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RIP, Library Journal

One of the nice things about reaching a certain point in life is the ability in any given situation to hoist the bullshit flag, wave it around a minute, and move on.

So when I saw that Library Journal had hired an anonymous blogger, that’s what I did. I said my piece to several people in and out of LJ. I told friends who write there that they are not bettering their careers by associating themselves with a magazine that can’t decide what it stands for — real journalism or page hits — but they are still my friends (even though I won’t be citing them any more). I expressed myself on Twitter and Friendfeed.

Then I took LJ off my list of magazines I read (I’ve never worked anywhere that I saw the print edition in a timely fashion, so this really means no longer scanning their discombobulated website).

Because if there’s anything really important on LJ, someone will push it my way. And once a member of the fourth estate loses its footing, I don’t have any reason to read it on a regular basis.  I get enough claptrap in my life. I thought LJ was a North Star.  But it is now an asteroid crashing to earth, pulled to its doom by its hunger for Google-juice at all costs.

In the past, LJ stood out as a significant “outside voice” to American Libraries. I respect AL, I loved writing for them, and I believe its editorial policy is far more “fair and balanced” than people realize. But it still comes from ALA and that makes it a house organ, if only by association.

I didn’t read LJ to hear the cowardly natterings of some anonymous blogger. I read it for straight-up reporting I could believe in, and opinion from people who had the balls to put their bylines on their posts. John Berry could be outrageous, but I could pick up the phone and talk to him.

I admit that as a professional, with each action over the years I have alternately feared and anticipated Norm Oder’s cocked eyebrow, his pen poised over pad.  If I can’t explain what I’m doing to Norm in a way that feels good to me, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it.

And that is what the press is for. It is why they are the Fourth Estate. It is why librarians and journalists get along so well — because in the end, at our best, we are about the astringent cleansing power of sunshine.

LJ can do what it wants.  Hire anonymous bloggers.  Or hey, start a column by Jerome Corsi — he’s a well-spoken attention-getter, which seems to be what LJ wants. It’s a free world and they have control over their decisions. And I can do what I want, which is ignore them the way I ignore Fox News.

But LJ, you have jumped the shark. LJ, I hardly knew ye.

How brief the good things are. When I was stationed in England in 1984, I went to Southend-on-Sea one weekend and in the grand English tradition, bought some hilariously bawdy postcards. My favorite postcard featured stern women in Salvation Army uniforms, marching in a circle, with picket signs aloft that said, “Ladies! An hour of pleasure is not worth a lifetime of regret!” And on the sidelines a Pretty Young Thing was asking, “Cor, how do you make it last an hour?”

LJ made it last for much longer than an hour… but when it ends, it will seem as if it were gone in a flash.

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19 Comments

  1. I think you are giving the Annoyed Librarian much more power than she deserves. lol!

    Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 12:30 am | Permalink
  2. martin wrote:

    In a way your response seems to be at odds with your usual attitude. In general it is a bad idea to trust somebody’s views based on their authority or persona: you should decide, critically, based on what they have said. Isn’t that sort of democratisation what Web 2.0 is about? And then much of the value of the Annoyed Librarian is in the debate that her posts provoke: the conversation of a community, some of whom remain anonymous or pseudonymous and some who don’t. I can see why you might choose not to read or respond to the blog, but I’m not sure the LJ’s decision to run it is reason enough to write the whole enterprise out of your life.

    I am surprised that any blogger gets paid. Isn’t that the real story, and quite an interesting one?

    Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 4:42 am | Permalink
  3. Martin, I was paid for blogging at American Libraries and didn’t think twice about it. The other bloggers at LJ are paid, and rightly so. Eeyore, I debated about writing at all; but I do want to explain how something can become irrelevant to me.

    I believe in good journalism. I believe it happens and I believe we need it, even here in LibraryLand, where it can be disturbingly scarce. For all I know that anonymous blogger comes from within LJ, which is really frightening to contemplate.

    We can have conversation without anonymity. It’s called accountability. I’ve put my butt on the line for my beliefs and I’ve taken knocks. I don’t fetishize 2.0 principles and if there’s anything we’ve seen repeatedly it’s that without accountability, people can be very irresponsible.

