library mgmt navel gazing tech anguish

why does everyone think they know more about libraries than the people who work in them do?

That is the question, my friends. I’m writing this not in response to one particular instance, but rather the seemingly uncountable number of times Library Twitter has found itself ensnared in the typical social media outrage cycle lately. I’m not writing to shame people who engage with trolls, nor am I saying I took the high road when I called some guy a poopface a couple nights ago; rather, I’m trying to identify some patterns and propose some explanations.

First, let’s talk about patterns. (Note: I’m going to keep this anecdatal for now, based on what I’ve seen out there; this is not empirical in any way.) There seem to be patterns of library-related topics that come up, and there seem to be patterns of people asking them. The former is more easily identifiable than the latter; the big four topics that readily come to mind include:

  1. Libraries/library workers are destroying knowledge/promoting censorship/failing at their core duties if they weed/discard books or decline to buy/accept books that don’t fit their collection policies.
  2. Libraries/library workers are no longer needed in the age of Google/Amazon/Starbucks/Netflix/Craigslist, etc. See also, no one goes to libraries anymore (this is semi-related to libraries are ruined because they aren’t dead silent anymore).
  3. An unimaginable cartel of library mafiosi often known as “Big Library” (I picture The Consortium from The X-Files) is destroying publishing.
  4. Libraries/library workers should take on, without exception, every duty suggested to them to make up for a country with no social infrastructure. If they don’t want to do this or express discontent on/about the job, they are not just bad people, but people who want others to die.

In terms of the patterns of people who’ve started in on Library Twitter about these things, they tend to be journalists, people in knowledge-related tech jobs, people in publishing, and small authors/self-publishers. In my experience, I’ve seen lots of middle-aged white men with self-published works, or one or more other things they believe they should have more notoriety for. These are certainly not the only categories, but the one thing they definitely have in common is that they’re not library workers.

Now we know what people are starting shit with library workers about, and we know a tiny bit about the usual suspects. So, why are people so convinced they know all about the work that happens in libraries and feel they must not only share an opinion about it, but then refuse to listen to actual workers who respond? Well, we’ve got to take a step back to the question before that: “How does this person feel about libraries, period?”

At the end of the day, having seen enough of these interactions to theorize about them, I think you’ve got two options – either they dislike libraries/library workers/particular people they’ve encountered at a library, or they don’t think of library workers as people. In the first version, library workers are all stereotyped; in the second version, library workers are non-player characters. Start with that and we’ve immediately got some bad faith a-cookin’. Someone who dislikes a whole field or doesn’t see its workers as having personhood is not going to speak to those workers with positive intent, or intent to listen at all.

Before we move to why these library-hating non-librarians have decided their tweet-sized takes are more valid and important than those of the responses of the people who actually do work in libraries, I want to say it loud and clear: the people who bait Library Twitter are people who dislike or stereotype libraries/library workers. They aren’t fans. We will never know why, whether it’s because of the conventional crappy grade school cronebrarian that shushed them and their friends one too many times (#lifegoals) or if they had a bad breakup with a tattooed MLIS student, but we can surmise they’re not down with libraries or the people who work in them.

And that brings us to why these people are weighing in on library things – they think that because library workers suck so bad and/or are mindless drones, non-librarian opinions must be more valid. Their distaste for the field probably didn’t do much to inform them about the disciplinary nature of LIS, so you can assume they have no idea that library workers are trained in any specific manner and instead believe them to be making arbitrary decisions. (They also probably assume library school consists of drinking tea, knitting, and putting your pronouns in your bio.)

This is hardly unique to Library Twitter and applies just the same in other feminized care labor “Twitters” – nursing, teaching, etc. – and reflects the larger-scale dismissal of the importance or legitimacy of that work. Within libraries, it reflects reality in far more places than just on social media. Librarians are often not seen as educators and LIS as a discipline is largely illegible in academia. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen countless articles in mainstream media about libraries that avoid speaking to any workers. It is also true that Library Twitter has developed a reputation for pile-ons in response to bad takes, and part of the reason why the posters of this content do what they do is absolutely for the guaranteed engagement. Most of the people who engage in the baiting have very high numbers of followers. And it can be especially easy to bait exhausted, underpaid, and underappreciated people.

