Category Archives: collegiality

libraries and the culture of busy – a reflection on the hospital blogging meme

(How’s that for a descriptive title?)

I’ve been terrible about posting recently, I know. Part of that is due to the fact that I didn’t feel I had anything particularly interesting to say, part of it is because my del.icio.us account is really my blog, and part of it was because I have been avoiding computer use at home like the plague due to recent overuse injuries and paranoia that I’m getting carpal tunnel. (Are all medical librarians hypochondriacs? That’s a post for another time, I suppose.) In any case, I would never say that it is because I am too busy. Lazy, sure. Too busy? No.

And why is that? Frankly, because saying that you are “too busy” to do x, y, or z just insults the people around you who are doing x, y, and z. I read an article quite some time ago called “Librarianship and the culture of busy.” I really liked it the first time I read it (I mean, really now, who ISN’T annoyed when everyone around you keeps talking about how busy they are?), but events of late have made me particularly attuned to the whole “I’m just too busy” mantra.

Here’s a quote from that article:

Librarians engage in this battle for superiority, based not on individual accomplishments, we’re far too modest for that, but rather on one’s “volume of busy”. The point of this battle is to prove that we do more and have less free time than our peers, and are thus more important. We have so much on our plates, we cannot possibly take on another thing, so we are increasingly forgiven from additional contribution by nature of our busy excellence.

In the days after reading this article, I came across this same theme over and over again, both in the blogosphere and in my own life. In the blogosphere, it most seems to relate to being too busy to learn or too busy to use social software tools.  Here’s a sampling of some posts:

  • More on community (David Lee King) – He says, ““I’m too busy” – this isn’t the fault of front-line staff. I think this excuse (that’s what it is, after all) falls squarely into management’s lap. Is a blog important to your library? Is the interaction and growth that can be had via a social network part of your library’s strategic plan?”
  • Creating a technology tutorial (Library 2.0 – An Academic’s Perspective) – The discussion covers more of the actual references to time and learning, but the whole post is very interesting
  • Making time (Academic Librarian) – “The difference between these librarians and some of us more kept-up librarians isn’t that some of us work like we’re in a library sweatshop and others of us just goof off playing around with social software or something. It’s a difference of priorities.”

Of course the ones I am really interested in are the ones that have cropped up after the MLA Task Force on Social Networking Software survey results analysis was released.  For those of you who read David’s blog and the Krafty Librarian blog, or even for those of you who follow the task force’s blog, you will have seen that hospital librarians were not only less likely to use blogs professionally and personally, but that they were much more likely to think that blogs were of little importance to MLA’s sections, chapters, SIG’s, and etc.

The responses to the task force results in the blogosphere, particularly in the comments on these posts, mention one or more themes, the biggest one of which is time–hospital librarians don’t have the time to learn or use these tools.  First of all, may I remind everyone that David, Michelle, and Mark are all hospital library bloggers?  And that David and Michelle are both solo librarians?  Clearly, even if you are incredibly busy, you can make the time–if you want to.  T. Scott made what I think was the best point of the whole discussion in a comment on the Krafty Librarian’s blog.  He said,

“Hospital librarians feel they are always pressed for time.” So do academic librarians. Ask the most productive folks in my library and they will tell you they always feel they are running behind, they’re always working extra hours trying to catch up, and they never feel that they have enough time to get the essentials done, much less have time for the “extras”. That being said, with more people, it is possible to specialize some and spread the work in different ways. And there is probably also a culture in academic institutions that supports experimentation more than is the case in hospitals. So academics may end up having a little more flexibility over how they distribute their time (depending on how much support they have from administration); but they don’t feel any less pressed.

One of his points is exactly the point that the “Culture of Busyness” article made–everyone is busy.  Let’s all just realize we are all busy.  Academic librarians don’t sit around all day, and those of us who do keep up to date with new technologies aren’t slackers who don’t have anything else better to do.  It is a question of priorities, and though there may be good reasons why hospital librarians don’t use blogs (restricted access, hospital guidelines, a culture that doesn’t support experimentation, less flexibility, etc), busyness or lack of time as the reasoning is just an excuse and frankly an insult to those people who make time.

