Kicking the gift horse in the teeth, and other stories

Another omnibus post, as I luxuriate in a one-day break between finishing Cites & Insights 9:3 and starting work on essays toward Cites & Insights 9:4…(out whenever it’s ready–I tentatively plan four substantial essays, but one or two of those could grow into Issue-Eating Essays, and they’ll all take time to do right):

Kicking the gift horse…

Without readers, Cites & Insights wouldn’t exist: I’d lose my partial sponsorship and certainly lose interest.

I love my readers, by and large. When I got lots of feedback, I ran most of it. (These days, I rarely get much email feedback, so rarely run it.) When I get good suggestions, I pay attention. Thus some tweaks to the format. Thus the HTML separates for most articles. Thus the expanded posts when issues come out, describing each article (or at least offering a little more than the name).

When I get complaints and bad suggestions, I try to be civil, although in at least one case I’ve basically told a (former?) reader not to let the door hit him on the way out.

Then there’s something like this.

  • When I publish a new issue, I do a blog post in three places: Here, C&I Alerts, and my LISNews “blog.” It’s exactly the same post, although it renders differently in each space–I create the post here, then copy the HTML and paste it in the other spaces. (The same post also goes to a small mailing list–three lists, two of them active, and a few individuals.)
  • So on February 8–Sunday–I put up the post on LISNews.
  • In my blog space there. Nobody chose to publish it as a main-page news item, so you had to go to my blog to read it–just as you have to go to C&I to download issues or view articles. Simple rules: a. It doesn’t cost anything. b. It doesn’t litter your inbox–you have to go get it.
  • And got this comment, from one of LISNews’ many “anonymous” commenters:

“What does these articles do for the Sister who puts on a badge and gun, so to speak, and goes to work in the morning at an actual library?”

I’m sorry, but honest to Gaia, what do you do with something like this? I passed right over the “What does” (some of us might say “What do” when referring to more than one article, but hey…) and stared at the rest of it. We have a “Sister” who refers to library work as putting on “a badge and gun” and who seems to feel that it’s my duty to inform her of precisely how my articles relate directly to her day.

This wasn’t a polite “I’m not sure whether I’d find C&I applicable to my work; could you help?”–in which case I’d probably say something like:

I’m not sure, since I don’t know your library or your needs . It’s fair to say that at least 90% to 95% of English-speaking librarians don’t find C&I relevant to their work, and maybe shouldn’t. (One issue seems to be an exception, but even there, 70%-80% of librarians probably haven’t seen it.)

The best I can do is put the articles out there and describe them for you. You’ll have to determine whether you find them useful, informative, broadening or entertaining. If not–well, there’s lots of other library literature out there that may suit your needs better.

But this comment came off as a frontal attack–as though the Sister was affronted by my even publishing something unless it was directly applicable to her “gun & badge” work.

To me, this is a prime (and not particularly rare) example of not only looking a gift horse in the mouth but trying to kick its teeth in.

After my silent two-word response, which I won’t repeat here, I offered this:

Maybe it’s not your ejournal

“What does these articles do for the Sister who puts on a badge and gun, so to speak, and goes to work in the morning at an actual library?”

If you view library work as “putting on a badge and gun,” and if you’re only looking for something that will directly affect your day at work, then maybe you should be reading something else. I’ll happily refund your subscription price for C&I, although it’s hard to send $0 checks to anonymous people.

I could cite examples in this issue (and most others) that certainly speak to [some] librarians in [many] libraries for their workday, professional and personal lives, but that’s not my job. If people don’t find it worth reading, it won’t get read–and then it won’t get written.

I’m not sure what being a capital-S Sister has to do with it…

That may be mildly impolite, but under the circumstances it was the best I could do. I do wonder sometimes, though… Is this entitlement or just rudeness? Was I out of line to take exception? (Should I simply ignore any comment that’s not signed?)

Is anybody reading this stuff?

I haven’t seen as much feedback lately, or as many links from elsewhere, but there are so many options out there…

I finally put together an ongoing spreadsheet on apparent readership, and may offer some detailed notes down the line (here or in C&I). For now, with numbers only through 12/31/08, and noting that I have no figures at all for the 2+ years when I hosted C&I on my freebie AT&T (dial-up) website, it’s fair to say that I’m encouraged.

  • For full issues, the average number of downloads is 3,695, with a median of 3,217; 13 (of the 122 issues and indexes) have more than 6,000 downloads, 43 more than 4,000, 69 more than 3,000…and only 6 less than 700, my “this isn’t working” point–but all of those are too new for the numbers to mean anything, since readership clearly builds over time.
  • For essays, where I count PDF downloads of the full issue plus HTML views of the specific essay (ignoring PDF “views,” since I assume those duplicate downloads), and where the essays only go back to volume 4, the average is 5,098, median 4,996; seven have more than 10,000 total “reads,” 58 more than 7,000; 106 more than 6,000; 153 more than 5,000; and 240 (of 307 total) more than 3,000–with most of the others too new for meaningful numbers. I consider anything over 3,000 to be strong readership, so I’m happy with that.

Liblog Landscape success (or not)

How am I doing on the road to deciding whether it makes sense to continue surveying the liblog landscape? Well, as of the end of January, there were 42 sales of the book–and two sales of C&I annuals. So that’s just over 7% probability that I’d keep going with it.

