May 31, 2007

OPEN Government Act of 2007

From ALA’s Washington Office:

Please contact your Senators and ask them to support the OPEN Government Act of 2007 (S. 849), and to urge Majority Leader Harry Reid or Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to support bringing the bill to the floor in early June. Unfortunately — and ironically, since this is an open government bill — there remains an anonymous hold on the bill preventing it from being scheduled. See Senator Leahy’s Press Release.

S. 849 is the result of the bipartisan efforts of Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and Committee Member John Cornyn, both sponsors of the bill. The OPEN Government Act has bipartisan support in the Senate, and the bill includes reforms to reduce backlogs, delays, and restrictions in responding to FOIA requests; provide incentives for agency compliance; and in general, strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, ensuring openness and accountability from federal agencies.

The House passed a companion bill, the Freedom of Information Act of 2007 (H.R. 1309), on March 15, by a substantial margin of 308 to 117.

ALA recently joined over 100 business, public interest, and historical associations to endorse S. 849 and urge the Senate leaders to schedule a vote. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing more than three million businesses and organizations, recently urged support of S.849 (PDF).

The OPEN Government Act would demonstrate bipartisan Congressional leadership and would help to boost public confidence in government. Please urge your Senators to support this important legislation and to ensure the bill’s quick movement to the Senate floor for a vote.

For more information and tools to show your support, go to ALA’s Legislative Action Center (hosted by Capwiz).

May 30, 2007

New SRRT Newsletter

SRRT Newsletter issue 158/159, June 2007, is published and on the web, and will be showing up in SRRT members’ (postal) mailboxes soon. Newsletter editor Erik Estep wishes to extend special thanks to former editor Jane Ingold for her help with this issue.

The new issue includes:

  • Info about SRRT’s activities at the ALA Conference coming up in Washington, D.C.
  • Some news of professional honors going to our members (Jenna Freedman and Kathleen de la Pe?±a McCook)
  • Some reports from SRRT Task Forces (issue groups)
  • Announcement of a new Rachel Carson book award for children’s books on environmental topics
  • A report from the SRRT Coordinator, Elaine Harger
  • A bit about antecedants to Library Juice Press, that is, publishing companies that were started by librarians over the past half century

And it has reviews of five books, two of which are from LJP:

  • Ed D’Angelo’s Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library, from Library Juice Press, reviewed by Tracy Nectoux
  • The Arbinger Institute’s The Art of Peace, Resolving the Heart of Conflict, from Barrett-Koehler in San Francisco, reviewed by Jane Ingold
  • Library Juice Concentrate, from Library Juice Press, reviewed by Mike Marlin
  • Toni Samek’s Librarianship and Human Rights: A 21st Century Guide, from Chandos Press of Oxford, England, reviewed by Katherine Phenix
  • William David Sloan and Jenn Burleson Mackay’s Media Bias: Finding it, Fixing it, from MacFarland Publishers, reviewed by Joel Tscherne.

It’s a meaty issue, and very good to help you get ready for the conference, if you are going.

May 21, 2007

Forthcoming books

Library Juice Press has a number of book projects in the works. Four of them are far-enough along that I feel I can announce them at this point:

  • Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian, edited by Alison Lewis
  • Information and Liberation: Writings on the Politics of Information and Librarianship, by Shiraz Durrani
  • Information for Social Change: Writings from a Radical Library Collective, edited by Shiraz Durrani
  • Eugène Morel: Pioneer of Public Libraries in France, by Gaëtan Benoît

There are a number of other projects that are less well-defined and more in their beginning stages.

I will offer some reflections on the publishing business in the age of the micro-press and print-on-demand down the road a spell. As a teaser, you can expect me to say that I think publishing companies are still needed, for a couple of reasons: first, because someone needs to sort the wheat from the chaff (really, most self-published works are crap); and second, and more interesting I think, is that an often overlooked role of the publisher is to work in collaboration with authors and potential authors to generate ideas for book projects and to help see those projects through to their fruition. I started reading about that aspect of publishing when I was first doing my research before starting Library Juice Press, and I’m finding it to be the most rewarding thing about the business. Two of the four books listed above were initiated by me (though the writing was already done). Another half-dozen books that are in their beginning stages are books that I either discovered unpublished or am hoping to work with authors to bring into existence.

Books presently in print include:

May 20, 2007

Some attention to library privacy

Is our society gradually forgetting the value of privacy, in libraries and elsewhere?

