Previous Blog Entry Next Blog Entry

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.

The ALA Conference Code of Conduct

  • 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.

This is What a Librarian Looks Like

  • 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.

“Something’s Wrong When Sarah’s Quiet”

  1. Roy Tennant Says:

    You rock, Sarah. That’s all.

  2. Michael Porter Says:

    Word. It’s a big part of why folks have seen less of me online over the last few years. Also, agreed and agreed.

  3. Lori Ayre Says:

    Totally agree with you (and Roy). Seriously, what is up with the haters? Loved the photos – really loved the photos. And thought the new policy seemed like something that was only a few decades overdue – and certainly still a good idea.

  4. Melissa Says:

    The ALA Conference Code of Conduct should have concluded with a Vonnegut quote: “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

    Those photos are beautiful. What gives anyone the right to criticize the subject of someone else’s art as long as it’s not hurting anybody? Some people just can’t let anything be good and positive.

  5. jessamyn Says:

    Right there with you Sarah.

  6. Paul Signorelli Says:


    There’s every reason in the world to do exactly what you did at first–think, let the anger dissipate a bit, and don’t let the response be the same destructive drivel that comes from those who bark rather than build. And there’s every reason in the world to do exactly what you did in this post: when people with your level of readership and influence speak out constructively, honestly and bluntly–but always with wit– you serve as a catalyst for the sort of positive action that eventually makes our little part of the world a far better place. As always, I’m glad you’re there to call attention to issues worth discussing and addressing.

  7. Heather Braum Says:

    Thank you. 🙂

  8. Cindy Says:

    Thank you, Sarah – I was honestly questioning my incredulity at the reaction of my “peers”.

  9. Kate Says:

    You’re outlining my thought process exactly, which is why I waited to write what I did on the latter. I read it and had my knee jerk reactions during a very stressful day at work, so I said, let me meditate on this a bit, and take everything in that everyone is saying (practicing the listening that was noted as a weakness on my last performance review!), and make some sense of it (which later turned into the evolution of my own thoughts on the whole thing) – try to show what may have been warranted (not too much), what wasn’t – and offer some solutions, out of the box as they were (my video wall in the convention center). Hopefully I did something right by contributing to the discussion, in a more rational way.

  10. Kate Says:

    And for what it’s worth, I was left feeling very depressed over this for several days – that’s when I realized that we had deteriorated to name calling on the playground, and I knew we were better than that.

  11. Matthew Hamilton Says:

    Once again you have said it better than I could have and thank you for doing so.

  12. Elizabeth Dill Says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed (and agreed with) the post. Thanks!

  13. Lisa Bunker Says:

    We liked the photo essay so much we’ll be doing a series of our own staff. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most powerful. Thanks Sarah.

  14. Jen Waller Says:

    Perfect. Thank you.

  15. Tina Hertel Says:

    Bravo, Sarah. Always spot on.

  16. A'Llyn Ettien (@aettien) Says:

    Well said!

  17. Walt Crawford Says:

    Nicely done (big surprise!). As for the first, well, I already blogged about that (and agree with everything you say here). As for the second, while I will probably never get along with one of the people in that shoot, *so what?* It was fun, it was well done, it elevated the medium it appeared in, and people should find better things to bitch about.

  18. JanieH Says:

    So well stated – thank you for writing this. My heart hurt for those featured in the article on Slate and the crap they had to put up with as a result of the article. I was in a pretty big lather myself over the entire Code of Conduct crap that went down. I chose to stay out of both other than to be supportive where/when I could.

    Reading the comments it makes me sad that a positive light in the library world, namely Michael Porter, has chosen to be less active online in the library community because of immature “professionals” who think it is cool to snark and tear things down rather than be positive or shut up.

    Anyhow, you rock (as always) Sarah…

  19. David Dodd Says:

    Thanks, Sarah. I can always count on you to say what needs to be said in a way that is incisive and effective.