At this point, we could ask ourselves, “Why don’t they listen when library workers disagree or try to enlighten them?” Do we really need to, though? They don’t want to listen. They don’t like library people and they come into it already thinking they know better. There’s no there there.

Another piece of this worth examining is the tendency of bystanders to leap in and trash-talk library workers. I’ve noticed a few patterns with these incidents; you tend to get the “pronouns in bio” crew, comments on appearance, or “all library workers are just bad people”-type comments. Often, they’re not directly related to whatever the OP said; they’re just random insults. Some other tertiary reactions I’ve seen recently were especially disheartening. A researcher working on social media and bullying chimed in on a recent Library Twitter pile-on, saying library workers missed “context” about the original posts, but never acknowledged that the library workers’ own context – their knowledge of the very jobs they go to every day – even existed.

The word “context” is getting used in some interesting ways online these days. A Library Twitter tussler, one who came under fire for unnecessarily criticizing libraries for closing during a snow emergency instead of opening as a warming shelter because of dangerous road conditions, recently posted Fobazi Ettarh’s iconic paper on vocational awe without understanding the central argument, but with a whole lot of insults for the library workers attempting to explain it to her. She told them they didn’t understand “the context;” a few people leaped in from the sidelines to shame the librarians without “reading comprehension skills.” It was truly something to see, an attempt to transform the misreading of an important paper in the field of LIS–one many librarians have thought about and discussed for years–into yet another thing library workers just don’t understand.

If the last couple of years are any indication, we will be seeing a lot more of this library baiting and hating on Twitter (and undoubtedly other social media platforms I spend less time on).* Given that, I’d say do what thou wilt, o menace that is Library Twitter. I’ll never post things negating your desire to make fun of these dipshits because they do deserve it, and heaven knows I’m not gonna stop dragging these fartknockers. But it seems wise to keep in mind that in all kinds of insidious little opaque ways, Twitter is temping us to act like that. I’m not scolding or telling anyone to stop anything; just encouraging a certain mindfulness to try to counter the social media brain-warp effects. As long as engagement is rewarded in this way, we’re stuck with these assholes. I guess we could try to get comfortable and accept it for what it is.

P.S. That book warehouse guy is a supermassive transphobic asshole.

* The original language here before I edited it: While I doubt even I will hold myself to this because of the gross Internet-brain drive for getting in scuffles with these people, I do think the best thing for all of us is to stop engaging with it in the way they want. I will never, ever shame anyone for feeding the trolls; I do it myself often enough. But looking at this with the question of “Why do they hate us so much?” in mind, I worry that if we continue to pounce, we’ll keep giving them reasons to dislike and resent us, and there will be a vicious cycle of these garbage takes from an ever-increasing number of tools who think you can judge a whole swath of humanity based off one anonymous interaction. I’m not saying that’s a valid reaction from them; I’m just always wondering about the ways our brains are getting warped by these websites attempting to “normalize” communication (particularly during a pandemic, where communication is degrading faster than you can say “hey, can you see my slides?”).

navel gazing

cmrb 2021 annual report

First, some words from last year:

“We’re down to the last 48 hours of 2020, and I’m not joining in the chorus of people saying we’re sure to have a better 2021. I’m not sure we will, frankly, and I’m not sure which spheres of existence (personal, social, political, economic) folks are expecting to have that better year in. And better in the eyes of what beholder? I’m at least aspiring to spend my time and energy differently… 2020 wasn’t personally that bad in many respects, but I know I worked harder than I should have, and took things out on myself more than I deserved. No matter what happens at the levels I can’t control, I hope I can be a little nicer to myself next year.”

Oy. I’m laughing at myself a bit for the degree to which is this something I could have typed out verbatim sitting here tonight. While I was considering whether or not to try writing this post today, I was thinking about strategies to help remember things that happened before September or so, but as I’ve said many times in other places, the last few months blended together and beat so much out of me in a way that it’s kind of stolen the rest of 2021 from my brain. I’m going to try to persevere despite that.

I remember spending New Year’s at home, playing board games and listening to New Wave New Year on WMBR. I also remember our trip to frozen New Hampshire at the end of January for my birthday. It was below zero and people were driving trucks around on the iced-over lake. We still went in the outdoor hot tub, though. It was a great trip, lots of cake and solitude, plentiful X-Files, and me reading Naomi Klein as I had started working on a paper–the first one I’d ever work on for publishing in a peer-reviewed journal–referencing The Shock Doctrine.

