On Annoyed Librarian and anonymous posting

I rarely read Annoyed Librarian. When I do it’s usually because Word Press tells me that she’s linked to a Library Juice posting, and I go and see what she wrote. I’m usually shocked by how rude and vitriolic this anonymous person is. I went to her site today looking to see if I could find more evidence that “Yachira Gonzalez” is actually Jack Stephens, and I was pretty surprised to find that on her entire front page of 25 or so postings I agreed with about 70% of what she said. (Or should I say that she agrees with me, since I’ve been writing about the same issues for nine years and have expressed consistent views throughout that time.) This surprised me because I am both part of the group she satirically calls the “regressive librarians” and a supporter of ALA, both of which she attacks in a manner that makes me think she wants to be some kind of Ann Coulter of librarianship.

What does her anonymity accomplish? It allows her to express herself with a rudeness that a person in our profession could never get away with and expect to be hired (e.g. Chuck “Chuck0” Munson, whose online tantrums have kept him out of work for about a decade). Does our profession really need that? One thing it’s done is to create a very polarizing image about her, which makes it oddly surprising to me to find that I agree with her on many things. Is it good to create such a misleading image? Another thing her anonymity does is allow her to smear people, not anonymous themselves, who deserve at least to know who is attacking them, for accountability’s sake.

Accountability is the key. Because I post under my real name, I am personally and professionally accountable for the things that I write.

It seems to me that just about everything that Annoyed Librarian says in her blog could be said in a more respectful way. Most of her opinions in themselves are not beyond the pale. What is beyond the pale, and what she couldn’t express without anonymity, is all the anger and hatred toward the people in the profession with whom she strongly disagrees (and doesn’t respect).

Being within a web of people of varying perspectives and backgrounds, and, to be sure, varying relationships with the world, is part of being a human being. It is not something that you can just label “politics,” say you hate, and wash your hands of by adopting a pseudonym. People’s intolerance of views they don’t like (which varies among groups and time periods) is a bad thing, and can provide a general justification for anonymity. But if I think about what I read on Annoying Librarian’s blog today, I didn’t find any opinion there that would make her intolerable to the library world if 1) she said who she was and 2) treated her colleagues with due respect. Not that I could expect her to out her real self at this point, given her Ann Coulter approach to things so far.

I realize that it can be uncomfortable to be written about on a blog in a critical way. In light of that I’ll say that Annoyed Librarian shouldn’t take it personally. In fact, she doesn’t have much of a right to, since she is only known to us as a mask. If we knew who she was in the first place, the situation itself would not be the same.

20 comments on “On Annoyed Librarian and anonymous posting

  1. This reminds me of the discussion at Dr. Crazy’s earlier this year in response to the issue of her pseudonymity and comments at The Valve. I agree with her (and others who took part in the discussion) that there is a difference between pseudonymity and anonymity. People come to recognize a certain persona associated with a pseudonym – people can earn ethos through their writing about issues. Sure, it might take some time to get to know that person and his/her ideas – we don’t get the instant knowledge based on name recognition – but this also means that people from a fairly wide range of locales, backgrounds, experiences, etc. can develop a readership in ways that might otherwise not happen.

    My blog isn’t really anonymous, but I don’t post my whole name. Having said that, several people link to me with my real name (which is fine) and I’ve discussed Bucky the Badger table dancing in front of me during homecoming and my area of research is pretty specialized. Oh, and I once posted an article about my mom, so no hiding there. People can figure it out if they want to.

    But, I thought seriously about anonymity when I first started blogging. I was well aware of the type of harassment many women get online – particularly those in tech and science. Truly heinous abuse and threats. I think the author of the recent Chronicle of Higher Ed. article about pseudonyms in Chronicle essays must not understand or know about this part of life online. Sad, considering the Kathy Sierra situation just last year. And fellow UW-Madison SLISer Dorothea over at caveat lector has written about the abusive behavior of men on tech-related listservs and the like. It’s not a nice world out there.

    Having said that, I’m not fond of the Annoying Librarian’s blog for the same reasons that I am not fond of the site Rate Your Students. They are often mean-spirited in ways that don’t allow for real discourse about issues. That’s ok, I guess. I don’t have to read them. I guess if I had a point it would be that I never needed to know the names of the real authors of these sites to determine my opinion about them – I developed that opinion based on their writing and my own education and experiences. The pseudonymity doesn’t bother me.

    Sorry about the length – I guess I had more to say than I thought.

