On That Coward, The “Annoyed Librarian”

I’m authentic, real name, no gimmicks

-Drake (feat. Jay-Z), “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2,” Nothing Was the Same.

There is a pretty traditional view that personal character involves taking responsibility for one’s life and and the actions that constitute it. I’ve mentioned before Jean-Paul Sartre’s conception of bad faith, where an individual refuses to acknowledge their freedom of choice and own their personal actions. Sartre considers these people cowards.

Similarly, in a famous piece “On Self Respect,” Joan Didion argued that

character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, p. 143).

Taking responsibility for your life, both in terms of owning your individual actions, and living life on your own terms – as opposed to the values of your parents, your teachers, or your culture – is, I think, probably the central, and most difficult challenge of human life. It’s something I continue to fail at daily. And this is okay: part of being human is being flawed. That is grounds for compassion, not judgement. Being human is a process.

Blogging can bring this idea of responsibility and self-respect front and center for the blogger. You are required to, publicly, take responsibility and own the things that you say.  I understand that this is scary. Sometimes I think things like, “What would my old philosophy professors think of this? They’re very smart and must think I’m dumb.” “What would my father think of this?” “Is this going to hurt me professionally?” And so forth. So I get it. And I get that not everyone has what Didion calls “the moral nerve” to broadcast and own their thoughts publicly. That’s understandable and not the basis for judgment, either.

But some people, as Neko says, got a lot of nerve. They throw their hats in the ring without the self-respect to own what they say. One such person is the Library Journal endorsed anonymous blogger Annoyed Librarian,  who spits vitriol about the profession and individual people within it, without subjecting themselves to the basic human requirement of taking responsibility for one’s actions and owning what one says. What makes this remarkable – in the sense of worth commenting on – is the fact that Library Journal provides its forum, and, tacitly, gives it the endorsement of the profession. If someone wants to start a blog where they can say mean things about people and do so anonymously, well, that’s their choice. But when Library Journal provides a permanent forum for this person, that blogger becomes an arbiter of taste in the profession. It begins to speak for all of us.

Here’s a recent example. The Annoyed Librarian has taken issue with the new “Shaming Librarians” Tumblr. I’ve  mentioned this  site before .  It’s a completely innocuous, moderately funny series of posts about librarians doing the least illicit things you could possibly think of.

The Annoyed Librarian moralizes about these librarians, with claims like:

Then there are the ones showing people not just as questionable librarians, but as destructive human beings, like the ones about dog earing pages or cracking book spines or writing in books.

I suppose I can’t help but finding a certain level of irony in the Annoyed Librarian’s concept of destructiveness, when this criticism, after all, comes from a person (or group of persons) that insulates themselves from ever having to take responsibility for what they say.  So then it becomes very, very easy to criticize people – rightly or wrongly – for having a little bit of fun.

For example, the  Annoyed Librarian comments on one of the Shameful Shushers that

The only takeaway from this entry is that the librarian is an inconsiderate and selfish human being.

I found this criticism particularly interesting, because one pretty plausible standard of selfishness is that you apply standards to other people that you believe yourself to be exempt from. For example,  the Categorical Imperative, the Kantian  conception of the Golden Rule, would hold us to applying the same standards to ourselves that we apply to others.

Now, let’s consider the following little philosophical thought-experiment.   What would I think of someone who, out of fear for their reputation and position, criticizes other people anonymously, and refuses to take responsibility for what they say? I would, I suspect, think that they were an inconsiderate and selfish human being. I would also think that they were a coward. If I want to deny that these standards apply when they apply to me, that’s fine; it would just make me a hypocrite, too. But don’t take my word for it. That’s just a basic application of the most fundamental standard of decency we have.

Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks this. Librarian Bobbi Newman, in an old post called “The Problem with Pseudonyms“, comments w/r/t the Anonymous Librarian blog that:

It’s easy to talk crap when you aren’t held accountable. It takes courage and wisdom to own your words.

Bullies that you can see are a pretty awful thing. Ones that hide away in fear are especially annoying. Our profession should not encourage bullying. Our profession should cultivate an ethos of support, rather than divisiveness. Anonymous bullies like the Annoyed Librarian run contrary to that goal. We should not support them.

Let me close by adding my contribution to the Librarian Shaming blog that I can’t be bothered to post there: I once had to pay over $1,300 dollars to the library where I got my first master’s because I didn’t return any of the library books I used to write my thesis because I had very bad procrastination problems at the time. But I’m almost all better now. I only owed  about $10 to the library where I went for library school. Sure – I’m not perfect. I still dog-ear library books. Sometimes I underline them in pencil and forget to erase them later. I drive our interlibrary loan department crazy because I never return my books on time. I am a flawed, evolving person. The cool thing is, I still get to be a librarian. Maybe even a good one, too.

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Filed under On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

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