I started co-teaching for a class with a lot of tech criticism and social theory, a.k.a. my dream come true. February is largely a blur. I remember following along with our assigned readings and homework submissions, even for the weeks I wasn’t teaching. It was cold but I know I went for a lot of walks and listened to a ton of Citations Needed and You’re Wrong About. And the Dark Trilogy by The Cure. I kept doing my radio show.

In March, we had early warm days, in particular the days after the shortened spring break. We took our class outside one day, a balmy Friday ensconced with early spring sun, and wrote in erasable marker on the dorm windows, mapping out the social entanglements of race, technology, and education. On the following Sunday night, I learned one of our students, 21, had died between then and that gorgeous Friday morning.

I spoke at a conference right after a memorial service for him, and I should have bailed but I pressed myself to do it anyway. A bunch of people really didn’t like it when I said the word “fuck.”

I saw one of my best friends for the first time in nearly a year and we sat outside on their porch under heated ponchos a few weeks before we got vaccinated. I got my first shot at Fenway Park on the lower concourse. I remember I got an absurd parking spot that day, like literally in front of Boston Beer Works.

We tie-dyed masks at work with the students (outside). I helped another of my best friends move out of the house she’d lived in with her ex-husband, where my friends and I had hung out many times over the years. We helped her do a yard sale. I went to visit my family for the first time since the summer of 2020 and bought the two beautiful Boston ferns that now flank the library doors. We had a Zoom call with Frank the red panda at the Greenville Zoo and had our first in-person library event in over a year, the community weaving workshop. A student designed laser-cut looms and my student workers and I put together a few dozen kits with all of the parts and yarn, and our former colleagues ran it. It was lovely.

The class of 2021 graduated and I got some free petunias for my garden. I took over landscaping for my elderly landlords in May. We met Chris’s parents’ new dog. My student workers helped me save a big dying cactus at work. I helped my aforementioned friend move to Providence and put her bed together before we went out for humongous margs and tacos. I bought a kayak that I managed to get into my Honda Fit. I began working on fixing the lopsided lilac in the backyard.

I went kayaking a bunch in May and June. Mostly, I busted my ass in the front and back gardens. I biked to work most of the time. I had awesome summer student workers who worked with me on an extremely cool space redesign project. We began replacing the library’s furniture and carpet over the summer, a project that I never dreamed would succeed. We said goodbye to many coworkers. I bought a new pair of Tevas at REI and didn’t realize the shoes were two different sizes until I brought them home.

The lunatics at LibraryJournal picked me as a 2021 Mover & Shaker and I got some fancy photos taken and did some interviews. Our new dog friend got bigger and we got a new niece. We went to Maine a lot. We went to the 4th of July fireworks show in Pawtucket, the first time we’d been around crowds in well over a year. In July, my radio show, Outback Witch House, made its way to its new home and time, Wednesday nights from 8-10 on Our vacation was in Provincetown right after Delta and it rained all week, but we watched The Fate of the Furious.

I came back to a very different looking library, a thing that still makes me immensely proud. I got a new co-worker. My friends and I went to the Marshfield Fair and saw prize-winning livestock and an epic demolition derby battle between minivans. The semester started and I resumed teaching the class, in a more central role this time. Things on campus were too emotional and they felt so…idk, fragile. We went on a short trip at the end of September for Chris’s birthday, to the three-season cabin we’d visited the year before.

By the time October was underway, it was clear that this was not going to be an easy, or even coherent, semester for many of us. We got out to Worcester and I set the Tetris records at Free Play, as is my wont. At work, we made a very silly but elaborately designed haunted house in the library. I carved a pumpkin with my friend who’d worn heated ponchos with me in the spring. We watched lots of UFC and ate many chicken wings with our best friends. Thanksgiving break came at a time when things at work felt like they were going to implode. Some problems were specific to our class; some were much larger. I have many thoughts and realizations about these matters that I am choosing to not post on a public blog. Let it be said, though, that Sara Ahmed’s new book COMPLAINT! was a vital partner for making sense of it all.