  2. But I think one point behind the Annoyed Librarian blog IS to offend and be rude, IS to refuse to reshape things to say them blandlyt and palatably. God help us in our professional lives (not just in libraries); we’re trained that we can’t just say something is effing ridiculous when it is. The AL can. Things are intentionally written as “offensively” as possible. Why? Because (to many) it’s FUNNY! Rarely does this kind of wit get turned towards this profession, and so the AL is providing a great source of entertainment to many (and of consternation to many others, I’m sure). Commenting angrily at the AL on some turn of phrase is almost kind of silly–it’s possible the AL him or herself doesn’t even hold such-an-such an opinion as strongly as the blog persona does. It seems so clearly written to “mock-provoke” that it always surprises me when people take it so seriously. Can it be hurtful? Sure! But, you know, when Michael Stephens posts a library’s “bad signage” for the world to see (with good reason, I know) at Tame the Web–whoever made that sign may also be made to feel bad–

  3. Obviously it’s intended to be rude and obviously a lot of people find it entertaining. But there is an interesting gap that most people seem to be missing between the fact that these attacks are coming from a pseudonymous character and directed toward real flesh and blood, non-anonymous people. People are enjoying it as a media phenomenon, but only AL is a media fiction. The people she is attacking are not. The people she is attacking have made themselves accountable to others on the assumption that those others will be accountable to them in return. AL’s anonymous attacks are a problem because they violate the basic principle of reciprocity that holds everything together. I think what she is doing is really very bad, and I hope she ultimately pays for it.

  4. cf. Progressive Librarian published a five page editorial about anonymous blogging by conservative bloggers in its Summer 2007 issue (issue #29). Pages 3-7. Not online but you can order it by interlibrary loan or get it in a couple of databases if you’re at an academic library.

  5. I really enjoy reading your blog, and I also really enjoy Annoyed Librarian’s blog. However, Annoyed Librarian intends to be funny, expressing the annoyances that many of us librarians feel (but can’t often freely express) about a wide variety of aspects of our jobs. Her humor may be biting, but it does indeed make me and many of my colleagues laugh out loud on a regular basis.

    RCN, San Francisco Bay Area
    (Sorry, I also remain anonymous online when possible)

  6. I don’t like AL’s approach at all. I hope it didn’t seem like I was defending that particular blog. I just think there are reasons for anonymity and pseudonymity (although, if I had to choose, I’d choose the latter).

    I don’t like AL’s approach to criticism/critique, if that’s what we want to call it. I think that there are better ways to discuss issues, ways that invite discussion. And, people can remain anonymous and still take part in these types of discussions. That was my point – that those who choose anonymity or pseudonymity don’t necessarily lack ethos or the ability to engage in worthwhile discussion. In fact, in some situations being able to identify oneself online indicates a position of privilege, a position that those people are often blind to. Just a thought.

  7. One of the things that bugs me about AL is her hostility towards labor unions. I do not appreciate her moniker “Humorous Unionator” for someone who is outspoken about this in librarianship. She needs to realize it is because of the efforts of labor unions that he/she is able to enjoy a six day work week, sick leave, vacations, etc. She must have never lived in a state that was downright hostile to county and state employees–and the private institutions in those states usually aren’t much better.

  8. I agree. And I don’t understand how her humor is supposed to justify anything. She’s hostile and mean and has right wing views. I am getting the sense that people are laughing along with her hardly noticing what she is actually saying (about unions, about diversity, about social concerns). It’s like justifying racist jokes by saying they’re “only humor.”

  9. I agree with her even less than you but this qwetch about anonymous blogging is nothing but a red herring.

    There’s a tradition of anonymous blogging on the web. In many cases, it’s a neccessary condition given the environment (political or whatever) that the individual is working in.

    Frankly, if it allows her to continue as she does, that’s justification enough.

    P.S. Sometimes rudeness can be refreshing.

  10. The tradition of anonymous blogging is of course part of what I am criticizing. And it’s not a red herring. That tradition of anonymity contributes to the destructiveness of Annoyed Librarian and people like her. It’s not a good thing. I wrote about my decision not to be anonymous when I started this blog. I’ve always been against anonymity on the web, because of its negative effects on the social fabric. Anonymity allows people to behave very badly, in ways that harm other people. The lack of accountability means harm can be done with no consequences.

  11. people are laughing along with her hardly noticing what she is actually saying (about unions, about diversity, about social concerns). It’s like justifying racist jokes by saying they’re “only humor.”

    I respectfully disagree with this comment. I think you’re misinterpreting her posts, which are satirical. She often takes the position of devil’s advocate, in what many of us find to be a humorous manner. She pokes fun – mostly at librarianship in general. She’s still a librarian after all, and for all we know a progressive advocate of the very social issues that she targets in her posts.

    I understand that some might think she goes too far in what may seem to be personal attacks on specific librarians (or more often groups of librarians). If an individual is hurt or offended by her words, that person should call her on it.

