Call it a manifesto if you must, but read it

Some of you already know that I don’t much care for manifestos–not because they’re challenging or uncomfortable, but because they typically oversimplify, make black-and-white out of the gray that is real life, polarize situations, and in other ways substitute absolutes for nuance.

I’m joining with others in recommending that you go read Laura Cohen’s “A Librarian’s 2.0 Manifesto” at her (worthwhile, recommended) blog Library 2.0: An Academic’s Perspective. The blog suffers from the SixApart printability problem in spaces (it won’t even print out properly in IE, apparently because the banner’s too wide)–but that’s minor.

Why do I recommend this despite my distaste for manifestos? Because, to my mind, this isn’t a manifesto: It’s a credo. And I love good credos.

The difference? Cohen isn’t making a series of flat statements, Truths that we Must All Recognize (or Be Part of the Problem).

Instead, she’s making a series of personal affirmations: “I will…”

By doing so, she invites others to consider similar courses–but does not imply that those courses are the only reasonable ones to take.

Credos invite elaboration, discussion, nuance: They encourage evolutionary change. They allow us to say, “I see what you’re saying, and my own course may be different; let’s discuss those differences.” They’re humanistic.

Laura Cohen calls it a manifesto. She wrote it; that’s her privilege. She did a great job of writing it. If you haven’t already read it, do–no matter what sort of library or library-related operation you work in.

7 Responses to “Call it a manifesto if you must, but read it”

  1. Jennifer Macaulay Says:

    Walt, you state so well what I was trying to get at about Laura Cohen’s piece (and my dislike of manifestos in general). It is well worth a read (or maybe several).

  2. walt Says:

    Jennifer, you said it just fine. I’m guessing there are a lot of people who want to see progress but aren’t wild about imperatives. Laura Cohen is showing a talent for encouraging the first without engaging in either the second or in hyperbole.

  3. steven bell Says:

    I wasn’t quite as impressed as you when I first read it. Like most of what’s appeared in this blog, it’s rehashed platitudes and ideas that were first elaborated about two years ago – and many times since. In other words I haven’t seen a whole lot of originality.

    I had no doubt that a few bloggers would sing its praises (more of the 2.0 gospel), but I was surprised you were one of them. Am I missing something here?

    I also question those who issue manifestos or credos, but offer no concrete mechanisms for helping the library community to achieve what they say we should be doing. How is the blogger prepared to help others achieve the points in the manifesto?

    We’ve previously discussed going against the grain in the blogosphere, and the likely outcomes. One has little to gain from it. I sometimes wonder though if the libblogoverse couldn’t use a little more collegial conflict. All too often there is nothing but “what a great post” mentality – and it probably isn’t healthy if we really want to advance our thinking on how we resolve the many challenges facing the profession.

  4. walt Says:

    Steven: Here’s what I saw:

    a. The “Library 2.0″ discussion has primarily taken place in and around public libraries. Laura Cohen is trying to bring an academic librarian’s perspective.

    b. Yes, the ideas in the statement have been around for a while. So have most “new” ideas. My “And not Or” credo in Future Libraries was all old ideas, but stating them in summary form was useful (and, just as the “Five New Laws” was Michael Gorman’s work, the credo was my work, as people who’d heard me speak in the early 1990s know). The 17 affirmations in this credo provide one summary–one set of starting points.

    c. Because it’s a credo in form (albeit called a manifesto), I regard it as a set of starting points for discussion and refinement. For that matter, I see nothing in it that says Laura Cohen says what “we should be doing”–she says what she intends to do at this point. Big difference, in my opinion.

    The question, though, is a good one. I believe Cohen has approached some of the answers in her blog. There are others who are tackling some of the “how does Librarian X in Library Y find what will work for them?” issues, in blogs, wikis, and elsewhere. It’s certainly f focus of mine going forward.