We went to Thanksgiving in Maine and split the Christmas/New Year’s week between Maine and New York. I started taking Level 1 classes at Improv Asylum in Boston. The journal article I started co-writing in January/February was published after two rounds of peer review in December. I submitted applications to a few PhD programs. I have no idea what the next few weeks will be like. We had a small gathering last night–five people who see each other frequently–and it was fun enough to make me feel some optimism about 2022. But Omicron is a mess, and all levels of the response to it are like, “leadership has left the buildinggggg :)”

I think this is about where we came in.

I have seen and heard far fewer “2022 will be better than 2021”-type statements than I did when it came to the 2020/2021 changeover. I think many of us are too tired and burned out to have the optimism right now. But I will recycle this conclusion I made last year. While I’m not optimistic, I’m at least aspiring to spend my time and energy differently… 2020 and 2021 both weren’t that bad in many personal respects, but I know I worked harder than I should have, and took things out on myself more than I deserved. No matter what happens at the levels I can’t control, I hope I can be a little nicer to myself next year.

(see also: my 2021 year-end reading recap and the 2020 annual report)


2021 year-end reading recap

I read 92 books this year, ten more than last year and one more than my goal of 90. 52 were fiction and 40 were nonfiction, a slightly more even distribution than last year’s 58 to 33. Much like last year, most of these books were great. Some were incredible. Some sucked. Also, much like last year, I’m starting this new one off with another takedown of Silicon Valley (An Ugly Truth by Sheera Frankel and Cecilia Kang.)

A few trends stand out to me, looking back at this year’s list. I read more science fiction than usual (intentional, for collection development purposes and curiosity). I also delved into more series this year than I normally do (Murderbot and the Three Pines mysteries, which couldn’t have less in common but I find both to be delightful). There were also more than usual titles that had multiple authors or editors.

Looking back at last year’s recap, I’m going to pull a quote that feel very relevant at the current moment: “As shitty as this year was, I’m grateful I had the time and stability to read as much as I did, and for the fact that my brain still finds so much solace in the written word. Books got me through, folks. Whatever got you through was the right thing for you.” Same deal this time around, and also it’s nice to look back at this list and last year’s and remember that there was a time before the nonstop misery/anxiety spiral that was the fall of 2021. And I super miss listening to books while gardening.

Note: I’m not going to do a list of favorites from 2021 this time just because so much of what I read this year didn’t come out this year. I’m looking forward to reading the best books of 2021 when people stop placing so many holds on them, lol.

Top 5 fiction:
Dana Spiotta – Wayward
Rory Power – Wilder Girls
Rumaan Alam – Leave the World Behind
Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet
Kim Michele Richardson – The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Top 5 nonfiction:
Danielle Henderson – The Ugly Cry
P.E. Moskowitz – The Case Against Free Speech
Jathan Sadowski – Too Smart
Xiaowei Wang – Blockchain Chicken Farm
Bryan Stevenson – Just Mercy

Top 5 that taught me the most:
Sara Ahmed – Complaint!
Cliff Kuang & Robert Fabricant – User Friendly
Margaret O’Malley – The Code
Mariame Kaba – We Do This ‘Til We Free Us
Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine

Top 5 that will probably have the most significant and/or lasting impact on me:
Andrea Bonior – Detox Your Thoughts
bell hooks – Teaching to Transgress
Dean Spade – Mutual Aid
Chana Porter – The Seep
Robin Wall Kimmerer – Braiding Sweetgrass
(bonus – Ash Sanders’s essay in All We Can Save, “Under the Weather,” was one of the best things I read all year.)

5 best audiobooks:
Margaret Atwood – Oryx & Crake
Donella Meadows – Thinking in Systems (also relevant in all of the other categories, save for fiction)
Rory Power – Wilder Girls
Raynor Winn – The Salt Path
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky – Trauma Stewardship

The complete list of my 2021 reads:

