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. )

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2 responses to “vitriol and collegiality

  1. O.K., stop writing such interesting posts and I’ll stop commenting!

    I, too, have been following the collegiality discussion in The Internets, and have had this very discussion with a colleague (who was a scientist and worked in the private sector before becoming a librarian). We agreed that being collegial was a matter of respect and trust, not niceness or friendliness. You can respect someone and/or their ideas without wanting to be her/his friend. You can also trust that both you and your colleague want a similar outcome (the best service for patrons, the most comprehensive collection, etc.), even if you disagree on how to achieve those outcomes. Trust and respect are important in work environment, because it helps to remove suspicion of favoritism and bias. If your workplace makes decisions based on who is liked, who has the favor of those in power, does that lead to an open environment? Does that type of atmosphere lead to employees respecting and/or trusting one another? I would argue if the basis for support is personality driven rather than competence driven, then dissent will be as well. If the basis for support is respect and trust of one’s ideas or abilities, then dissent will be borne of respect for those we serve and trust that your colleagues (even those dissenting) want the best outcome and simply have a different idea of how to achieve that.

    Annoyed Librarian makes a good point that people skills are a valuable skill. I totally agree. But this doesn’t mean someone who is always going to be agreeable. Someone with truly good people skills is someone who can disagree with an idea without being unpleasant or making the disagreement a personal attack.

  2. You are absolutely right. I couldn’t have said it any better! Collegiality is really a misnomer in this discussion. What people really are talking about is respect, granted no matter the opinion.

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