Monday, April 07, 2008

How Can I Use This?

Today I'm going to discuss one of my favorite subjects--me, or at least my blog. The AL is something of an exercise in creativity. Consider what many library bloggers blog about: their professional lives or their personal lives. And consider two things I can't blog about: my professional life or my personal life. Sometimes it's not easy being the AL. The worst part is that I can't blog about most everything else, either.

As many of you probably know, over the past 5 days or so, it became public knowledge that the database Popline had made "abortion" a stop word in searches. (If you missed the story, get news articles here and blog posts here.) Popline is a federally funded project, and the federal government doesn't fund abortions. Someone at Popline put the two things together and apparently concluded that that searching Popline was equivalent to getting an abortion. One wonders if working at Popline is the equivalent of getting a lobotomy. It can't just be that the federal government doesn't provide information about abortion, because abortion-related articles weren't removed from the database, they were just made more difficult (but not impossible) to find. This is the sort of confused thinking that many of us expect from both government and every other organization, so it's hardly surprising. However, that Popline is run out of Johns Hopkins makes the move more disappointing.

A kind reader sent me a link to one of the discussions and asked me to address the issue. I get a lot of my ideas from readers either emailing me or commenting on posts, so many ideas that I could make it a full time job to respond to the ideas and also blog about them. Until someone wants to pay me at least six figures to blog full time, I'll have to remain a librarian and keep this as a hobby. Regardless, I like to encourage people to send me stuff. That being said, I'm not sure how to address this, so I'm sort of meta-addressing it, if you get my meaning. Just how is the AL supposed to address an issue like this? The first question I think of whenever someone sends me something is, how can I use this?

One problem is, there's not much I'd have to say that disagrees with anything other library bloggers would have to say. The Popliners were a bunch of boneheads to make "abortion" a stop word in the first place. After their bonehead move was made public, they did the only appropriate thing and reversed themselves. It seems to have been censorship of some sort, especially since this was the federal government partially responsible for suppressing information, so unlike (as my reader noted) the banned books nonsense that the ALA prattles on about. There can't be an AL take on an issue where most librarians are in agreement. The AL is a contrarian. It is the way of things.

Sometimes I can find an unexpected angle. I found a way to blame library closures in Oregon on the spotted owl, after all, but I wouldn't have made that argument if anyone else had. Making fun of the pronouncements of ALA presidents or twopointopians is usually pretty easy, because their comments and blog posts are so often the result of incoherent thinking, and all I do is let the incoherence and absurdity rise to the surface. But for this issue, I couldn't find any way to spin it in an appropriate manner for the AL. The move was indefensible, and so obviously bad that it's almost pointless to mock.

Another problem is that this is a great topic for the Regressive Librarians. They can all prattle on about how evil the government is and feel good about themselves. However, one doesn't want to associate with regressives because of their ridiculous belief that the ALA should be turned into a vanguard of the socialist revolution and their implicit belief that the solution to bad government is more government ("But if it was the right kind, then more government would be better! Really!" they might whine.) If they didn't also think that the American Library Association should take public stances on issues that have nothing to do with libraries, then it might be easier to take them seriously about an issue that actually does have something to do with libraries. Since I don't like to associate with totalitarians who want to politicize every aspect of life, though, I often stay away from topics like this.

As an aside, I notice the regressive librarians have been staying away from the AL for a long time as well, and the world's a better place for it. Newer readers might not realize the incredibly stupid criticisms this blog used to get from the politicos and totalitarians amongst us. The general criticism was that anyone who thought the ALA shouldn't pass resolutions on political issues unconcerned with librarianship was a warmongering fascist. That's a mild version of some of the attacks on me, but a good example of the blindness and stupidity sometimes caused by ideology, and always from people who no doubt would consider themselves critical and intelligent. The only thing I miss about those days is the nicknames, Cranky Marxist Dude and Snipey Fellow Traveling Dude and the like. After a while, sparring with fools is kind of a drag.

This relates to the topic of what to say about issues such as Popline. The AL is known for satire and criticism. Whatever it is, I'm against it. A lot of readers haven't considered all the things I don't write about. I've turned down plenty of topics. As I'm sure other library bloggers do, I get emails from people who want me to blog about their cause or their conference or their book or whatever. They want me to help promote some cause. Sometimes I'm in complete sympathy with whatever they're doing, and if so I write back and say that's great, but that it probably wouldn't be a good idea for me to write about it, because the main function of this blog is criticizing annoying things about librarianship, and if I wrote about it the assumption would be that I think the subject annoying.

That's not always the case, because I've written a handful of posts praising librarians or at least not mocking them. I liked the librarian who aggressively confronted the thieves attempting to steal rare books, and I thought the librarian winning the couch potato contest was pretty funny, and I liked it when the NYT profiled a librarian because he helped writers with their research rather than because he was "hip." I mentioned them in the blog because these were notable happenings, but if more of my posts were about things I liked or librarians I admired, this would be a pretty boring blog. As a handful of you know, I can have conversations about all sorts of library topics without "coming over all Annoyed Librarian" (as I saw a blog recently put it), but what's the point of writing the AL without coming over all Annoyed Librarian?

So back to Popline. I'm writing around it, but I'm not writing about it. I'm mentioning it, but not giving it the typical AL treatment, for reasons which should be obvious by now. It's difficult to know how to consider anything on the AL, which is deliberate, but this should give you an idea about how the AL approaches librarianship, and give you something to think about when you're reading what I am writing about. What am I not writing about? And if I'm not writing about it, is it because I'm neither annoyed about it nor can manufacture some annoyance, or because I just don't have the time, or because everyone else is saying the same thing? It could be any of these, and more. Usually, though, the reason is just because it's boring, and since that constitutes the majority of professional concerns in librarianship, it's no wonder they don't make it into the AL.