  1. Wendy Liu – Abolish Silicon Valley
  2. Tommy Orange – There There
  3. N.K. Jemisin – The City We Became
  4. Aaron Benanav – Automation and the Future of Work
  5. Chana Porter – The Seep
  6. Alexis Henderson – The Year of the Witching
  7. Ursula K. LeGuin – The Dispossessed
  8. Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji
  9. Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine
  10. Kim Stanley Robinson – Red Mars
  11. R. Eric Thomas – Here For It
  12. Bryan Stevenson – Just Mercy
  13. Colson Whitehead – Nickel Boys
  14. Yaa Gyasi – Transcendent Kingdom
  15. Emily M. Danforth – Plain Bad Heroines
  16. Margaret O’Mara – The Code
  17. Olga Grushin – The Charmed Wife
  18. Maika & Maritza Moulite – One of the Good Ones
  19. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha & Ejeris Dixon – Beyond Survival
  20. Mariame Kaba – We Do This ‘Til We Free Us
  21. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky – Trauma Stewardship
  22. Lori Majewski & Jonathan Bernstein – Mad World
  23. Kate Bornstein & Caitlin Sullivan – Nearly Roadkill
  24. Nnedi Okorafor – Binti
  25. Charlie Jane Anders – All the Birds in the Sky
  26. Nicholas Carr – The Shallows
  27. Jathan Sadowski – Too Smart: How Digital Capitalism is Extracting Data, Controlling Our Lives, and Taking Over the World
  28. Kim Michele Richardson – The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
  29. Clare Pooley – The Authenticity Project
  30. Robin Wall Kimmerer – Braiding Sweetgrass
  31. P.E. Moskowitz – The Case Against Free Speech
  32. Lee Vinsel & Andrew Russell – The Innovation Delusion
  33. Mateo Askaripour – Black Buck
  34. Annalee Newitz – Autonomous
  35. Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen – Thanks for the Feedback
  36. M.L. Rio – If We Were Villains
  37. Matt Haig – The Midnight Library
  38. Tara Dawson McGuinness & Hana Schank – Power to the Public
  39. Patricia Lockwood – No One Is Talking About This
  40. Naomi Alderman – The Power
  41. Fredrik Backman – Anxious People
  42. Xiaowei Wang – Blockchain Chicken Farm
  43. Rumaan Alam – Leave the World Behind
  44. Torrey Peters – Detransition, Baby
  45. Brene Brown – Braving the Wilderness
  46. Becky Chambers – To Be Taught, If Fortunate
  47. Tommy Wallach – We All Looked Up
  48. Megan Devine – It’s OK That You’re Not OK
  49. Dana Spiotta – Wayward
  50. Joanne McNeil – Lurking: How a Person Became a User
  51. Kevin Roose – Futureproof
  52. Terry Miles – Rabbits
  53. Cliff Kuang & Robert Fabricant – User Friendly
  54. Tsedal Neeley – Remote Work Revolution
  55. Martha Wells – All Systems Red
  56. Lulu Miller – Why Fish Don’t Exist
  57. Jenny Offill – Weather
  58. Brandon Taylor – Real Life
  59. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson & Katharine K. Wilkinson – All We Can Save
  60. Charles Yu – Interior Chinatown
  61. Martha Wells – Artificial Condition
  62. Taylor Jenkins Reid – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
  63. Dean Spade – Mutual Aid
  64. Donella Meadows – Thinking in Systems
  65. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai – The Mountains Sing
  66. Robert I. Sutton – The Asshole Survival Guide
  67. Naomi Kritzer – Catfishing on CatNet
  68. Alexandra Kleeman – Something New Under the Sun
  69. Rory Power – Wilder Girls
  70. Rory Power – Burn Our Bodies Down
  71. Louise Penny – Still Life
  72. Kiese Laymon – Long Division
  73. Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet
  74. Donna Tartt – The Secret History
  75. bell hooks – Teaching to Transgress
  76. Martha Wells – Rogue Protocol
  77. Diane Musho Hamilton, Gabriel Menegale Wilson, Kimberly Loh – Compassionate Conversations
  78. Jay Caspian Kang – The Loneliest Americans
  79. Danielle Henderson – The Ugly Cry
  80. Raynor Winn – The Salt Path
  81. Andrea Bonior – Detox Your Thoughts
  82. Margaret Atwood – Oryx & Crake (re-read)
  83. Tressie McMillan Cottom – Lower Ed
  84. Lindy West – Shit, Actually
  85. Sara Ahmed – Complaint!
  86. Tim Hwang – Subprime Attention Crisis
  87. Erving Goffman – The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
  88. Jessica Bruder – Nomadland
  89. Katherine McKittrick – Dear Science & Other Stories
  90. James C. Scott – Seeing Like a State
  91. Keller Easterling – Extrastatecraft
  92. Louise Penny – A Fatal Grace