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On gentleness and librarianship and 2.0-ish-ness… and “They”

I’m hardly the gentlest person in the world… I can be cranky and caustic and snappish. Sometimes, quite frankly, I’m a bitch and a half with a cherry on top.

So I hope my response to Annoyed Librarian’s complaint about “twopointopians” doesn’t sound cranky, because she’s certainly entitled to her opinions, and she is walking the walk in a real library somewhere.

But… you knew there was a but, right? … I do have a response.

Annoyed writes,

Twopointopians are those folks who have the fervor of converts or ideologues, who want a “movement” and a “manifesto,” who want to preach their gospel and ignore criticism, who claim all their critics are just selfish and not sufficiently “user-centered,” who believe there’s only one good way, their faddish new way.

Ah, “them.” “Those folks.” “‘Their’ gospel.” “‘Their’ faddish new way.”

This is one of those toxic work practices I keep threatening to write about: the arch, passive-aggressive references to Them.

You know Them. “They won’t like it.” “I’m ok with it, but They say it shouldn’t be done.” Of course, “they” means the speaker, and maybe one or two compadres.

Then there’s “People are saying…” Or sometimes, “I am sure I speak for everyone when I say…”

Or my favorite postmodern twist on “them”: “It’s not part of our organizational culture.” If you weren’t around during the Library of Alexandria, then don’t be talkin’ to me about your “organizational culture.” What that usually means is “I’m not comfortable with your suggestion, so I’m going to imply that you are completely out on a limb in suggesting it.”

I’ve been roundly tongue-lashed for my direct comments in the past, and I’ve also missed opportunities to talk about things I couldn’t really be specific about. But my guideline is that when I start to fall into “they-speak,” I need to either spell out what I’m saying or keep my mouth shut.

Furthermore, sometimes we need evangelists willing to shout from the mountaintops.

Perhaps Annoyed works in a fully-evolved institution where (to paraphrase a colleague’s private observation) resistance to change and technology is not seen as cute or quaint. Such libraries exist, I hear. I work in an institution that is by and large a meritocracy of techno-savvy folks, and giggling and swooning that I Just Don’t Do Technology would not fly for a nanosecond.

However, I can remember working in libraries where I would have welcomed the Twopointopians with open arms. Back then, I longed for some evangelistic fervor to counter working with a majority of librarians who were completely disinterested in learning new things (even though there was always a minority who yearned to play with the New New Things and see where they fit into library services). In those places, I would have wept glad tears to have someone come in and utter a few manifestos and spin a little 2.0 magic, just to let me know I wasn’t alone.

I’ve worked in plenty of organizations that didn’t grasp what it meant to be “user-centered.” Sometimes I think none of us, including me, really want to be user-centered… unless we’re talking about a user community of one, that is, ourselves. I don’t know that I’ll add “Please let me be more user-centered” when we say grace over dinner (given that the list of people we need to pray for gets longer every day, and I don’t like cold food), but I can see the value of reminding myself every morning what was important to me.

For a long time I put this quote from my friend Sara Weissman over my desk:

If you want an enterprise-wide initiative, if you want everyone to be involved, at some point, as leader, you have to accept a certain bumpy, uneven quality of work and just lead them through it to comfort and consistency.

I don’t have people to lead right now, so it would seem pointless and grandiose to have this in my office. But when I did manage people, having this sign up was a valuable reminder not to just jump in and do things myself or get too directive, but to back off and guide people.

So anyway… blog posts do wander. Annoyed Librarian is entitled to her opinion, but there are other opinions to be had. It’s quite possible, even likely, that 2.0 advocates are giving hope to librarians in places that are less than welcoming to useful change, and Annoyed seems to be dragging a lot of people into her complaint — without explaining who she’s talking about.

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  1. jessamyn wrote:

    I left a little comment there because I personally get peeved when people imply that the 2.0 stuff is all tech and second life and “those people” dont care about the digital divide. Ahem. Anyhow, my basic take is that she’s entitled to her opinion but I won’t open up dialog with someone who insults me until we can at least agree on terms [is she mad at me? you? David King? who?] The whole comments section is rife with spittle-flecked lips. I made a little post on my own blog and linked to Ryan D’s post which I think explores her post in an interesting way.

    Wednesday, August 29, 2007 at 10:40 pm | Permalink
  2. Originally, I think she was mad at whoever wrote that 2.0 manifesto article – she didn’t like it and made fun of it, then followed that up with her twopointopian post. And I commented on it.