22 comments: said...

You are fun/funny! That's partly why everyone reads you!

skeptical thomas said...

Other than showcasing your political rhetorical skills, what was that you intended to say, AL? Am I missing anything here, and I wonder what that might be? Me stupid today?

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with the comment above!

Anonymous said...

In the middle paragraph where you mention "politicos and totalitarians amongst us" the thought occurred to me that the whole POPLINE issue may have been a plant by the pro-abortion crowd to make the pro-life side look bad. That is now, the "politicos and totalitarians amongst us" can shriek about the Patriot Act and banned books and "the supression of information."

Library Elf said...

That's alot to wrap my cap around. All in all I agree with you, but from reading your past works, I would think that you would have come up with a stronger stance on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Ummm, with a little research, Popline is run by John Hopkins University, a PRIVATE university. They can do what they want with their databases. It is called free speech.

Don't like it?

Go somewhere else.

'nuf said.

contrarian said...

"As an aside, I notice the regressive librarians have been staying away from the AL for a long time as well, and the world's a better place for it."


I'm Kat! said...

To be truthful, this incident was a bit warmed over death when I read it. It happened, its been discovered, its been reversed, everything is back to normal now because they discovered the error of their ways...

The one 'censorship' case I am most interested in is that debacle case at Lindsay County Library!

Of course, that does bring up a question: if abortion was made illegal, would we have to pull all the books on it, most particularly the ones that cover it in medical terms?

Afterall, the right book and its almost like having a book on your shelf called "How to build a 250 lb. Bomb" right next to "Uranium, Plutonium, and Hydrogen," [haha, those two would never be on the shelf, both checked out and with 800 holds] or "how to take pictures of children" or "how to sell illegal drugs."

As long as we stay smart and believe in the individual being capable of making the right choice [whatever that is for them], we won't have to worry about it, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I have a different take on the POPLINE database.

I believe that 'abortion' was made a stop word to save the integrity of the database. News reports indicate that the POPLINE administrators were told that there were 2 articles about abortion which were outside the parameters of the charge of the contract for the database. I believe they were viewed as advocacy (pro-abortion) articles.

How do you stop political appointees from micromanaging?--require them to use subject headings and alternate terms. The Johns Hopkins administrators know that there will be a new administration in a year. Let's hope the restoration of 'abortion' as a keyword term does not allow the true believers of the Bush administration to gut the database before they're gone.

Anonymous said...

To "i'm kat!" - I sent this story to AL before the POPLINE administrators reversed themselves, so the post may seem dated now that we know how this ruckus ended. Just wanted to clarify.

Anonymous said...

I belive you could call this blog a good case of metablognition-blogging about blogging!

Anonymous said...

I belive you could call this blog a good case of metablognition-blogging about blogging!

I am so posting this whole thread to my blog so that I can make a case of metametablognition-blogging about blogging about blogging.

It would be the 2.0 thing to do.

Dances With Books said...

Anon. @10:39a:

With a little more research:

POPLINE is maintained by the INFO Project at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs and is funded by the United States Agency for International Development. (USAID)."

Note that while maintained at JHU, it is funded by the USAID, which is a government agency. In other words, they take federal money, so the "federales" (and the taxpayers) do get a say. It's not just a "private" database.

Anyways, whoever made that decision about the term "abortion" does sound like they had a lobotomy. But it is the government, what else is new?

soren faust said...
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soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AL said...

"Other than showcasing your political rhetorical skills, what was that you intended to say, AL? Am I missing anything here, and I wonder what that might be?"

You probably didn't miss a thing. Or maybe you did. I'm not sure. Sometimes you just have to relax and let the AL flow over you.

Brent said...

I'd have to say reading about a librarian's or any blogger's life is really boring, so I thank you for not posting personal stories.

Your post was a bit long and tangential. But AL is still a winner in my book!

I'm Kat! said...

Anon 1:35

I can understand now.

I have this very easy going personality; that is, if something bad happens, and it is universally bad, I have a good feeling it will be changed for the better eventually. Granted, this amy mean a long time, but I can generally live around whatever roadblocks ar ein my life.

Now if I was an abortion practitioner, I would have been fuming - or quite simply getting my information from a new source, aka no longer subscribing to the hopkins database. There are no monopolies in the knowledge universe ;)

Minks said...

You probably didn't miss a thing. Or maybe you did. I'm not sure. Sometimes you just have to relax and let the AL flow over you.

I am completely covered in AL. Not necessarily a bad thing.

I would have to read the whole thing again to figure it out,, not sure my attention span is up to it today.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Some things are beyond satire and all you can do is stand, slack-jawed and point.

BTW - since when was "abortion" solely a gynaeocological term? It's like all those idiots whose filters wiped the town of Scunthorpe off the maps for a while in the nineties.

Anonymous said...

I work in the heartland of the warmongering fascist librarians where the Teen Summer Reading Program poster was banned because it was "demonic." TGranted the graphic is slightly nauseating but I wouldn't go so far as to fear its satan worship inducing powers. People are crazy, maybe the world should be run by kangaroos or ducks or dolphins.

emu said...

We had halloween banned for ten years because "it promoted the satanic abuse of children"