Shhhh…you’ll wake the librarian. Whoops, she’s awake.
Despite my reputation for being outspoken, I’ve let several library-world blow-ups fly by of late without comment. I’ve gotten dozens of requests to write about these issues and have said no. I’ll tell you what I think if you ask, but I’ve stayed out of the fray intentionally.
Why so quiet? Over the years, multiple significant others have said to me: “When you get quiet, that’s when I know something’s really wrong.” They’re absolutely right. It’s not petulant pouting; it’s me afraid that if I open my mouth I will: a) scream, b) cry, c) berate you so hard you’ll feel like you just got beaten with a broom handle by Frank Underwood.
In short, me being quiet means that I’m so beyond mad about something that I don’t even want to talk about it yet because I cannot do so in a productive manner. Remember that video of me getting all huffy about Amazon and OverDrive’s anti-privacy partnership? That took me over a month of mental processing and about 20 takes to calm down enough to record. And even then, I still get all “RAWR – kill all of the things!” during the video.
Though I’ve been quiet about a lot lately, there are two large-ish issues I’d like to bring up — particularly why I haven’t written about them. It’s the same damn reason in both cases. I’m disappointed in the members of our profession who choose to express themselves in unproductive, negative, and hostile ways.
- My reaction: I was happy that ALA codified something that was already, more or less, included in various other long-standing statements of conduct, values, and ethics. My blog post on professional harassment was part of a long catalog of pieces that apparently started the avalanche of opinion that such a code is needed by ALA. I was happy that something I’d written had helped contribute to a large-scale positive outcome. Is the code perfect? Of course not. It, like everything else on this blasted planet, is a living and changeable beast. Something really good, however, is much better than nothing at all.
- The library-world reaction: I expected a little bit of pushback on this from people in denial of the problem, but I did not expect the infantile backlash that happened. People said that the code could curb freedom of speech. People said that it was addressing a problem that didn’t really exist. People said that only a few women were harassed, so why create a code to deal with only a few victims. Oh yeah, and all of these “people” saying this stuff? People from the librarian profession. I’m not even going to link to the many, many reactions on all sides to the code because, well, because of what I write next.
- My reaction to that reaction: Disappointed Sarah is disappointed in her peers. I am disappointed in the pettiness of some in our profession, the blinders many people have on to the diverse experiences of others, and the desire of some to tear anything and everything down–no matter how much good it can do–because, in their minds, it’s not perfect. I am also beyond raging that people would doubt the word of many, many people who have been harassed at conferences. We’re talking about a lot of people here, a lot of experiences, and a lot of anger and grief that could be avoided in part if we had a code of conduct to deal with such situations. Will the code prevent all potential harassment or assault? No, of course not. No written document can. But it can deter that behavior, and for that I’m glad. I’m glad the code exists. The haters can go sit in a corner and wax poetic about their delusional reality where no one is harassed and everyone is equal all the time, and leave the rest of us to deal with reality–dirty and imperfect as it is.
- My reaction: Cool! Look at that, librarians look like people. Go figure. And hey–a mainstream photo essay featuring librarians in a positive light. And one that’s getting a lot of traffic! Big props to the photographer too, Kyle Cassidy, for taking some beautiful photographs and capturing our profession in a non-stereotypical, non-inflammatory, non-hypersexualized way. Yay!
- The library-world reaction: Not every demographic was fairly represented in that small sampling of photos! Too many people looked this way, or that way! Not enough people looked this other way! I hate this particular person who was featured! I hate this person, therefore the value of the entire photo essay is negated! I wasn’t photographed, therefore this is stupid! Why do we need photographs to represent a profession that is so pure and idealistic that we should be able to represent ourselves through theremin music and laser shows alone!
- My reaction to that reaction: Fucking Hell. Some people will take every good thing and make it look like a steaming pile of rat dung. This was popular media coverage of our profession, which we will mostly agree is underappreciated and underrepresented. The public reaction to it was good, for goodness sake! Our reaction to ourselves, however, was shameful. To everyone who posted hateful comments about the way that the featured librarians looked, what they were wearing, or their gender or ethnicity–Shame on you. Instead of tearing something down, try building it up. Offer productive feedback on how to extend the project and make it more in keeping with what you personally think is important. But don’t destroy a photographer with pure intentions (who even wrote a follow-up piece about the Twilight Zone-esque backlash). Don’t destroy subjects who love our profession (even though you may not like them all as individuals) and who are willing to put themselves out there in the public spotlight to raise awareness about what we do.
In short, I didn’t want to write about these because anything I was infuriated with my fellow librarians. And besides, anything I wanted to say was already being said by others. But I come away from these two incidents with a mantra that a former manager of mine used to repeat to us at project meetings: “You can criticize something, but do so politely and offer solutions for how to make it better–don’t just tear it down.”
So, all of you librarians out there: you may have valid points and you may have good arguments about why something is imperfect. But be professional enough and smart enough to do more than tear something down–contribute to a solution. Until you’re able to do that, shut your talking holes. You’re hurting my ears and making me angry. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. [which, incidentally, is why I choose not to write when I’m angry–see the connection?]
I’m going to go over here into the corner and resume my quietness now, and try to make the world of my own library and community a better place.