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December 12, 2004

The fetishized metanarrative of "The Librarian"

Free Range Librarian: Blogging and Ethics, 2: "It's Only a Blog!": The Cloak of Commentary

On too many blogs, the writer and hides behind the cloak of commentary, using the excuse that what he or she is writing is not "journalism," just the happy noodlings of an amateur with time on his or her hands. This excuse then becomes a blanket exemption for excursions outside of the normal boundaries of ethics and integrity, such as misrepresenting the facts, confusing opinion with reporting, failure to reveal sources, leaping--or in many cases hurtling--to conclusions, and general "blog first and ask questions later" behavior.

This kind of blogging is not only unethical, but counterproductive. The decision to be an ethical blogger does not condemn you to a bland, unopinionated world. Just the opposite: your willingness to fact-check, reveal sources, limit bias, and emphasize fairness will help make your commentary readable, and your conclusions credible. You can present opinions, even very strong opinions, in a manner that is fair and ethical. Frank Rich does this every Saturday in the Arts section of the New York Times. It's the difference between truly good commentary and the trash-talk in far too many media venues. It's the difference, in essence, between opinion and bias.

Ok. Since when does commentary need a cloak to hide under? What's with the hegemony of journalistic/librarian ethics? Why the fetististic need for conformity to an ethical standard? I don't teach that to my grad students who will become librarians. We discuss the infinite potential for the diversity of voices, views, attitudes and forms of expression that the internet allows, as well as the inherent English male cultural bias encoded within it. Librarians should be showing their diversity, and modeling multiple forms of expression and genres... not hiding in the straight-jacket stacks of 'guidelines' for proper conduct and etiquette.

The Librarian is no longer the banner carrier for all that's right, true and good. We've exploded the illusions of bias-free status of the Librarian. As we have with just about all the purveyors of cultural norms. Same goes for the journalist and her ethics. Why create another fraud and try to market it?

On the point of commentary: "This kind of blogging is not only unethical, but counterproductive." What are you smoking? I guess I've had wider experience as a blogger, and live in a larger world. We don't need to impose metadata tags on blogs. We don't need to make them to some cataloguing nightmare. There are millions of bloggers writing about what is meaningful to them, without the straight jacket you want to impose on yourselves, and thereby model as correct practice for others. The standards are communal and self-selecting. The technology and the language of the discourse is liquid. It is a living genre just as English is a living language.

Blogs are forms of reflective writing, they are poetic, they are moronic, they are wrong, they are commentary, they are wise. They are written by teenage girls. They are written by pre-op transsexuals. Some of them are even written by librarians and journalists, but they're just a minority. They are certainly written by students and educators. Is the librarian so much better, so much on a higher plane of ethical existence that their personal voice should be constrained in a vice of ethical guidelines?

But if you want ethics... why invent your own. You should conform to my ethics. My academic standards. A my university, all research and inquiry much meet the stanards of the faculty of medicine. You want to live up to that? I do, and I enjoy it. For my formal peer reviewed academic work, that is. When I'm blogging I can saw whatever the fuck [sic] I like. I can even be intelligent at times, though that's not what blogging is about for me. People can read my academic work. They can read my blog. And you know what? They're smart enough to tell the difference. I don't have to play august professor in my blog. That's just another dead victorian fiction. I serve better to show that there is no ivory tower perfection. To pull back the curtain and show what goes on behind the wall.

This whole holy mission of the librarian stuff just has to stop. It is not the 19th Century, and we're not accolytes of Matthew Arnold. "I'll repeat my concern that librarians, in particular, need to be very cautious when they blog. This is a meta-ethical issue: when you blog as a librarian, even as a librarian "just goofin' around," you are representing what people think about librarians." Well, I've grown up in libraries, my partner is one. Most of my grad students are in library school. I know what librarians are like. They are normal people. They are no more paragons of truth than teachers in highschool (of which I was one) or university academics (me raises hand) or published scholars (same again).

To quote the evil Joseph Lancaster "A place for everything and everything in its place." And what did he do? He systemized instruction of 'the other' for whom is was not worth the effort to properly educate. He represents the nadir of education. Librarian as missionary is a child of that metanarrative, and anything that librarians can do to short cut that false doctrine is all right by me.

The funny thing is with the leaving of comments. Her comments code is broken, and not fixed. THIS is what a librarian should now be shown to be... technologically challenged, and silencing.
Free Range Librarian K.G. Schneider's Postcards from the Edge of Librarianship

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Posted by jason at December 12, 2004 11:47 AM


Good rant. I keep noticing the degree to which the Internet's inherent freedom bothers people as well as institutions. Do we fight firewalls with fire? Anyway, it's far too big and far too messy for the Schneiders to have an impact. Of course, that also means it's too b and m for anyone to have an impact (unless you live in Iraq during a war and the Meedja pick up on you). But in that sense it's the logical extension of poetry in our time: poetry has become an activity, not an art, and there are approximately 70 x 7 more people writing it that reading it. (Notice how rants are infectious?)

Posted by: Wodja at December 13, 2004 11:39 PM