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Lipstick on My Collar

Lipstick Librarian gets it right; librarians can be so forest for the trees! Correcting someone in a private email discussion is the equivalent of someone who leans over to pick a piece of lint off your clothing while you’re talking; it’s snotty passive-aggressive behavior, right up there with Jonathan Franzen complaining about being selected by Oprah. (Pick me, Oprah, pick me! O.k., so first I have to write a book, I know that!)

I don’t even like it during IM sessions when I am talking with a colleague who has to constantly correct his or her own typos. I’m not grading my friends on their spelling and grammar (and I consider IMs to be private conversations unless someone says otherwise), and I don’t correct my own IMs unless I’m unclear. Let the conversation flow.

Now, as Michael Stephens points out, context is everything. Depending on the point of your blog, you need to treat your writing for the public Web somewhat differently. If it’s just among family and friends, and you don’t mind the fact that your words are on review for anyone to read them–bosses, staff, clients, and so forth–then just write like you talk. That’s Steven Cohen’s argument; “You can do whatever you want on your own blog.” But I’d advise against being quite that casual with your blog; you aren’t striving just to be understood, but to develop a presence (and if you make it clear that you’re a librarian, you’re also representing hundreds of thousands of other people, by proxy). Those words stick around, forever and ever and ever; do you want people to find them as you wrote them? Five years from now? Twenty years from now? Two hundred years from now?

Last year I gave a talk in Chico to some library students, and I was introduced by Peter Milbury (a fantastic guy, sort of an Eric Clapton of school librarians, and–full disclosure–an MPOW board member). Peter proceeded to read from some of my email messages to LM-Net, a discussion list for school librarians. I haven’t been on that list in almost a decade. I was relieved that I didn’t come off too poorly in these messages (I actually sounded fairly prescient!), but it was a shocking reminder of the lengthy half-life of anything I write in a public setting such as blog or discussion list.

So what does this all mean? First, if you pick lint off my shirt while we’re talking, I just may bite your finger. But more to the point (librarians having trouble getting to the point, as Linda says), context is everything. Don’t be pesky and annoying mano a mano, but (as Linda and Michael always are) be careful with your public presence.

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