Michael Zimmer, who writes on media ecology, technology, and privacy, gives some attention to online privacy in libraries in a post from yesterday. He links to a blog entry from an anonymous blog called Chronicles of Dissent, comments, and links to some ALA docs on privacy.

The two main factors working against privacy are fear of crime or terrorism (or the threat of personal disruption and social disorder) and the power of information technology. Zimmer talks about both of these in his post.

What can we do to remind ourselves why privacy matters? Three things I suggest…

  1. Recall specific occasions in your life when you realized you needed to make some information about yourself more private, or when you realized that your power to control your own life was diminished by your lack of privacy.
  2. Imagine how life would be different if personal information about you and people you know were radically more available to businesses, government, and strangers, because of fear-based policies combined with a more technologically-mediated life.
  3. Think about the way that fear leads not only to more surveillance but to an expansion of what is considered suspicious, and how this problem answers the common objection, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”

If you think of a future where growing fear leads to expanded suspicions and technological progress leads to intimate, networked surveillance of our lives, I think you will recall the importance of privacy, and think twice about consenting to let go of it little by little.

May 19, 2007

At ALA….

I’m thinking of planning some kind of party for Library Juice Press at ALA in Washington, DC, if there’s enough interest. I am thinking Saturday night (June 23rd). Comment or email me if you’re interested. I’m thinking it would be in the Dupont Circle area or just north of it.

Aside from that though, if you want to get a look at our books, I will be showing them at the SRRT booth in the exhibits hall through much of the conference, and also at the Free Speech Buffet on Monday night, which is a ticketed event.

Comment or email me if you want to plan an party at a restaurant or a cafe or a bar on Saturday night, June 23rd, in the Dupont Circle / U St. area of DC. My email is rory at libraryjuicepress dot com.

May 17, 2007

Tracy Nectoux on Libraries versus Bookstores

Tracy Nectoux, a library student at UIUC, is taking a class whose students were assigned to visit a bookstore and compare the atmosphere to a library’s atmosphere. This is what she wrote:

The library’s purpose is different from that of bookstores

  • And it always has been. Public libraries are set up so that anyone who wants to can give himself or herself a free university education. This has been the case since Boston Public Library opened its doors in 1848. Yes, the library offers more than this, and its purpose is not solely to educate. I would argue, however, that this is its most important purpose, and this opportunity is available to every citizen who wants it.
  • The purpose of bookstores is to make profit by selling books, CDs, DVDs, coffee, etc. True, bookstores sell some educational books along with escapist fare and entertainment, but their wares are available only to those who can afford to pay for them.

Libraries are public institutions; bookstores are private institutions

This is self-explanatory. Implicit in the question of why libraries can’t be more like bookstores is the attitude that bookstores make money while libraries cost money. I’ve heard quite a bit of fearful statements that the public is at best, apathetic toward libraries and at worst, hostile toward us. I can’t say I have all the answers to address this issue, but I think that changing our goals, purposes, and mission (or altering it beyond recognition), is certainly not the answer.

The mission of libraries is different from that of bookstores

Foremost in the American Library Association’s mission, priority areas, and goals are intellectual freedom, access to all, and public awareness. The ALA is the only major public organization that is at the forefront of fighting the Patriot Act. The ALA has continuously and inexhaustibly fought book banning and censorship. And the ALA often steps outside library issues, joining with and supporting other organizations regarding social justice and responsibility:

Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) is a unit within the American Library Association. It works to make ALA more democratic and to establish progressive priorities not only for the Association, but also for the entire profession. Concern for human and economic rights was an important element in the founding of SRRT and remains an urgent concern today. SRRT believes that libraries and librarians must recognize and help solve social problems and inequities in order to carry out their mandate to work for the common good and bolster democracy.

None of the above could be said to be a goal of bookstores, either independent or chain. They are businesses whose bottom line is profit. First Amendment freedoms, civil rights issues, equal access to all, etc. are just not going to be at the top of their yearly accounting financial quotas. Indeed, I would guess that Borders Books has spent more money fighting unions than it has fighting for equal access. I doubt most bookstores have a Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force.

