In Waiting for Batgirl, Andy Woodworth laments the lack of compelling library blogging. Woodworth implies that most library blogging is pretty bland, primary because few of us are willing to be publicly critical of our organizations and/or of the profession. He goes on to write:
I also believe that the library world doesn’t handle honest portrayals of the work place very well. Public dissent is considered gauche in a profession that proudly supports the societal provocateurs, miscreants, and iconoclasts but wants to keep discontent in-house.
Clearly, Woodworth’s sentiments struck a chord with many librarians, as the blog post was tweeted and retweeted steadily over the last few days, mostly by folks who agreed with Woodworth’s dismal view of the profession’s tolerance for dissent:
— Library Loon (@GaviaLib) July 9, 2013
— Cecily Walker (@skeskali) July 10, 2013
Obviously, there are librarians who have suffered career repurcussions from speaking out in ways that are critical of the profession or of specific organizations. But it is hard to know how widespread the phenomena is. Is there a pattern that indicates a real systemic, cultural problem or are there simply many troubling idosyncratic stories that defy generalization? Is the “library world” even a meaningful agentic construct?
I think those are important questions (and hope many of you will respond in the comments), but the sociologist in me knows that “if men (sic) define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” In other words, we have a problem. Some significant number of bright, creative, passionate librarians feel constrained in talking and writing honestly about their concerns and criticisms of the profession and of particular workplace policies and situations. That can only mean that there are valuable voices and ideas that are missing from the conversations.
So, how can we as leaders encourage healthy, honest, public conversations about our profession — the good, the bad, and the ugly? And where exactly is the line between unprofessional trash-talking and healthy, thoughtful critical dissent? Those of you who are afraid to speak out, what would have to change for you to feel safe making your thoughts known? And how do issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and other dimensions of difference and power play into this?
These are not rhetorical questions. I joined Taiga, and agreed to be on the steering committee, because I wanted to try to leverage the Taiga platform to engage the library community writ large on issues that matter. I think Woodworth’s post has raised one of those issues, and I hope you all will engage with us on it. Dissent welcome — I promise!
7/11/13: Edited to add: Comments from any and all interested parties are welcome and encouraged. No need to be a Taiga member or an AUL/AD type. In fact, I personally would rather hear from non-AULs (no offense to my dear AUL colleagues, but let’s not talk amongst ourselves, OK?).
7/13/13: Edited to add:
I encourage you all to read the 3 excellent posts by the Library Loon that followed this one: