Deschamps’ post also set off an interesting, sometimes heated discussion–and I may deal with that as part of a cluster about librarians’ willingness to disagree with one another. But not in this installment!
As I commented on Mark’s post, it was on my list–but maybe not with the emphasis Mark is interested in.
The essay, if and when it gets written, would deal with three issues (naturally beginning with Steven Bell’s assertion that librarians don’t disagree enough–a grotesque oversimplification of what he wrote, but hey, this is a pre-essay):
- A partial disagreement with the premise, since I do see a fair degree of principled, thoughtful, non-vitriolic, non-ad hominem disagreement within discussions on library issues, here among libloggers at least. But…
- It is tough to disagree with some people, either because you perceive them as so powerful that they can do you harm or because they have a tendency to take disagreement badly and have cliques ready to jump on you for disagreeing. I see good, vigorous disagreement within “trusted circles” where we’ve all pretty much agreed that disagreement is OK. I see good, vigorous disagreement with people so remote from the field that they’re unlikely to notice or care. Then there’s that tricky middle section…
- It’s also difficult to take issue with popular positions or people when you’re not in a tenured position or independently wealthy or retired or otherwise immune to economic realities.
I’ve become more aware of that third issue recently. “Speaking truth to power” is great fun, when power isn’t likely to make or break your own future. Having the courage of your convictions is wonderful–but, you know, courage doesn’t pay the bills.
I hate even saying that. I might not have been willing to say it, oh, a year ago. And if the issues are important enough, I’d like to believe I wouldn’t say it now. But I’m a little less certain.
I was just going to comment on a near-cliche about situations where heated discussion is common because nothing important is at stake…and I didn’t write the full thing because, well, just because.
When I was putting together the current Cites & Insights it started at 31 pages and I got it down to a nice, neat 28 pages. And then printed it out so I could look at it a day later and see whether I could catch a few of the typos that seem to haunt every issue. (I did–there are five fewer problems in the final issue than there were at the 28-page level.)
But as I was reading it, I got to one full-page section of Making it Work, sharply critical of a particular initiative (not the results so much as the process). Went past it. And stopped. And went back again. Reread it. Thought about the people who might take offense, rightly or wrongly. Thought about the importance of my comments in the overall scheme of things (pretty close to zero, fortunately).
And pulled the page. Then found enough other stuff to pull to bring the issue down to 26 pages.
Much as I hate to admit it, I muted my own disagreement–admittedly, on a relatively trivial issue–because right at the moment I didn’t want to peeve a few dozen people. I saved the content; it’s possible it will emerge in a later issue. It’s more likely that it won’t, either because the thing I was discussing will be of no current interest–or because I still don’t feel ready to “speak truth to power” in this case.
I’m not sure where this is heading. I am sure of this. No matter how long you’ve worked somewhere, no matter how effective you’ve been, you can find yourself jobless for a variety of reasons. And if you’re jobless or think you might become jobless, you may have a different perspective on the necessity for open disagreement on all issues. That may not be noble, it may not even be right, but it’s reality. Particularly for someone who lives from paycheck to paycheck (which is not my case at all–there’s no pity party going on here–but neither are we independently wealthy: funny how that works for two library people with no significant inherited wealth).
So here it is–and this really is just one badly-written piece of what should be a longer essay on disagreement. Mark, it’s a damn shame if people are jumping on for taking an informed stance–and I note that the person you actually disagreed with is not one of those jumping on you. Steven B., first we need to have tenured librarians honestly and articulately disagreeing–and I think we need to recognize that, ahem (oh great, here I go getting into trouble again), much of the informed discussion and disagreement on library issues these days takes place in the relatively informal world of liblogs rather than the formal world of scholarly publications and other periodicals.
I’d love to pledge that I would never back off a position because I thought it might hurt me down the road. But to make that pledge would be dishonest. And that’s a shame.
I do pledge to say what I mean and mean what I say: If I don’t feel I can write honestly and openly about a situation, I’ll try to avoid writing about it at all.
Oh, and if you think there’s another personal angle to this–well, watch this space on Monday.