Libraries spend money and time on services that bookstores don’t offer

  • Libraries are at the cutting edge of preservation, something with which bookstores do not have to concern themselves. What doesn’t sell, doesn’t sell; so long, farewell. Contrarily, libraries (along with museums) spend countless hours on preservation. A quick perusal of the U of I OPAC shows that we have six copies of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry on our own shelves and hundreds more available through I-Share. These range from older editions going back to 1910, to newer editions from the last decade, to scholarly interpretation, to even online sources. Urbana Free Library has A Defence of Poetry as an electronic resource, and thirty-seven other works by Shelley, including anthologies that contain the above title. What were turn-of-the-century scholars saying about Shelley’s literary criticism? We know what they were saying because our libraries preserve this information. Pages For All Ages, however, does not contain even one edition of this important work of Romantic criticism.
  • Consider Stephen King’s Danse Macabre (a New York Times bestseller and winner of both the Hugo and Locus awards). In this book?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùa modern classic of genre reflection and history?¢‚Ǩ‚ÄùKing includes an appendix containing a list of books that have been influential to him as a scholar and author. Many of the books in King’s appendix are out of print. Where can a King fan go to find them? Moreover, the 1982 edition of Danse Macabre is also out of print. Where can a King fan go to find the award-winning edition? Of course, today, some (but not all) of these books can probably be found online through used bookstores, but even so, what is a lower-class or thrifty reader to do if he/she wants to read the 1982 edition of Danse Macabre, or the books from Stephen King’s list? (And we can be certain that his fans will want to read them.) Where can we find these classics selected by arguably the most influential horror writer of all time? Who would have all of them available (either on the shelves or through IL) free of charge? And who wouldn’t? I’ll bet I don’t have to answer this.
  • The University of Illinois Rare Book Library has “a significant portion of the Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg.” We also have an original Audubon. I would venture to guess that if, say, Barnes and Noble had anything close to this, they would limit their latte service too. Why is our lighting dimmer than bookstores? Why are we selective about where we allow food and drink? Because our holdings are more valuable and vulnerable than those in bookstores.
  • It is a little-known fact (outside of library school) that libraries are also at the cutting edge of digital technology and preservation. We should remember this and flaunt it. We provide online access to journals, periodicals, indexes, and abstracts. Public access to this scholarship is not a concern for bookstores, and even if it was, they’d charge for it.

Services that bookstores provide (and libraries do too)

  • Reading Groups? We have them.
  • Employee Favorite Picks? We got it.
  • Displays? Yes.
  • Booklists? Of course.
  • Story time? We have it.
  • Copy machines? Check.
  • Movies and music? Check and Check.
  • Oprah’s latest diet book? We have it, and we also have a Gutenberg!!
  • Space for meetings and studying? We have it.

We also have free tax forms, phone books, city, state, and national maps, free information on homeschooling and special education. We have knowledgeable, educated staff and exceptional Readers Advisory guides. We offer free Internet access. We have toys that children can play with, and even borrow. A warm couch in the winter for the homeless? We damn sure have that too. Bookstores have none of these.

Yes, our OPACs have a learning curve. So do video games, computers, Blackberries, cell phones, and iPods. If 12-year-olds can learn how to download music on their mp3s, it shouldn’t take a grown woman an hour to find a travel book in a library (Rippel 150). We have a specialized reference desk, as well as tours and orientations, to help patrons learn. I agree that our catalogs should not be unnecessarily difficult, but whatever happened to expecting our patrons to read the instruction on the help page?

These are just a few arguments why libraries should not encourage statements that they should be more like bookstores. Our purpose is unique and honorable, and this directly effects the unique and honorable service we provide. I find that in most conversations of this kind we end up defending ourselves against criticisms that are obtuse because they are basically asking us to move away from our original purpose: education, social activism, enlightenment, and finally, entertainment. Librarians’ response to the question of why we aren’t more like bookstores should be scornful silence, or maybe derisive laughter. At most, we should just say that the question compares apples to oranges. Both are lovely and tasty, but the comparison should end there.

Israeli authorities planning to destroy a Palestinian library in Jerusalem

This isn’t an analysis of a military action after the fact, as with last July’s reports of the destruction of a public documents archive in Nablus.

What is happening now is that Israeli authorities have issued a warrant to the owner of the building housing an important Palestinian library in Jerusalem, ordering him to evacuate the building so that it can be demolished to make way for the construction of a train station. The Al-Ansari Library on Saint George St. is one of the most important libraries in Jerusalem, and its destruction would mean a great blow to the cultural survival of the Palestinian people.

Thanks to Tom Twiss for sharing this news with the SRRT list.

Military recruitment in the library, and how you can get busted for interfering with it

There’s a brief story in the current issue of The Progressive titled, “Vet Prosecuted for Opposing Recruitment in the Library. It doesn’t go into great detail and is essentially an interview with one person, Tim Coil, the guy who got busted for interfering with a military recruitment effort going on at the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library in Ohio. His interference consisted of placing notecards with messages written on them in view of people being recruited.

