To Library Journal and The Annoyed Librarian: it’s about professional principles and codes of conduct

Should you print whatever you like if you own a press?

The Annoyed Librarian has whipped up a storm one again.   The recent column that drew ridiculous connections between the University of Alabama‘s recent posting for an untenured First-Year Experience Librarian position and the history of the south, e.g., the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door; and southern stereotypes, e.g., constantly bad weather has turned into so large a controversy that LJ’s editor, Francine Fialkoff, had to write her own piece on the situation.

Librarians in the blogosphere followed suit, and here I am doing the same.  I’m actually directing you to Andy Woodworth’s blog since what follows is a comment I left on his site:

But something also should be said about journalistic principles, Andy. Regardless of its profit-making motives (because face it, most organizations, are for-profit), LJ does have a role in what is written in the AL column. Making a connection between the stand in the schoolroom door and U of A’s FYE posting is not only illogical, but it is crass and border-line offensive. I could put up with how offensive it is if there was a real thread between the two, but there isn’t, so it perhaps shouldn’t have been written or published.

And this is where LJ comes into the equation. LJ should consider pulling the plug on the column, or at the very least have asked the AL to tone down this piece in particular. Some one might cry foul, yell “censorship!” or talk about first amendment rights, but frankly, LJ is completely in its right to edit for content in its own publication, and they should have in this instance.

Librarians of all stripes hold by professional codes of conduct. We have our ethical codes drawn up by various professional associations, and we **choose** to abide by them in one form or in varying degrees. The same can be said about journalism: LJ should hold itself to a higher level than it is doing here. It shouldn’t be crass simply to garner more hits, especially when what was written in the column was as outlandish as it is (i.e., satire is used to prove a point and not to find eyeballs). LJ shouldn’t think that they just because they only publish AL they can wash their hands of the means and methods that column uses to carry its opinions forward.

In the end, this issue has whipped up a storm because it’s speaking to professional values and principles in two different professions. There won’t be an answer on this and a consensus likely won’t be reached. But I don’t think we can let LJ walk away thinking that they have no part in this.

You can see that my concern lies with professional principles and codes of conduct.  This is something I read about a lot and think we all should try to adhere to since we’re in the business of providing access to opinions, thoughts, and speech.   It’s also something that is important to journalism, a profession that is equally concerned about access to opinions, thoughts, and speech.

What matters here is knowing when to draw the line.  When is it wrong to write something?   It is probably wrong to write something that is not factual, but columns often carry matters of fact as well as matters of opinion, which can be neither right nor wrong.  But this is where oversight can be useful: the illogical connections the AL made in her piece should have been revised before publication.

To the Annoyed Librarian and to Library Journal, I say, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”  To those of you who would tell me that I’m moving close to (self-)censorship or that I should just avoid LJ, I say that LJ is completely in their right to publish what they want, and for that reason we must hold them to account.


(Hats off to Brad Matthies, too, whose post got the discussion rolling between some of my own colleagues.)


Gender Gaps

Like most professions, there are gender gaps in librarianship.  In the reference unit I’m attached to, I am 1 of 2 men amoung in a group of 14 people.  At our reference meetings, one extra man is present since the library collections manager (i.e., a man) joins the discussion from time to time.

Everyday, I am surrounded by women.  These women are top-rate librarians who are moving and shaking in their respective fields. And when I consider my mentors, who are all people who have helped me achieve what I have, I can say that all but one is a woman, and they all deserve the praise I give them day-in and day-out.  I work in librarianship, a profession that employs more women than men, and these women are charting a course in our info-culture for all others to follow.

So that’s why my stomach turned inside out when I read this Library Journal article about the future of ILS’s.  The article is harmless in itself; it’s a roundtable discussion on where ILS’s will go and what tech orgs and libraries must do in the coming years.  LJ brought together some big names from organizations such as OCLC, SirsiDynix, and Ex Libris, as well as 2 librarians to brainstorm on budgets, the cloud, metadata, etc.   Give it a read if this topic interests you – it won’t take too much time, I promise.

And when you’re reading it, take a close look at this photograph.

Library Journal's ILS photoshoot: Where are all the women?

This roundtable of 13 LIS experts has only 2 women in it.  Something is wrong here.  I’m surprised no one at LJ noticed this when they arranged the session.  Why is it that so few women are seated at this table?  Where are all the women?   The 2 women in this group of 13 is nearly the inverse of the 2 men of my 14 reference librarians at my place of work.  This is ridiculous.  It’s morally wrong.

I’ve tempered my anger a tiny bit since I first looked at the above photo.  As Steven Harris reminded me, the LJ article is a roundtable of mostly tech companies and not of librarians.  He’s got the solution already:

Steven’s point carries, especially when you consider the fact the ACRL’s Board of Directors and CACUL’s Executive Council is very much female dominated (the same can be said for ARL and CARL), and since so many of our university librarians are now women, i.e., there already are a large number of women working in the top ranks of librarianship.   All the same, I’m bothered that we give so much time to men in this article on ILS’s, and in other articles and venues for LIS.  Like Gillian Byrne reminded me on Twitter, the keynote speakers who attract us to various conference galas and presentations usually aren’t women and usually aren’t a minority:

And that’s the problem, right there:  the people on the podium often don’t look like the people they’re speaking to.  This isn’t the sign of a healthy profession.  We’ve made great strides toward gender equality, that’s for sure, but there’s still a lot of movement in our field.

You may be asking why I, a relatively privileged white man, is up in arms about this issue.  As a relatively privileged white man, I work hard to ensure that I won’t ever rise to the top on account of an old establishment.  People should progress through the ranks based on merit, and women should be given every due consideration for a position.  I’m well aware that many of my female peers are probably overlooked for positions because, as Karen Neves rightly pointed out, the inherit value of a female professional can sometimes diminish relative to that of  male professional as they age.  (It seems that with age comes wisdom, if you’re a man.)  I’m well aware that by the time I start looking at UL positions many years from now, that many of my female peers will have lost a couple years’ worth of work experience in order to have children.  Even in my female-dominated profession, I’m well aware that there are gender gaps, let alone systemic gender discrimination, pay disparities, and glass ceilings, so we must stay vigilant and work to overcome it.  And as for the LJ article, well, I haven’t even been able to think about the future of ILS’s yet.  I’m still working on a plan to raise the profile of women in libraries, library systems, and in tech in general.



Here are a few of the great female University Librarians I’ve met in my short time: