Monday, August 18, 2008

Don't Criticize the Library...or Else

Those of you who keep track of library news, or who read the comments to my post last week, probably know about The Library Diaries, by "Ann Meketa." "Ann Meketa" turns out to be "Sally Stern-Hamilton," who worked at the public library in "Luddington, Michigan" for fifteen years until being fired for publishing the book. (You might have to register to view the news story.) It seems The Library Diaries, though purportedly fictional, says mean things about the perverts and crazy characters populating the novel, and some real Luddington people greatly resembling these fictional perverts and crazies patronize Stern-Hamilton's previous place of employment. Just in case the connection between her real life experiences and her fiction wasn't obvious enough, she put a picture of the Luddington Library on the cover of the book. Very clever, Sally!

There are comments both on the Amazon page and the news page going back and forth over the book (including one from some idiot named "Lon" who thinks we should ignore this story and instead be concerned about the Muslim running for POTUS). Some claim that this is a privacy issue, and that she has somehow violated the privacy of the Luddington Library patrons by writing a fictionalized account of some questionable activities and calling characters perverts. That's the point of view of the earnest librarian, no doubt, but who on earth would listen to an earnest librarian.

Some claim that this is a free speech or intellectual freedom issue and that Stern-Hamilton was unjustly fired for exercising her free speech, since apparently she hadn't done anything wrong at work. She wrote a book. The library director fired her because of it. That could be the view of other earnest librarians, those who actually believe all the guff emanating from the ALA about intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom means the freedom to think like them. I would be very surprised if the ALA Office of "Intellectual Freedom" made any statement whatsoever about this issue. It's pretty obvious from their focus that they think there's something "intellectual" about watching porn in the library. Just goes to show what passes for intellect at the ALA.

According to Stern-Hamilton's own report, she has "not been able to find one lawyer to make a First Amendment (Freedom of Speech, Press) case or even a whistleblower case." Probably not a lot of constitutional lawyers in Luddington, though. Still, given the alleged content of the book, I doubt the ACLU would be very interested. They talk a good game, but civil liberties aren't for everyone, you know.

The story has some strange parts to it. The author claims not to know how Robert Dickson (aka "The Library Director who fires people for writing books") came to know about her little self-published, pseudonymous tome. However, according to one of the comments, people in Luddington learned of the book because the author wrote everyone she knew telling them she'd published it. Speaking from personal experience on this one, I'd have to say you screwed the pooch there, Sally, if indeed you did tell everyone about it. The whole point of a pseudonym is to mask identity and create a different persona. You should have taken a lesson from Auntie AL.

Another commenter thinks it's somehow significant that "even the local retailers in the author's community have refused to sell the book." I'm sure that has everything to do with it being such a mean book and absolutely nothing to do with it being a self-published, print-on-demand title. I'm sure the Bookmark Espresso Cup Coffee Shop in Luddington stocks a lot of books like that.

What puzzles me is why anyone at the library would even care. The director is apparently afraid that the perverts will be offended that someone has written a bad, self-published novel calling characters perverts, because we all know it's highly likely that they're going to read this book and start protesting. This is a book that no one would have heard of and almost no would would have bought. Based on some of the comments, and not just from earnest librarians, the book just sounds like a bad novel, which would explain the vanity press.

Wait, perhaps that's it. Perhaps Dickson was just making all that stuff up about firing the woman because she calls fictionalized characters perverts. Maybe he was really firing her because he read the book, realized that it was a damn silly piece of sub-literary garbage, and couldn't stand working with someone who was such a bad writer. I can see that. I feel the same way sometimes when I read article drafts from some of my colleagues.

Or maybe it's because she committed the ultimate librarian sin: she said something critical about libraries. Many librarians seem to have the critical capacity of cheerleaders. Rah, rah, rah, libraries are all perfect! If we expose any of the unpleasant truths about our libraries, then people will be scared away, so let's cheer, cheer, cheer! Yay! The ALA is one big library cheerleader team, and they look really bad in those outfits.

Longtime readers know how many people used to criticize this blog just because it was mean and didn't speak happy thoughts about librarianship. And of course it's much worse if you don't publish under your real name and "take responsibility" for your words and all that other gobbledygook earnest librarians babble when they don't like what people say. One "distinguished library school professor," if there be such, once wrote somewhere that she wanted people like me and that other anonymous blogger David Durant of Heretical Librarian outed to our colleagues so they could see how awful we were for daring to question the ALA party line. (Durant was never anonymous or pseudonymous, but this particular professor wasn't one to let total ignorance stand in the way of her ideology.) She's probably cheering the Luddington Library right about now, along with all the other earnest, humorless librarians out there.