    In any event, in a world where I am swamped with information, setting aside LJ hardly gives that blogger power. What LJ wants is for me to read and obsess and link to and comment on that blogger, and I won’t read it. (I stopped reading that blogger eons ago — if I’m being yakked about, I don’t know it and I don’t care.) It just gives me more time to read stuff that matters.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 6:41 am | Permalink
  4. Mark Andrews wrote:

    Things I don’t pay attention to in LibraryLand (in no particular order):

    * Library Journal
    * American Libraries
    * ALA
    * Pronouncements from:
    – the Library of Congress
    – any national library
    – vendors
    – MARBI
    – ARL
    – library directors I don’t know
    personally
    – any library school dean

    If any of these things vanished would anyone know or care?

    Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 8:07 am | Permalink
  5. It’s interesting how some people are focusing on the anonymity aspect. There is a long tradition of anonymous writing in the British (and Commonwealth) press: the Economist never signs its editorials, and certain columns are written pseudonymously (but very clearly by individuals, since “Bagehot” goes on vacation every summer).

    The difference between the way LJ and The Economist use anonymity in publishing opinion is significant, though: LJ is shielding a single author for personal reasons of the author, who does not reflect the opinions of the LJ editorial board (one hopes); The Economist is publishing leaders that do, in fact, reflect the consensus of the editors.

    The Economist used to review books written by current Economist staffers. Those reviews were signed, which was startling. A couple of years ago, they stopped reviewing books by staff because of concerns about conflict of interest.

    Anonymity has its place. But LJ has not made a case for the Annoyed Librarian being so.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  6. Joan wrote:

    Wow, KG. I follow you on Twitter and read your blog regularly and usually like what you have to say. I am pretty surprised by this.

    I enjoy the Annoyed Librarian. I think she has some great insight into the profession, and I totally respect that someone would want to be able to be honest without risk to their career (even though, at this point, she’d probably gain professionally from being outed). Seems to me this is what we might be able to do if we had tenure in our field.

    Her posts occasionally annoy me, but I also know not to take her too seriously.

    She seems willing to say some things many other established librarians aren’t, or at least not beyond their circle. Plus she’s smart and funny.

    Maybe this is some history here I am missing, in which case, forgive my ignorance.

    As for who hosts her blog… that is of very little importance to me. I get the feed and click through to some website. The URL hardly matters.

    If I were to react similarly to you, I’d delete your blog from my reader and stop following you on Twitter. Which seems a bit melodramatic. But, despite a strongly worded post with which I disagree strongly, I do want to know what you have to say in the future.

    Indeed, maybe you can explain more why you feel this way. I just don’t get it. Frankly, this seems more like the reaction of a typical, entrenched librarian… which is not what I expect from you.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 9:35 am | Permalink
  7. Hillary wrote:

    I have to say I agree, but I LOVE LJ so I’m holding and not quite willing to give them up entirely. I think there is a difference between anonymity in the journal itself (like where some journals have reviews personally signed by the reviewer, and others not) but the journal knows who they have allowed to write for them and they use the editorial process, and full blown anonymity including from the journal that should stand behind the words. I also was wondering what moves like this do to the division between what is an academic journal, or a professional journal, and what is not. How many library school students need the great writing in LJ to be classified as appropriate for graduate papers and does this send LJ on a slide to not being considered an appropriate resouce? That would be a pity, when I teach I use LJ all the time. As someone who opens my big opinionated mouth on occasion, online, in print, and in person with my name attached and who has gotten my fair share of not so nice responses I can say it isn’t always easy, but I respect myself more because of it. I consider it now a law of PubLib that when I write something particularly opinionated or weird, all those who say they agree with me write back just to me, and those who disagree write to the entire list. I’ve apologized for words written in haste, but that’s part of being a grown-up, never mind a professional. And when I saw a response to one of my print editorials online, where someone said I was the author of “self-aggradizing crap” I wanted to make it into a button and wear it with pride. I don’t have a button maker though.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 6:36 pm | Permalink
  8. merriwyn wrote:

