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Thursday 9 October 2008

Annoyed Librarians

The last time I noticed much general discussion of the Annoyed Librarian was at the time of the "I am not the Annoyed Librarian" meme, which seemed a nice light-hearted bit of fun. So much of the vehement disapproval of Library Journal giving the AL a column has taken me by surprise. This may be because I'm the kind of person who sails blithely over all sorts of social undercurrents; in fact I'm reminded of an old high school friend asking me a few years after the fact, "Remember when [two girls among our friends] were found kissing behind the bikeshed?" And... no, I seem to have entirely missed what sounds like it must have been the biggest bit of gossip of the entire school year.

Leaving aside the "What did I miss?" factor, though, I haven't yet seen any reason to convince me that the column is a bad thing.

Among the AL's fans, there seems to be some concern that they've "sold out", or at least compromised their voice. Somehow I don't think that's going to be a problem. I've also heard some concern about whether they can sustain a regular column, as opposed to a blog post whenever the mood takes them; but again I don't think there's any reason to think they can't.

Those who aren't fans seem to be primarily of the view that Library Journal has only done it for the expected boost in traffic, and that the journal shouldn't be a place for negative and unconstructive rants by an anonymous author.

Only for the traffic? I rather suspect so, but that doesn't make it a bad thing. Like it or not, the AL has a lot of fans; why shouldn't Library Journal make a place for them in the hopes that they'll stay to view some of the other columns? (Just for fun, substitute "gaming" for "the AL", "libraries" for "Library Journal", and "books" for "some of the other columns".)

Should the journal be a place for negative etc columns? I think it shouldn't be a place that publishes only such columns, but I don't think it should be a place that publishes only "Rah rah, we're doing great, guys!" columns either.

And are the AL's posts in fact only unconstructive? Well... yes and no. The AL is a devil's advocate: they take their arguments, in my view, to unsupportable extremes. But they do make valid points among the wilder ones. Much as I love library 2.0 and its potential, not all that potential is always purely beneficial or even practical, and if we're going to build something new we have to be open to hearing that. Just because the AL doesn't provide a constructive solution doesn't mean that they haven't pointed out a valid problem that needs a solution.

Finally: anonymous? No. Pseudonymous, yes. The difference is that when the AL signs their name, we know it's the same person who signed as the AL last week; whereas when someone writes anonymously, it might or might not be the same person who wrote all the other comments on the thread. This means that the AL does have a reputation to gain or lose, and can be held accountable as the Annoyed Librarian for what they say.

If the AL made personal attacks on individuals, that'd be different -- but I haven't seen that happen and haven't heard of it happening either. Until/unless it does, I can't think of any reason why Library Journal shouldn't give them a column.

[Random disclaimers/disclosures: a) I don't often read the AL these days - not my thing and not enough time - but I've never hated it. b) I have my own pseudonym in other parts of the 'net (discoverable with minor effort and/or lateral thinking), and I can tell you that my reputation under that pseudonym is every bit as important to me as my reputation under my birth name.]