    As to the final paragraph: I couldn’t agree more, and I also know I’m less willing to disagree with posts at certain blogs because it’s become a no-win situation. I deal with that by ignoring those blogs (it’s a tiny number) and focusing on all of the people who welcome intelligent discussion and disagreement (which, in my opinion, is almost all of the libloggers).

    But I’m also not willing to be disagreeable all the time; that’s false to my personality and is also not particularly helpful in moving forward. In this case, I didn’t comment initially because of that word “manifesto”–but I also printed it out (with difficulty–this is one where I had to cut-and-copy to Word, even from Internet Explorer), looked at it again, and concluded that it was worth mentioning.

    As you know, I’m not a great one for “link love.” That may be a mistake on my part. I don’t really believe you can accuse me of being part of an echo chamber.

    If I’m less willing now to go heavily against the grain than I was, say, 10 months or 18 months ago, that’s partly the result of weariness over the results–but also partly the results of seeing what works and what doesn’t.

    My real answer here would be: Maybe you should take the points in Cohen’s statement (credo, manifesto, bullet points, what have you) and discuss ones where you find them lacking or in need of expansion, support, whatever. After all, you’re an academic librarian; I’m not.

    As for my own larger-form contribution: There’s a thick stack of paper in a folder. I’m trying to determine what to do with it. It may yet form the basis for my first PoD book…or for series of essays. We shall see.

  5. Laura Cohen Says:

    Walt, I appreciate your interest in my entry.

    I’m interested in your discussion about my use of the word ‘manifesto.’ According to my Random House Dictionary, a manifesto is “a public declaration of intentions, objectives, or motives. ” The definition of credo: “a creed or formula of belief.” I see my piece as the former with characteristics of the latter. “I will” declares intentions, hence a manifesto. However, I don’t see my points as carved in stone for everyone. That would be not only foolish, but impossible. This accumulation was meant to pull together various themes and to inspire. Can there be a “humanistic” manifesto? This was my intention.

    Besides, this is a blog entry, which by definition is an invitation for discussion, debate, amendment, and personal interpretation.

    I’ve also been thinking about Steven’s comments. It might help if I explained that my blog began as a sabbatical exploration for my own advancement. It has also been written for my colleagues at the University at Albany. We are not as far advanced as you, Steven, and others. Through my blog, I’m personally coming to a few discoveries and insights that I hope will help me return to work with suggestions on how my library might move forward. This is a mandate from my Dean, and I’m keeping it in mind as I go along. As can happen with these things, the blog got discovered quickly, so I’ve found myself addressing–and hearing from–a much wider audience. I’m not attempting to speak to the cutting edge because I’m not there (yet) myself. From the feedback I’ve been getting, it’s clear that my blog speaks to a certain audience–but not to everyone, as expected.

    I’ve only been blogging for three months. I’m glad I chose my sabbatical leave to give it a try!

  6. walt Says:

    Hi Laura,

    By the dictionary, yours is both manifesto and credo–but I was dealing with the real-world sense of manifestos as I see them: Statements of absolutes, Truths. That isn’t the dictionary meaning.

    I like “humanistic manifesto”–and I like the fact that your blog, like most (but maybe not quite all) blogs, is indeed composed of “invitation[s] for discussion, debate, amendment and personal interpretation.”

    Keep up the good work!

  7. steven bell Says:

    Good points Walt. I like what you had to say about expanding on certain points made in the post. Usually not my style as I don’t do a lot of commenting on other librarian blog posts – I tend to do that more often with non-librarian blogs. But I get a better idea of your response to the post.

    I certainly don’t regard you as an echo chamber. Just the opposite – you’ll usually tell it like it is – or the way you see it. Guess that’s what you were doing with your reaction to the post.

    Laura’s background information about the blog tells me a little bit more, so perhaps my reaction is a bit on the harsh side. I actually like the idea of the blog, but thought it would be pushing the envelope more than it has to date. Perhaps that’s where Laura plans to take it.

    I will look forward to your book project – or whateve it may turn out to be.


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