Tim Coil raises a couple of interesting points in his interview. When he claimed that he was exercising his free speech rights, the library director, Doug Dotterer, responded that it is against the rules to disturb people in the library, and his notecards were doing that (disturbing the military recruiters). Tim’s response was that the brochures that the recruiters had put out on tables were disturbing to him. I think that that response is actually a serious argument and should not be treated as facetious. Military recruiters in fact are a provocative and for many people an offensive presence in a public library, moreso than a person dressed “inappropriately” for example, who might be expelled from the library for that reason. The brochures that the recruiters had set out on tables could be treated the same way that any controversial literature placed on tables would be treated (that is, in normal situations in a library, not tolerated).

While I would be offended to see military recruiters using a public library for their recruitment activities, as I think about how a library would be justified in banning them, I’m not sure if I have a satisfactory answer, because I am not sure, without knowing more facts, how I can treat it as different, from a free-speech standpoint, from the interest among a minority in banning a meeting by a controversial group that they don’t like. I am assuming, of course, that the library is treating these military recruiters on an equal basis with other groups who might use the library, which may not be the case. But in terms of the general question, I can find arguments for banning the military recruiters that are consistent with justifications for banning speech that are in fact accepted in practice, but which I do not agree with. For example, speech that ridicules religion is often seen as going “too far” because it offends a minority of people, even though it is only a minority of people who are offended; I think speech attacking religion should almost always be acceptable. (Often it’s Muslims, and often it is Catholics. I am always shocked to hear Catholic priests claim that some speech is unacceptable because it does not respect the Catholic faith. Why the hell should I be required to respect the Catholic faith?)

On the other hand, I am assuming a comparison between the military recruiters’ use of the meeting room and its use by other groups. That comparison may be inappropriate for a variety of reasons, depending on the facts. For example, ordinarily, a library meeting room is used for meetings that, while open to the public, are not directed at the public using the library. If the military recruiters are set up in order to recruit library users, then it does seem to me that they are in fact attempting to interfere with people who are going about their business. So, it seems to me that I need to know more facts before I can offer my own opinion about this.

However, I do think that Tim Coil’s free speech claim in attempting to interfere with military recruiters in a public library raises some really interesting questions. I look forward to seeing this case analyzed once the facts are better researched. I think we all acknowledge that free speech has limits, but I think in librarianship we often fail to explore the basis for establishing those limits as well as we should. On the right and the left, the reasons given are often passionate rather than analytical, and, to offer a big opinion, I think that that, along with economic inequality, is one of the major impediments to a well-functioning democracy.

Thanks to Jason Morris for sharing the link with the SRRT list.

May 11, 2007

Savanna River Ecology Laboratory closing, thanks to Bush Administration small-esse

Arch Conservative Bush advisor Grover Norquist has been pushing the “Starve the Beast” strategy for a long time. This is the strategy that says run up a huge budget debt and then a future Congress will be unable to support government spending. The “War on Terror” is obviously the great implementation of the starve the beast strategy.

So as the “beast” is starved, little by little, services that exist for the public good die off.

That’s the way to think about the threatened closure of the Savanna River Ecology Laboratory and closures of many other facilities, including federal libraries. In this particular situation, it has to do with the Department of Energy running out of money, and the guidance of Bush appointees on how to use what is left.

I hate to be pessimistic, but considering everything, what we are up against now, in terms of the survival of librarianship as an institution for the public good, seems overwhelming.

May 10, 2007

Federal Libraries Wiki

Bernadine Abbott Hoduski shared this information with ALA Council today…

The ALA Washington Office and ALA Council’s Committee on Legislation have started a wiki on federal libraries. The wiki says:

The purpose of this wiki is to share and track information on federal library threats, re-organizations, and closings. Based on discussions with members, the main focus is to facilitate reporting of threats or closings that will enable users to make comments about that specific library’s situation.

Not much is there yet, but it may turn out to be a very important resource for protecting these important information resources.

May 7, 2007

Sherry Turkle on alienation in our technological society

Sherry Turkle, whose 1995 book Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet was much talked about when I was in library school, has an article in the current Forbes Magazine that updates her insights about human alienation in our technological culture. She has a notable ability to take us deep below the surface of our ordinary busy way of living, and she does it in an accessible way.