    Of course that’s just my opinion (and I’m just a public reference librarian of over 20 years who usually takes matter far too seriously.)

    RCN, San Francisco Bay Area

  12. RCN… Satire is a means of expressing a viewpoint. Her views on SRRT and ALA are right wing views. I agree with her on technology, where her perspective is in line with the progressives for some reason. But she’s a right winger and a part of the right wing blogging community of the likes of Greg McClay and Jack Stephens. She’s a conservative and anti-SRRT, and hostile to the progressives. That has nothing to do with her literary method. So she uses satire, so what?

    I think that based on the discussion so far what really bothers me is that so many people seem to value what she says and seem glad that someone is using an anonymous identity to say what she’s saying. It suggests to me that there are a lot of closet right wingers out there. At a time when our right wing president has possibly destroyed this country’s future, I find that both depressing and scary.

  13. I recommend to you a book, Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño set partly in Chile. It entails a look at the horror men do to each other and the guilt that those who survive it feel. If we are afraid to criticize the smallest thing, then we learn through a book like Distant Star how violence and patriotism might converge if we do not stand up.

    “ –and Carlos Wider wrote: Death is cleansing , but so unsteadily, given the adverse weather conditions, that very few spectators, who by now had started to get up from their seats and open their umbrellas, could understand what had been written. All that was left in the sky were dark shreds, cuneiform characters, hieroglyphics, a child’s scribble. “
    (p. 81).
    In the face of these things it is hideous that pettiness has so many partisans.

  14. I’ve been a library worker for almost 20 years and a grad student in library science for the past several years. I am not myself a political conservative, but I have major problems with the tendency of current library trends to foster the insane consumerism that is devouring this country. My experience in library school made me extremely sensitive to the need to adhere to current concepts of librarianship. I like AL because s/he gives voice to the concerns and doubts that my experience has engendered in me. Of course, only I call them concerns and doubts; the AL persona is built on self-proclaimed omniscience. AL writes in a style that is both satirical and authoritative and says things that I as a lower ranked library worker am not in a position to say and as a student wouldn’t dare express in my classwork. Yes, s/he is rude and operates behind a shield of anonymity, but the dominant voices in the field of librarianship are not conservative and are not always civil either. Furthermore, AL writes intelligently and grammatically (alleluia!). I appreciate AL’s strong critical voice, and I don’t see why s/he should be required to offer his/her head for internet target practice.

  15. Pam, it is interesting that you say this. You say that you are worried about the “current library trends [that] foster the insane consumerism that is devouring this country.” This is the basic drive behind the progressive librarian’s guild. The PLG has done an incredible amount of work in articulating exactly the problem you are talking about. We’ve been the leaders in bringing this problem to national attention. AL dismisses us as “regressive librarians” because of these political views. You say you see a need to adhere to the “adhere to current concepts of librarianship.” The PLG views itself as fighting to support the fundamental concepts of librarianship at a time when they are under attack from both techno-missionaries and free-market capitalists. It seems to me that the place of human rights in librarianship is the big division between the AL crowd and PLG. For PLG human rights and taking a political stand is part of being a professional and is not something new. In terms of the onslaught of commercialization, the business model, deprofessionalization, and the replacement of librarianship with internet searching (which anybody can do), the PLG is a much better representative of your concerns that its enemy AL.

  16. The funny thing is, it is exactly this kind of discussion (about the pseudonymous nature of the AL) which made me think harder about my openness with my name online. I have a fairly distinctive name and so I have the option to use it when I choose. Mostly I have chosen to do so, but I am now reconsidering this choice as I see how violently people can react to others views. I don’t always agree with the AL, but I respect the fact that she, he or they are merely creating a persona (likeable or otherwise) and they don’t feel the freedom to express their views in a satirical way without a shield of anonymity because of the fear of a backlash. I am now considering my own options for a pseudonym as I am now more aware of the need for anonymity when addressing some concepts in open forums. I don’t advocate only participating in professional forums anonymously, but I can see the worth of a forum where things are discussed in a more extreme way (think sci fi here) to illustrate and tease out issues more thoroughly, and discuss issues that are sensitive.

  17. I’m appalled at how much support there is out there for the ability of people to victimize others without having to take responsibility for it.

  18. Honestly, l support what AL is doing. A blog is the space you get to express your real thoughts without having to constantly stand up for yourself. It is like writing a diary and saying what you really feel about the people you know and if they choose to view those opinions is all up to them and if they do not like it they will just have to live with it. She must not be forced by society to say really nice things. To Al l say be the voice of those who chose to say things in a sarcastic way.

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