    So who knows… I think she just likes to anonymously make fun of stuff. It’s her anonymous commenters I worry about – I think some of those people are probably showing some of their true frustrations… by calling emerging techies “fascists.” Sheesh!

    Thursday, August 30, 2007 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  3. I’m going to be less forgiving than you and say that everyone, including AL, is entitled to an informed opinion, but no one is entitled to straw man arguments and appeals to broad, false generalizations. And while anyone can blog (whether they have the Josh Seal of Approval or not), I don’t consider this type of writing a conversation worth getting involved with.

    Thursday, August 30, 2007 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  4. Anonymity and the Web is something I’m thinking/writing about a lot right now… so perhaps AL is more “specimen” to me at the moment.

    Thursday, August 30, 2007 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  5. Terry Darr wrote:

    I also don’t understand why one anonymous person (AL) is getting all of this attention for her overblown, exaggerated opinions that don’t serve to make the profession better, just cause a lot of static. To me, if you want to be taken seriously as a blogger, do it under your real name; it’s about credibility.

    Thursday, August 30, 2007 at 7:15 pm | Permalink
  6. Writing anonymously is skeezy, unless you’re a true whistleblower. Not talking about who you’re talking about is equally skeezy.

    I wrote this post in part because Michael Golrick had written about AL and I wanted to weigh in. I too have plenty of library administration experience, and I have concluded I disagree with Michael on his “different visions” post. It’s not a binary, two-sides-of-the-story discussion where the “facts” are equally “aired.”

    Jessamyn, this weekend I’ll follow up on your links et al.

    Friday, August 31, 2007 at 5:37 am | Permalink
  7. Kathryn wrote:

    I just want to concur with Karen’s remark about the use of “it’s not our organizational culture” as an excuse or a way of explaining why something cannot happen, is happening, or isn’t happening in any organization/library. I find that people often (understandably) confuse “organizational culture” with “organizational climate.” This can lead to ideas such as “let’s change our org culture [in a week or a month or a year].” Folks, culture has very very deep roots beyond even the values we espouse. Those roots are embedded in our assumptions about what the world is like. Those assumptions go back to our founders and revolve around things like time (finite or not?), individual or group work more important?, etc. This is not my original thinking but concepts developed by Edgar Schein at MIT and father of the study of organizational culture in modern times. Our assumptions are so deeply embedded that we do not even know they are there; we do not know we are running on them because any other way of thinking would be anathema to us. So changing culture can happen but very slowly and only through conscious and often painful testing of assumptions. – if, indeed, it does have to change. This does not mean we cannot change our work and services (and even mental models) as our environments change. Of course we can and we always have. Sometimes change is slow and evolutionary and sometimes we are hit with something very big – seismic even. And in spite of our deeply embedded cultures we can and do adapt to those changes – sometimes even leading them.
    BTW, organizational climate is not as deep as culture and is really like the temperature of the organization; how it feels to work there; how happy people are, how much risk people feel they can take etc. Climate factors, when they are described as unfortunate, can often be traced back to systemic problems in the organization. Things that can be changed if properly diagnosed. This is NOT about organizational culture!
    So if the “inhabited web” as I like to refer to the web in which anyone in the world can create and share content, in which the model of participation is extremely broad, is 2.0 then I would call this a very powerful change, a seismic change. The question we might ask ourselves is “are we feeling optimistic about this shift?” What actions and what dialogue will our optimism spur?

    Friday, August 31, 2007 at 9:50 am | Permalink
  8. Dale wrote:

    As some of you have heard me say, the second library I worked for (starting in 1981) was in her late 70s at that time. Without the technology, she was right on every “Library 2.0″ idea that I’ve heard.

    Her point was that the library belongs to the community, not to the staff. I heard that repeated yesterday by one of the most “techie” librarians I know.

    Saturday, September 1, 2007 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  9. sharon wrote:

    I used to read AL for a while, but I got tired of eavesdropping on the pity party that she and her buddies are holding. Even though they despise their jobs and their profession, they are all obviously too comfortable financially (I gather AL works in an academic library) to leave and find work more to their taste.

    I was a software engineer until about 2 years ago. In my brief career working in libraries, I have encountered two that are technologically progressive and unafraid and one that is dominated by people who don’t want to learn anything new for the next 7 or 8 years, until they reach retirement. I’m sure that’s too small a sample from which to draw any conclusions, but I’ll take the first kind, thank you.

    Monday, September 3, 2007 at 8:46 am | Permalink
  10. Sharon, amen on that.

    Monday, September 3, 2007 at 11:01 am | Permalink

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