The tension between “memory” and “complacency”

Disclosure: I will own up to my deep seeded worries (perhaps paranoia) that libraries are in a vulnerable situation and we need to assert ourselves back in relevancy, particularly for special libraries. It’s not so much justification, but more of a reminder of our value and aligning (yes, that word) our message with that of our organizations and communities.

This month, it seems like one of the big issues I’ve been having professionally is finding the balance between memory/history and change/innovation in my library community. I don’t think these problems are unique to SLA or the transportation library world. It’s also not a generational thing. When is providing context for the “why” things were done go from explanation to excuses? Now, I’ll also recognize that a lot of this is my own attitude, and that I see lots of opportunities for growth and improvements. (This has to do with my paranoia.)

It is important to have institutional memory and to know who made the decisions and why. What was going on at the time? Who were the people involved? The context really shapes the outcomes. My frustration, and what I need to work on, is really when do we say, “Ah, so that’s why it happened that way, now how can we move to this other place?” A lot of times, providing detailed explanations for the past seems to not really provide excuses, but sort of muddy the waters. It’s hard, as somebody who wants to see change and innovation, to hear a long account of the past without thinking that the teller implicitly thinks it should still sort of be that way. Now, a long exposition with some sort of proposal for the future would allay my concerns, but that is rare.

So how can I temper my frustrations? I’m not advocating changes for the sake of just being different, but I don’t want to see us pass up opportunities because there might be difficult roads ahead. Is this something that I’ll get over with age, or will I always be pushing against the past?

In some ways it seems like libraries can’t win. We’ve been told over and over that we must innovate. We must change or die. We must stay relevant in today’s world. So some take that charge to heart and we push ahead, only to be told we need to look at the past and we need to take on more archival responsibilities and be more of what we had been, but our stakeholders didn’t seem keen on. Does that make us a victim of our own marketing? Is there room for both sides? I’d like to think so. Finding the balance is going to be tough though, and I need to learn to mellow out and keep doing my think I suppose.

Being Annoyed without being Annoying?

When I first read the Annoyed Librarian, I really enjoyed it. I thought AL was cynical enough and a nice counter balance to all of the other library blogs that seemed to pat each other on the back and never really explain to me why I should care about all this web 2.0 stuff. There needed to be somebody telling us to step back and think about things, and I thought AL would do that. Well, I was wrong. As much as I love snark, and I do love snark, AL was just the same sort of negativity post after post, and didn’t really seem to offer any solutions to the ills of the profession, so I stopped reading.

Then AL “sold out” by blogging for Library Journal. Lots of people questioned LJ’s thinking on this matter, but I just took it as a sign that AL really jumped the shark. I never really paid much attention to LJ, but I’m even less inclined to now. It seems they’re out for money and page hits, which is understandable, but nothing I feel like supporting.

Well now AL has really broke it to the big time, by writing all of the articles for the new issue of The Journal of Access Services, v. 5, no.4. (found here). My first inclination was to think it was some sort of joke, but it’s not April. Understandably, a lot of people are scratching their heads wondering what’s up with this move. Anna Creech, the Eclectic Librarian, writes:

Seriously? An entire issue of a journal subtitled “Service Innovations for 21st Century Libraries” is now dedicated to an anonymous someone who’s best known for trashing any sort of innovation or philosophy that the Librar* 2.0 movement puts forward? What were they thinking?

What are they thinking? They want a bit of noteriaty. There’s no such thing as bad press, and pandering with the AL is going to get this issue talked about. Well played.

Chadwick Seagraves, InfoSciPhi, also writes:

You know, you come to expect some level of authority from peer reviewed journals. Does this mean I can submit articles under my own pseudonyms and be potentially accepted for publication in the Journal of Access Services? Apparently it does. For someone who complains so much about the degradation of the profession, what does this say about AL? HACK.

Since this follows the recent relocation of AL’s muckraking blog to an official Library Journal site, it means that AL has finally hit the “big time”. I’m sure she was promised that there would be no censorship and ramifications if she did her thing there. Plus, it makes all the folks she has been complaining about look like that are open to constructive criticism. But, in the end, it just makes AL a HACK. Give it up girl – you have lost what little credibility you had.

Good question about citation. If AL lost a lot of her credibility as a muckraker with the jump to LJ, than this new move pretty much eliminates what little she had left. You can’t rage against the establishment if you join it, can you? Or if you do it all seems really hollow. Perhaps this will help the AL get tenure, but then that would totally blow her cover, unless there’s a huge conspiracy that involves her supervisor. (I’m always a fan of conspiracies.)

As a relatively new librarian, who graduates school in a month, it makes me a little dismayed to see this sort of behavior rewarded. I don’t think it’s really constructive and it just angers people who really should engage in an open dialog with valid criticism about the profession. It was exciting to see AL discuss the profession’s sacred cows, but what was the outcome.

There’s also the issue of the AL backlash that seems to feed into another aspect of the library blogosphere that irritates me: the cult of personality. I think there are quite a few library bloggers who have been made celebrities, and people either love ’em or hate ’em, but won’t shut up about them. It seems like any time these people talk about something it carries much more weight than if some random librarian did, which can be good or bad.

Edited to add: Paul Pival, a member of the Journal of Access Services editorial board responds:

I’m on the editorial board for this journal and this was news to me; it just showed up in my mail Friday afternoon. I’ll skim through the articles to see how funny they are, but even if we’re having trouble scaring up contributors, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the path we want to go down with our peer-reviewed journals!

Wow. So I guess this isn’t a joke? It also raises lot of questions about peer-reviewed publishing. Clearly in this instance, the machine is broken.