Yay, team!

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

Forget Obama and McCain. AL for President!

Jaded said...

Too good!

Dances With Books said...

And that is indeed the cardinal sin, to speak ill or critically of a library. The book may not be that great, but like all other books that suddenly get spotlight from a controversy, I am curious enough I may go get a copy. In the end, it seems a case of the library director simply being vindictive because heaven forbid someone says something critical, even if fiction. Then again, if it is fiction, is it not a bit egotistical of the director and others to think it is about them?

Then again, putting a picture of your former MPOW on the front cover? Not exactly a brilliant move.

And I second the motion: AL for President. Can I write you in? ;)

Anonymous said...

Weren't two books released last year based on working in the library? So someone writes a book of fiction about the library, and they get fired, but two others write true stories about working in the library and they don't get fired. That makes sense.

Anonymous said...

You've reminded me of the time that I was at ALA in some session about intellectual freedom and the internet. Being young and open minded then (couldn't say as to now), I dared to suggest that since libraries don't carry Hustler, it seemed to me that we didn't need to have all the porn available on the internet, and maybe there was some way of figuring out a good way of preventing people from accessing it from within our buildings, and maybe we should be having a collective discussion about that. The presenter, or panel, or whoever, never got a word in edgewise because I was immediately shouted down by Judith Krug, director of the OIF, spouting the party line.

Ah, hell, what did I know?

Anonymous said...

We carry hustler now. We just put it in the adult area of the stacks so the kids won't go there.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been in the profession for very long, yet it hasn't been my experience that you can't speak ill or criticize the library. In fact, I've found the opposite. I bonded with friends in library school over the bitching and complaining of the many, many things we saw which galled us to no end. The whining and complaining to each other became like a support system as we all struggled with unemployment and some excruciating job searches. And now that I have that coveted "full-time, permanent" capital-L Librarian position, I still rant on a regular basis with co-workers (including a manager) about the myriad ways that the Board and the system are messing up our public library, what to do about it, and just generally pointing out flaws. (Including the occasional "I need a Masters for THIS?").

Even keeping in mind that I'm the kind of person who reads the AL and enjoys it ... I've found that complaining and being critical of specific libraries and the profession in general is so common to my peer group that I'd probably be on the outs if I *didn't* complain.

Just who are these mindless cheerleaders of which you speak, and where do they work? (I need to know so I can avoid them).

Anonymous said...

The negative attitude has got to go.

Especially if you want to get to the $50K level of librarianship.

Go out there and win one for the team.

DirectorWho said...

These are the same people who blast A.L. and RefGrunt for daring to be critical of the Library profession.

This is a prime example as to why I choose not to join any organization that espouses "Intellectual Freedom", since, as A.L. said, in their view, this only applies if you agree with THEM, and never, EVER think for yourself.

"The Director"

Kimbre said...

I'm fairly new in the profession, too. I worked in other fields prior to becoming a librarian, and don't see that librarians complain any more about their job than anyone else in any other profession does.

Has anyone read the book? If so, is it any good? It is self published and anyone can self publish. I think it was a pretty dumb move to put a picture of your own library on the cover. I would have least altered it in Photoshop so that it could be any library anywhere. Also, unless you intend to retire, it's another dumb move to let anyone know that you wrote a book that looks like it criticizes them.

j- said...

*Has anyone read the book? If so, is it any good?*

I have not and do not plan to, but anyone who has worked in a public library for a good stretch of time could write a book filled with perverts and lunatics.

Whether they should be fired for it is another question, of course, but the Directors and Library Councils and City Councils who allow their libraries to become repositories of freaks shouldn't be upset or suprised if some people don't like it. It's the same reason why the gate counts go down every year in some places.

Funny aside: there are now more comments on this page than reviews of the book at Amazon.

Anonymous said...

C'mon. Anyone with an ounce of common sense would know that openly criticizing the place you work for and it's patrons (or customers) in a tell-all book (fictionalized or not)is a sure way get fired. Dumb move! Any business would do the same thing.

And yes, it was stupid to put a picture of the library on the front of the book if you really want people to believe it is fiction.

Anonymous said...