This post has largely been a gut reaction to the blog malaise post on the UBC Google Scholar blog, and though I can’t nicely tie in my commentary here, that whole post is ripe for discussion.  One of the things that he mentions is that there are very few top names in medical librarianship blogging.

In some of their recent posts, Michelle Kraft and David Rothman have pointed out that there are very few hospital librarians who blog or care to blog. Do you know very many top names in medical librarianship (with the exception of T. Scott) that blog? Furthermore, with the exception of Mark Rabnett in Winnipeg, I know of very few new hospital librarian bloggers. We’ve had maybe a handful of new medical librarian bloggers in the last calendar year.

I’ll just point out that Jane Blumenthal blogs, Mark Funk blogs, practically all of the tech-oriented medical librarians are blogging at the Task Force blog or elsewhere, and I have seen multiple new medical librarian bloggers who don’t just have link blogs.  I may personally have gotten blog malaise, but I think there has been a huge upsurge in medical librarian blogging in the past few months.  And I find that really exciting.

vitriol and collegiality

The past year or so, I’ve started worrying about my total lack of original thought. But sometimes, you’ve just got to suck it up and react to something, even when ever other blogger in the universe seems to be commenting on the same thing.

Today, I was IMing a friend who will be moving to a new position shortly. As part of the exit interview process, this friend encouraged the library staff to encourage discussion and dissent–namely, that collegiality was stifling creativity and progress at their library. Laura Cohen of the Library 2.0: An Academic’s Perspective blog recently blogged along the same theme: collegiality is causing stagnation. I’ve always been a person who likes to challenge the status quo (okay, well, authority), so when I first read her post, I completely agreed with everything she said.

But then I read the Annoyed Librarian’s response. And I agreed with her, too (see how gelatinous my mind is? the last thing I read is what I agree with). Like always, the Annoyed Librarian made me think and made me pause (and laugh my butt off–can’t forget that). One of my particular favorite bits was, “People who don’t want to preserve comfort levels are called “rude,” for example. And people who want lots of innovation are called ‘innovative.'” I’ve often thought that the AL must work in a utopian academic library, but this post sort of cemented that belief for me. :)

The kind of collegiality my friend told me about (or that I am reading into things) is truly the antithesis of collegiality. It is an atmosphere where disagreeing with someone gets your ideas instantly dismissed or worse, gets you punished. The kind of atmosphere where new ideas are discouraged, where the status quo and not rocking the boat is most important. But the AL is right, everyone would prefer to work in a pleasant working environment. Nevertheless, it is naive to think that libraries don’t exist where there is tremendous pressure to conform to the majority and the status quo, and thus it is important that all libraries support civilized dissent.

What really got me started writing this post today was not actually my IMing today, but the Blatant Berry post that I read just before leaving work, where he cites the comment wars going on over his post on personal politics and librarianship as a reason for potentially censoring (or “editing”) comments. He starts by insulting people who post anonymously (yeah, maybe I am a coward, but I have my reasons…), but I was rather wondering at what should cause such fervor. Then, I read the comment string.

All I can say is, wow. A friend of mine likes to tell me his theory about how all librarians (he is not a librarian) are passive-aggressive. After reading those comments, I am inclined to think there are one or two who are mostly just aggressive. It descended into total vitriol, even worse than some of the slagging that went on at the Information Wants to Be Free blog recently. What is wrong with the library blogosphere that we descend to such personal attacks and public name-calling? And, I am sorry, but anonymous posters are NOT the issue here. A lack of collegiality is. And, librarianship’s seeming inherent need to support homogeneity of thought.

I admit that while writing this post, I am feeling more than a little apprehension at the thought of being likewise attacked. Doesn’t that seem more than a little twisted?

(Apologies for my sentence fragment writing style here. I think I’ve been reading too much Artemis Fowl recently. )