This is via Michael Zimmer.

May 6, 2007

Why Web 2.0 is leading back to full cataloging

Just an observation of interest to librarians, about Web 2.0 types of websites.

Two examples of rich Web 2.0 sites are Last.fm and LibraryThing.

We often think of Web 2.0 sites in terms of the idea of “tagging instead of cataloging.” In fact, rich 2.0 sites, the ones that do a lot of data processing to create their services, usually have both free-form tagging by users and standards-controlled metadata about objects, and it is actually often the latter that drives the main functionality of the sites. This is the case with both Last.fm and LibraryThing.

Most readers of Library Juice are probably very familiar with LibraryThing, and know that users can apply whatever tags they want to the books in theirs collections, and also that when they add a book to their LibraryThing collection, there is a Z39.50 connection in the background that imports some basic cataloging data – from Amazon.com by default but optionally from any of a number of major research libraries.

Tags can be words used universally across the userbase of the site (like “philosophy”) or just among a minority of users or only by you (“Thursdays and Marie’s”). Folksonomies like the user tags on LibraryThing don’t have to be universal throughout; there can be lots of tags that are useful only to a minority of users or to individuals. Users of websites that have user tagging are tolerant of the meta noise that results from this and from the standards-free nature of folksonomies.

The real functionality of both Last.fm and LibraryThing, though, rests not on user tags but on the standards-based metadata for the objects in it – books for LibraryThing and music tracks for Last.fm. In both cases, casual users can simply rely on the data that the system loads into their profiles automatically, and the more technically inclined enthusiasts of the systems can modify the data to make it more accurate and consistent. In LibraryThing, for example, data from Amazon, which is the default data source, is often inaccurate and sparse; serious users can correct the cataloging to fix the spellings of names or to add information. Also, in LibraryThing, users who are really into it can also “combine” different editions of a book into the same work for processing purposes, so that owners of different editions of the same book will be linked as owners (without the cataloging of their specific copies being changed).

The functionality of LibraryThing is enhanced because of the fact that it makes use of cataloging that has already been done by professional catalogers. Data in LibraryThing that comes from Amazon is not as rich or as accurate as the data from research libraries, but in most cases it is quicker to get, and it is still based on essentially the same Z39.50 standard, which is in turn based on cataloging standards.

Last.fm functions in another realm, and deserves some explanation. It is a valuable example for discussing this type of issue, because:

  • it does a lot of data processing that is based on metadata about objects;
  • it does it in such a way that consistency and accuracy of data is important;
  • the data structure of this information (ID3) is not quite up to the needs of the application;
  • there are competing metadata standards in use, both of which are used by sources that feed data into the Last.fm database.

Last.fm is a complex site, and seems to have every conceiveable Web 2.0 feature in it. In essence, it is a combination of a social networking website and a music streaming website that works by statistically comparing the music-listening histories of its users. By comparing one user’s “charts” with other users’, it generates a group of musical “neighbors” for that user and a stream of music that that user might like. In a similar way, it can create a stream of music based on listeners to a particular artist. Add a “friends” function, tagging, groups, public messages, private messages, a forum, and a variety of streaming functions based on its database, and you have a wonderfully rich website. (Actual audio tracks are provided to Last.fm by record companies for their promotional value.)

A user’s “charts” in Last.fm can be updated in two ways: either by listening to Last.fm’s own streams (here are mine) or by setting up one’s own media player (such as iTunes) to upload metadata when one plays one’s own music through it.

In order for Last.fm to connect me to other people who listen to the same artist, it needs consistent information in its data about the artist. A quick and easy example of where the system often falls short in this regard is with classical music recordings, where in some cases the composer is recorded as the artist, and in other cases the performer is recorded as the artist. Among classical music aficionados, the performer is much more important than it is to the average listener, who is mostly interested in the composer. Similarly, jazz fans want to know who the players were on a certain Coltrane recording, where the average listener only needs to know that it was John Coltrane. Information about such details of a recording can be added to any of the already existing ID3 fields (which are limited to things like artist, album, and track), but this tends to be done in inconsistent ways or not at all, leading to non-matches in the database. The ID3 data structure, which is what is used for metadata in MP3s and a number of other media formats, only has room for a few fields, and doesn’t allow for anything like the richness of MARC.

To deal with some of the needs that ID3 doesn’t answer by itself, another standards layer was set up, really as a set of guidelines, first by CDDB, which is the private industry database of CD track information now known as Gracenote, and then by freeCDDB, the open-source, volunteer-created database now called MusicBrainz.