And another thing: writing your grievances or sordid tales in a books for everyone to see is NOTHING like complaining to your coworkers in the break room. Two different animals. Nor the same as criticizing the library profession in general.

Anonymous said...

Cardinal sin my ass. I plan to write a book about the nightmare that was my paraprofessional work experience one day. Lucky for me the behavior exhibited by those so-called professionals was so outrageous people will think it's fiction. Besides, those people are such idiots they'll never figure out I'm writing about them. Even if they do the public shaming that will result from them admitting they ever behaved like that should keep their mouths shut - I have witnesses to back me up.

Even still, I won't go so far as to put a picture of any of the libraries I've worked at on the cover. Gotta keep 'em guessing..

Brent said...

Couldn't she be like a normal person and make fun of people she sees at work with a friend?

She probably isn't qualified to work at the CIA or NSA. Just saying.

angsty librarian said...

Yep, libraries don't like negative criticism.

But then, who listens to what public librarians have to say?

Perhaps she shouldn't have gotten fired for speaking/writing about it...?

The more censored we are, the more irrelevant we are.

Mary said...

Banned Books Week is coming up. Maybe this one will be at the top of the list.

Anonymous said...

I've heard there are some libraries where the Director requires that ANYTHING that is to be published, even book reviews, have to be approved first.

This story about [and maybe in] the book sounds wierdly genuine. Maybe there should be an alternative to ALA's stalking horse "Banned Books Week", called
"Banned Librarians Week". I'm wondering if these "perverts"
are as fictional as portrayed. It sounds a bit like someone was fed up and decided to come out and say "The Emperor has no clothes", as "fiction", of course ;-). Sort of like Ensign Pulver tossing the captain's palm tree overboard at the end of "Mr. Roberts". Oh, I would LOVE to hear what Judith Kruge has to say about this one. Or does she dare speak? Silence can be deafening.

SafeLibraries.org said...

AL said, "Just in case the connection between her real life experiences and her fiction wasn't obvious enough, she put a picture of the Luddington Library on the cover of the book. Very clever, Sally!"

My understanding is that the publisher did this, not Sally.

One anonymous said, "You've reminded me of the time that I was at ALA in some session about intellectual freedom and the internet. Being young and open minded then (couldn't say as to now), I dared to suggest that since libraries don't carry Hustler, it seemed to me that we didn't need to have all the porn available on the internet, and maybe there was some way of figuring out a good way of preventing people from accessing it from within our buildings, and maybe we should be having a collective discussion about that. The presenter, or panel, or whoever, never got a word in edgewise because I was immediately shouted down by Judith Krug, director of the OIF, spouting the party line. Ah, hell, what did I know?"

Will that anonymous commenter please contact me? I would like to publish details on this encounter with the de facto leader of the ALA. Further, it is relevant to another matter I'm about to raise in another community.

Thank you.

By the way, I also blogged on this story. If interested, see "Librarian Fired for Authoring Book Set in Public Library; Fiction Includes Known Sex Offenders Using Library Computers to View P-rn Near Children."

her-welshness said...

Where have you been my darling AL? Missed you...

Anonymous said...

Not only has she been fired, but her book is banned?

Wow.

It should headline banned book week.

Who cares if Huckleberry Finn, Harry Potter, Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, etc. We want to make sure that a self-published book is pushed to the forefront.

And who said librarians aren't idiots.

Anonymous said...

Actually, our city manager's assistant has to approve every article or column that comes out of our library. By policy, it must come to the me and then to her. Not a library rule, a city rule. Mildly annoying, but nothing to get too worked up over.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I'm really not the me, like the Donald. I'm only me.

Anonymous said...

Actually, our city manager's assistant has to approve every article or column that comes out of our library. By policy, it must come to the me and then to her. Not a library rule, a city rule. Mildly annoying, but nothing to get too worked up over.

Thank god lawyers make the laws, enforce the laws, and are watching out for every possible lawsuit.

Hitler must be smiling in his grave.

Brandon said...

I just read the article.

It seems that the author is not as naive as we would think; she didn't "out" herself to friends and family so much as give contact info for her friends and family to Publish America (her publisher) for marketing reasons. Also, the picture of her library was part of a collage: it wasn't the main picture (and she had a fairly good reason for including it).