    I just think it is high time everyone got over the whole anonymity issue. Don’t trust everything you read, and certainly don’t swallow whole the satirical writings of anyone, anonymous or otherwise. The AL is a persona, writing for satirical purposes, that is to say for the combined purpose of entertainment and sparking real discussion. At the end of the day you should never be expecting something like that to be authoritative, only inspiring to further discussion, whether you agree with the original position which was put to spark the dicussion or not. I suppose if you like you can say that there is no place in the LJ for satire of any kind, but I think that would be denying the potential of satire to spark useful discussion.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 12:41 am | Permalink
  9. Rebecca Blakeley wrote:

    Wait a sec, I thought you were the Annoyed Librarian? ;-) Heh.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
  10. Bill Drew wrote:

    Frankly the AL thing is “much to do about nothing.” She is writing a piece of badly written satire. I don’t blame her for being anonymous. If I wrote satire that badly, I would be writing anonymously as well.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  11. Bill Drew FTW!

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  12. Charles Charleston wrote:

    I don’t see what the big deal is. I think everyone pretty much knows that Meredith Farkas is the Annoyed Librarian.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 12:08 am | Permalink
  13. rcn wrote:

    I completely agree with Joan above. I’m surprised by your take on AL, Karen. AL has made me laugh several times – she expresses what many people in library land want to express but don’t, or do in a much less humorous manner. Yes, I find her funny, entertaining, and intriguing. I’m amazed by how many readers have taken her too seriously. Of course I understand that people might not like her what she writes, how she writes it, and/or her anonymity, but I also agree with the first commenter here: you’re giving her far too much power by unsubscribing from a journal that you otherwise enjoy. Fine, don’t read AL, but don’t let her stop you from enjoying LJ.

    RCN in San Francisco Bay Area

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 7:35 pm | Permalink
  14. I don’t like magazines hiring anonymous writers, and since I’ve never “subscribed” to LJ myself, I’m really not missing anything. Most places I’ve worked I’ve been too low on the totem pole to get LJ for the news, so I’ve always got THAT elsewhere.

    In any event we all have our limits. Me, I don’t find AL funny… and if I’m the only person in the world who feels that way, well, that’s o.k.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
  15. You’re not the only person who feels that way.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 9:18 pm | Permalink
  16. Thanks, Joshua.

    I should add, I am not categorically against anonymity. I understand the role of whistleblowers, for example. I can also understand that some sources need to be anonymous. But I have a real issue with LJ pumping up its hits with someone who chunks rocks at others’ fannies but doesn’t have the cajones (regardless of gender) to be real about who he/she is.

    Overall, what really bothers me about AL is how he/she revels in wallowing in the shadowy vortexes of negativity. I’ll call it for what it is: creepy.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 9:57 pm | Permalink
  17. Linda Koss wrote:

    I have nothing against anonymity in general, but librarians have an occupational need for guts, and you don’t get or show guts with an anonymous posting. I always sign my name–in the couple of LJ pieces I have written, in my union newsletter. When you write something of controversy, or are speaking truth to power, you gain no power by refusing to sign your name. And librarians need all the power we can muster.

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  18. CH wrote:

    Sorry, but I have to wave the same bullshit flag when I read your posting. It’s not cowardly to blog anonymously, and it has nothing to do with the quality of one’s work. Do you think Banksy’s work is worthless because he tried to stay anonymous?

    Monday, November 3, 2008 at 6:28 am | Permalink
  19. As noted throughout this discussion, there are no absolutes. What Linda says distills at least part of my conclusions. Not all anonymous participation on the Web is cowardly or opportunistic (note how I expanded this beyond blogging). But LJ hiring an anonymous natterer to chunk rocks at other folks is a poor course for their ship to tack. Our profession is not overburdened by accountability.

    Monday, November 3, 2008 at 11:54 am | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Upprört om blogganonymitet « BiblioBuster on Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 11:54 am

    [...] tillkännager att hon från och med nu kommer att arbeta som betald bloggare för Library Journal. Free Range Librarian rasar över att tidskriften anställer en anonym bloggare som ska skriva för tidningens räkning. Det [...]

  2. [...] folks that I respect a lot now respect Library Journal a lot less, due to LJ’s decision to pick up The Annoyed [...]

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