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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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