Also, not only did the Director fire her, he also contacted the local paper and asked them not to review the book until the library had a chance to "look at it." Hmmm....not only are we firing people for their off-duty activities, we are now suppressing access and promotion of materials? Not very 2.0 Mr. Director. Shame on you.

By the way AL, I often read your blog but this is the first time I've been driven to comment. Great work; you speak for more of us than you know. I don't have an MLS (I, in fact, dropped out of library school because my soul was crying), but I have over six years working in a public library.

Anonymous said...

Has the "distinguished library professor" been identified? Or is he/she entitled to be anonymous?

Mary said...

Um..not to be critical, but as a former Michigan resident I have to point out that it's Ludington with one d. Otherwise they'd call us Luddites.

Kimbre said...

"My understanding is that the publisher did this, not Sally."

Since this book was self published, she had creative control over the cover. Whether the book had a picture of the author's library that was part of a collage, or was the main picture, it doesn't really matter. If an author wants to remain anonymous, it's not a great idea to put a picture of her own library, which she is criticizing, on the cover. I don't think the book warrents firing, but if someone did something similiar at the public library in my small town, I think they would be fired.

SafeLibraries.org said...

Kimbre,

I recall one of the media sources on this subject said the publisher picked the picture, not the author. I just can't put my finger on that article now.

I'm Kat! said...

mary, I think AL misspelled "Luddington" on purpose...afterall, isn't it Ludditian to fire someone for their expression of free speech?

Our country has unfortunate circumstances where many people are running around without a clear understanding of the rules. What is sadder is the number of people who are uncomfortable with such things as the US Constitution and the US Bill of Rights.

And so things like this are allowed to occur.

She told the truth. It's uncomfortable, but not all of us believe in or subscribe to the bleeding heart side of life.

Kimbre said...

Safe Libraries,

She's paying to have the piece published. I've known people who have done this, and I used to work with publishers. Although someone else may select or even do the artwork, the writer has the final say over what's on the cover that she is paying for.

TheDonOfPages said...

Yes, being critical of your management can get you fired. That's true of most organizations, and libraries are no different. But since being a page isn't my dream goal, I risk it. See my blog: "Why Libraries failed with Granny Boxes" under the tag CECB at wordpress.com.

Anonymous said...

Employees at will be wary. Especially if you bite the hand that feeds you.

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know Sally Stern Hamilton the writer of "The Library Diaries" was not terminated from the Ludington Public Library for writing the book. It was due to her promoting her book while at work, using her employer's e-mail system to promote her book etc......as stated by her boss Robert Dickson in the Ludington Daily News.

And imagine this....The Ludington Public Library has her book on their bookshelves!

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know Sally Stern Hamilton the writer of "The Library Diaries" was not terminated from the Ludington Public Library for writing the book. It was due to her promoting her book while at work, using her employer's e-mail system to promote her book etc......as stated by her boss Robert Dickson in the Ludington Daily News.

And imagine this....The Ludington Public Library has her book on their bookshelves!

anonymous said...

Just to let you know Sally Stern Hamilton the writer of "The Library Diaries" was not terminated from the Ludington Public Library for writing the book. It was due to her promoting her book while at work, using her employer's e-mail system to promote her book etc......as stated by her boss Robert Dickson in the Ludington Daily News.

And imagine this....The Ludington Public Library has her book on their bookshelves!

Anonymous said...

My, my, it would appear that we have one of the Cheerleaders on site. I found the conversation on the web site www.ludingtontalks.com
about the situation most interesting. One, by a former library employee, said they had a list of local sex offenders with library cards at the main desk.

The previous multiple posts only underscores how one can find an excuse to fire someone if you really try. If a librarian were to tick off a board clique, say, over a case of censorship, they could let the matter ride, then come back later and dump the librarian later over something unrelated and petty, if they want to. Then take whatever other action they feel like.

SafeLibraries.org said...

By the way, so far as I know, that library worked fired in Lindsay, CA for reporting to the police someone viewing child p-rn has not yet gotten back her job,

I'm Kat! said...


Anonymous said...
Just to let you know Sally Stern Hamilton the writer of "The Library Diaries" was not terminated from the Ludington Public Library for writing the book. It was due to her promoting her book while at work, using her employer's e-mail system to promote her book etc......as stated by her boss Robert Dickson in the Ludington Daily News.

And imagine this....The Ludington Public Library has her book on their bookshelves!

10:34 AM


I LOVE clarifications - thank you!!!