  20. Rory Litwin Says:

    Were there more than a couple of people who didn’t like the photos? It seems like the “reaction to the reaction” served as a big megaphone for a couple of people.

  21. Sarah Houghton Says:

    Conversations were happening on a lot of different channels. I personally saw a few dozen people reacting in a manner I would consider inappropriate.

  22. Laura Shea-Clark Says:

    Well said. What I see is a polarization on both sides of issues. We need to find ways to be more inclusive & accepting of differences. Don’t just face palm “haters.” Get them on board & move forward together.

  23. Ryan Says:

    Such a well written, thought out post. Thank you for addressing this, but also thank you for not making it a knee jerk reaction. Good to know that there is a calm before the storm. I especially like your final message: don’t tear things down, build things up.

    Also, points for the FU mention.

  24. Michele Says:

    Yeah, the negative/hurtful responses to “This is What a librarian Looks Like” was a surprise. I know people who put effort into being that unique librarian – that individual. However, the negative respondents took the essay personally. We’ve come to a point where there is no stereotypical librarian and yet, librarians themselves expect their own version of what they think is the non-stereotypical librarian to be portrayed to the public. I could go on and on about this one, but I have to go feed the cats…

  25. Holly Williams Says:

    I hope I get to meet you someday in person so I can thank you in person. This post? Made me cheer and made me feel sick about myself. I was nodding my head and agreeing with you through the code of conduct piece. Then I read the bit about the This is What a Librarian Looks Like. My initial reaction to the project was “AWESOME! I love this!” But the more I looked at the photos and read everything, it completely brought me down. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I’m 40 and at midlife and midcareer and I envy those that still have so much passion and enthusiasm for our profession and haven’t reached this peak of cynicism I have climbed? Probably. Do I feel ashamed about it? Absolutely. Will I read and look at the project again? Yes. And I’ll try to look at it with an open mind and heart this time and stop longing for my youth.

  26. K.G. Schneider Says:

    Seriously, the reason I pushed other things aside on a busy day and posted about the Slate article (“look! nice!”) was that I was appalled by the bad case of Not Invented Here the article engendered.

  27. Max Macias Says:

    I have little respect for the library profession. People are scared to express themselves! From a profession the espouses Intellectual Freedom–this is really frightening.

    I better not say anything more–if I ever want to get a librarian job.

  28. Ingrid Says:

    I always thought you were great, but this post gave me feels. Like the happy cries. Thank you.

  29. Jill Brown Says:

    *standing ovation*

  30. KathM Says:

    Wonderful! I wish I had managed to find a job after I got my MLS so I could feel justified in being proud to be a librarian.

  31. Sharon McKellar Says:

    Amazing post, Sarah. Thank you.

  32. This Is What A Librarian Looks Like: Ur Doin’ It Wrong Culture Must Die | Casz's Fiction Farm Says:

    […] Libraries tie a community together. They allow for the sharing of knowledge. They are the one public place where no matter your background, your gender, your economic status, your creed, or religion, you are welcome. The article, bless its beaten-on-the-internet heart, brought that forward, too. Many of the librarians featured via their portraits said that, too, “We are the great equalizer.” Here in Western Washington and many other places across the United States, it was the librarians that resisted the Patriot Act – almost like a last line of defense. To me they are knowledge warriors. […]

  33. Penny Ramirez Says:

    Well stated. Thanks, Sarah!

  34. Polly Farrington Says:

    Thank you for this! Let’s hear it for kindness and constructive debate.

  35. Elizabeth Says:

    Well said. Constructive criticism with kindness is always best.

  36. Links of Interest : February 25, 2014 « A Modern Hypatia Says:

    […] Sarah Houghton takes on two recent bits of library-land controversy, one about the ALA Code of Conduct, one on the piece that ran in Slate about “This is what a librarian looks like”. She includes links to other useful discussions of both. […]

Leave a Reply

LiB's simple ground rules for comments:

  1. No spam, personal attacks, or rude or intolerant comments.
  2. Comments need to actually relate to the blog post topic.

You must be logged in to post a comment.