In terms of Last.fm’s use of music metadata, there are essentially two problems. The first problem is that although Last.fm has selected a standard (MusicBrainz), much of the data uploaded by users comes from users who aren’t interested in dealing with nuts and bolts and want things to work automatically. These users are using iTunes or WinAmp or similar commercial software applications, and these download CD track information directly from Gracenote. (The cost of the software includes a license to download metadata from Gracenote.) This means that when they upload their track information into Last.fm, their data follows a different metadata standard than the Last.fm standard, and they probably don’t know or care about this, since they are just users who “want it to work.”

The other main problem with Last.fm data is that both the Gracenote and MusicBrainz databases of CD track information are loaded with bad metadata that doesn’t fit either standard. In the case of Gracenote, the data comes from two places: first, Gracenote employees (who you can bet are not trained catalogers making a decent wage), and second, the record companies themselves (which have other priorities than supplying clean data according to a somewhat complex standard). With MusicBrainz it is simply that the data comes from volunteers and it is a collaborative project. In both Gracenote and MusicBrainz, there are systems set up for correcting bad metadata, but these only work so well. In the end, the data in both databases is much worse than what we find in our library catalogs (admitting that that those are far from perfect).

On Last.fm, the onus is on the user to upload tracks that have proper metadata; this is because of the conception of the site as user-driven. Most users, however, aren’t that into changing their iTunes metadata to match the MusicBrainz standard or simply to clean them up. Users who do care exhort them to “Get their damn tags right.” A well-subscribed group exists on Last.fm with exactly that name. This, I believe, shows some tension between the idea of Web 2.0 sites being collaborative, user-driven, and defined by free-form tagging, and the need for consistency and accuracy in their more data-driven manifestations.

So… If sites like Last.fm eventually become a part of life for the majority of people, I think there will be an emergence of support for the role of professional catalogers somewhere in the system, so that the majority of users, who “just want it to work,” will be satisfied. Free-form tagging has its place, but where consistency and accuracy counts, as it does in many Web 2.0 sites, I think reliance on users will turn out to have been a dead-end, and there will be a new appreciation for our professionalism.

May 1, 2007

Steven Bell tough on LIS discourse in Inside Higher Ed

Steven Bell has an article in the current Inside Higher Ed, entitled, “Good at Reviewing Books But Not Each Other,” about the major disfunctionality in LIS discourse: our excessive “niceness” toward each other and discomfort with open disagreement. In this article, Bell elucidates an uncomfortable contrast between us nice, non-confrontational librarians and academics in other fields whose professional discourse is full of strong disagreement and argumentation.

I am somewhat uncomfortable blogging this, because while we on the Library Left have been the exception to the rule of niceness in librarianship and the most comfortable with direct disagreement and confrontation in the style that Bell recommends, I have taken Library Juice, in the last couple of years, into less confrontational territory. Part of Bell’s article is about blogging debates, and some may have noticed that I do not engage in blog debates with Right Wing library bloggers. It is hard to explain why I avoid it beyond saying that I think it is a dangerous waste of time. Aside from that, though, I think Library Juice is still among the more critical of the serious or non-autobiographical library blogs out there, in keeping with my connection to the Library Left and our ongoing critical themes.

Is Bell right? Mark Rosenzweig and I lampooned the “niceness” of our professional discourse in 2002 with a mock document called “A Declaration of the Niceness of Libraries.” It was largely the stifled discourse on ALA Council that we were talking about and the discomfort of librarians with topics that are “not nice.” I think there is a connection between the rule of niceness in librarians and a certain strain of demureness and primness that really is a characteristic of many librarians (whether we like it or not). At the same time, I’m not sure whether it is entirely fair of Bell to compare us directly against academics in other fields. Most of us are not academic librarians, and only some academic librarians are on a tenure track with publishing demands. And academic librarians with tenure are still professional librarians first and contributors to Library Science a distant second. It is really LIS professors who should be considered against the normal standards of academia, and where they are concerned I think the issue that Bell is talking about doesn’t exist in the same way.

That said, I think we really are under too much pressure, in our professional community, to go with the flow, to be inoffensive, to be non-confrontational, and to avoid criticizing leaders in the field. I think the taboo against criticism is especially problematic when it comes to criticism of library directors regarding their professional decisions. That is something that people are often openly taken to task for, as though they need to be taught a lesson about professionalism and what it means in our field. I find that very regrettable.