Well, with this new piece of information...ROAST THE LIBRARIAN ALREADY!!!

:D

Yachira said...

AL, the "professor" you refer to in this post wouldn't happen to be the legendary Kathleen de la Peña McCook, would it?

Anonymous said...

If I wrote a book about the patrons where I work that fall into some of these categories, they'd never know because that would mean they would have to crack the spine of an actual book!! I guess the lesson here is to not bite the hand that feeds you...

Tim Reynolds said...

You know I think ALA's silence on this matter just goes to show why few take them seriously. Look at last nights Library Direct its just a link to the local news article. Which has expired.

In no way do they support her. They don’t even say we are looking into the matter to find out what’s going on. It just silence. Is this because she wrote an unflattering book about libraries? Is it because the ALA supports the director? Or is it because they jut don’t care about you and I.

They wonder why blogs like this one are so popular? Why should we support an elitists organization like the ALA when they can't support the common man.

Anonymous said...

Why should ALA care if someone got fired for goofing off on the job and writing a book?

SafeLibraries.org said...

"Why should ALA care if someone got fired for goofing off on the job and writing a book?"

Because it has to determine this for itself and not take your word for it or the media's word for it, no?

Anonymous said...

I just bought and read the book. The kindest thing I can say it bout it is that it ends at 142 pages. Any of us who have had any experience in a setting that's open to the "public" could have written that book and done a much better job. Had she looked more into just what brings some of those people into the library what happens when they leave (ok some never leave appearently) it might have been a little more than ranting. It is mean-spirited and speaks as much about the author's mental state as it does the the library patrons. Still in all, it does make you think a lot

Anonymous said...

Why should ALA care?

It is something dealing with a librarian and not a library.

If the librarian has a problem, then they should take it up with the association that deals with librarians as professionals.

DirectorWho said...

Yachira (8:06) said:
quote
the "professor" you refer to in this post wouldn't happen to be the legendary Kathleen de la Peña McCook, would it?
End quote

I shuddered at this reference, having been on the receiving end of a liberal tirade by the afore mentioned person for making a conservative comment on a listsrv once.

Ugh!

"The Director"

Tim Reynolds said...

If the librarian has a problem, then they should take it up with the association that deals with librarians as professionals.

This is what I mean by people not dealing with the ALA. Imagine how things could have turned out if she could have gone to the ALA about the issue and gotten support. I know I would expect only a cold shoulder if I brought it up to the ALA.

If she was goofing off then go in there and find out. If the director was right say it. But be prepared to say why. At least then we can judge as a profession what was going on. Instead they stay silent.

Anonymous said...

American Libraries Association.

NOT

American Librarians Association.

There is a difference.

And you wonder why mean salaries are in reality, crappy. We need a professional organization like the ABA or AMA or we might as well start shutting up and letting the kids just play video games.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I'd get fired for writing any book that mentioned my library ... unless I ran it by the Press Office (I work in a government-run library within the USA -- I'm not saying where or at what level of government) first and accepted all their required changes first. IF they approved it at all.

I could also probably get fired for commenting on this blog from my cubicle computer.

Debbi said...

I have no problem with books that criticize libraries or anything else. But if you're going to write a fictionalized account of the goings-on at the Luddington Library, you'd have to be stoo-pid to put a picture of said library on the cover of the book.

I'm afraid I have little sympathy for someone with so little common sense.

Anonymous said...

Yeah well check out her interview with a somewhat local tv station. Sorry this woman is in need of some psychological help, that she claims all the people not only in the library, but in the community that she resides!

http://www.wzzm13.com/red_player_1/default.aspx?aid=36529

Anonymous said...

After watching the interview, you can see why the director of the library was looking for a reason to fire her.

She was a nut.

More than likely, one of those employees who is always bitching and complaining.

And guess what, pedophiles and sex offenders and the mentally incompetent are everywhere, not just in your local library lurking in the stacks waiting to take your kid off and rape them or make them a muslim or a democrat.

Gruntled said...

This story looks like your kind of topic:

Time Magazine says that when Sarah Palin took office as mayor, she approached the town librarian and asked how to go about banning books from the town library:

[Former Wasilla mayor] Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” The librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire her for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

SafeLibraries.org said...

Gruntled, Time magazine has been caught merely repeating rumor without substance on that. See "Sarah Palin, VP Nominee," by Jessamyn West, Librarian.net, 2 September 2008, and all the many comments thereunder.