As of now–admittedly, only nine days later–there are 42 44! sales of the book and two sales of C&I annuals. At this rate, I can confidently predict that by the end of June I’ll have at least 42 50+? sales of the book. And will listen to the message. (If I could get $1–or even $0.50–for each download/pageview of Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0” I’d have the motivation to do more of this stuff. Ah well, if wishes were horses, we’d all be up to our ears in…)

(If you’re wondering: the two library blog books have sold 78 and 44 copies, public and academic respectively. If I do anything at all there, it would be wildly different–probably focusing on success stories and finding out what makes them successes–and may be pointless in any case. No real nibbles on research sponsorship, which is no big surprise.


The situation as of now, for anyone who cares:

  • I’m using Facebook passively (more passively as time goes on), with a surprising number of “friends” and fairly tight privacy rules. Expect even fewer status updates. I do occasionally comment. So far, the number of long-lost acquaintances with whom I’ve become reacquainted: Zero. But it’s early, and checking once a day is minimal overhead.
  • FriendFeed–with right around 80 subscriptions and subscribed-to–is promising. I’m trying to make sure I don’t spend too much time there, and so far that’s working, and I am finding useful conversations and actually getting help at times. So far, so good. (And, thanks to Steve Lawson’s tip, FF’s become much more readable.) Informal, asynchronous, sometimes serendipitous: A workable situation, at least at the current level. (If I’m subscribed to you and don’t seem to be responding to things: Among other things, I hide tweets unless someone else has Liked or Commented–that was already too much noise for the signal.)
  • LSW Meebo…well, it always was an odd one for me, since it’s synchronous and I’m not a good multitasker. More recently, when I drop in (usually at times that used to have 8-12 people), not much is going on. After ignoring it almost all last week, I checked in today at 12:51: Nobody else there, and there’d never been more than 2-3 people there. I’ve removed the bookmark from my “unhermiting” area–and, as I note, it never really was the right tool for me.
  • Twitter: Given that it only took me 2-3 days to realize I needed to hide tweets in FriendFeed, it’s fair to assume that I’m not reactivating my Twitter account. Just not my thing.

That should do it for a miscellaneous post. Now to arrange items on one of the four topics, and see how the narrative evolves as I start working on it (tomorrow?). There’s an issue about a possible workshop (related to libraries and PoD book creation) that I might want to prepare, but I need to think about that some more before articulating it further.

The title of this post is a loose tribute to Gene Wolfe’s brilliant story collection, The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories. If you haven’t read it, do so; it’s been out for 28 years, but it’s still available. Wolfe is one of several immediate responses to any jackass who suggests that science fiction writers are all crappy writers. The collection features “The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories,” “The Death of Dr. Island,” and “The Doctor of Death Island”–and a lot more. Hmm. Maybe time to go to the library and borrow it again.

7 Responses to “Kicking the gift horse in the teeth, and other stories”

  1. Angel says:

    I do not get the “Sister” either. As you point out, it is a freely available resource (and should be proclaimed a national service to the profession or something like that by the library powers as far as I am concerned), so why the lady is bothered boggles my mind. It must not be her e-journal. And no, you were not out of line. Actually, it seemed pretty gracious.

    As for online stuff, I am not convinced on Twitter. I do use Facebook. In part because some family members are there, and in part because I got the account back when you needed a .edu address to get it in order to experiment with outreach to students. While I still find it somewhat useful, I get the feeling that once they opened the floodgates so to speak, it lost something. Have not tried Friend Feed. Will have to put it on the list of things to try out when I get time (lol).

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  2. Polly Potter says:

    Laughed so hard over the “Sister” episode, I spilled apple butter on my yellow blouse while shaking my head. I don’t mind, the blouse is washable. Like Angel, I don’t get the point of that person’s comment. Second the motion of how gracious you were and are.

    I enjoy reading your writing and need to express appreciation more often, to you and to all the others who sustain my reading habit. Hereby find yourself applauded.

  3. Wayne B-T says:

    The “Sister” question amused me, too. Aren’t there enough “practical” publications in this profession already?

  4. walt says:

    If I choose to be really charitable, some of those nuns lead difficult lives…

    (Geez, Wayne, I thought the first half of the Shiny Toys article was actually fairly practical…but I take your point. C&I doesn’t set out to be Practical as a modus operandi.)

  5. laura says:

    I would not have bothered to reply to the Sister comment at all, just as I never bothered to respond to the letters I got in response to my newspaper column from people who were obviously set in their opinions and weren’t going to be swayed by anything I might say. It’s just not worth the effort, and it doesn’t improve my mood.

  6. Steven Kaye says:

    So who *does* get paid for research in the library world? Serious question – Primary Research Group comes out with benchmarking studies all the time, so I’m (perhaps naively) assuming there’s a market for this stuff.

    Your experience with FriendFeed and Meebo pretty much mirror mine, though I try to drop into Meebo occasionally. Sorry about the Netflix and other ‘stuff I consumed’ feeds in my FriendFeed.

    And I’m still mulling over what I think of Wolfe’s An Evil Guest – it helps if you’ve read “The Tree Is My Hat” beforehand.

  7. walt says:

    Steven: I think most research is paid for up front–that is, it’s done by library school (or “information school”) faculty, by for-profit and nonprofit firms whose business is partly research, and the like. I have no idea how many copies PRG sells, although their model (price it high and sell a few) has some merit. (For all I know, PRG could be doing fantastically well: I have absolutely no inside information.)