By the way, this could probably be the cause of why about 50% of libraries are toxic work environments.

You know, I think you hit the nail on the head here. I've never thought about this phenomenon before, but it makes so much sense to me. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that many (whom I've run into, at least) feel like they were "called" to become a librarian, almost like a call to the clergy. Libraries are a second career for me, and I can't think of an instance where I came across someone who felt similarly called to become an editor.

Jessamyn said...

I don't know, I don't have a strong opinion about your pseudonymity personally. If that works for you or helps you do what you're trying to do, good on you.

I just think it's easier to be nasty -- I refer you and/or your commenters -- and harder to still be able to speak your opinions, be proud of them, and entirely own them in public as well as pseudonymous private. There are a lot of outspoken bloggers in the library world and elsewhere who have to go to work and face and interact with the people they may have said less-than-kind things about and I think that's a learning and growing experience for both sides of the equation.

At the end of the day, you can go home or go to work or go to a professional meeting and not have your words follow you around. That may be freeing and allow you to be more open about what you say and how you say it. It's also, again in my opinion only, more challenging to have to deal with those opinions in the real world of trying to find practical solution to all the problems you outline than to just complain and then not have to be answerable to what you personally are doing to help find solutions for the things you complain about.

It takes all kinds, certainly. I feel personally that it's easier to complain than to actually be constructive and so I think your critics may just find that by being pseudonymous you're taking the easy way out of a difficult situation that many of us have to deal with in a more, say, context-rich way.

Anonymous said...

I like this blog. Tells truths. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Jessamyn : totally agree with you!!