WILL UNWOUND #87: “This is No Joke!” by Will ManleyApril 20, 2010
Okay, my librarian friends, my life has gotten weird…very weird. Here’s the chronology:
- May 1992…I wake up one morning with the whimsical idea of doing a tongue in cheek survey about librarians and sex for my humor column in Wilson Library Bulletin.
- June 1992…the questionnaire “Librarians and Sex” appears in my June column in the Wilson Library Bulletin with little or no fanfare. I figure the idea flopped as a humor concept.
- June 1992…I get a phone call from the H.W. Wilson Company. I’m not so cordially told that my services are no longer needed. I’m canned for the sex survey.
- June 1992…I get a press release from Wilson: they are destroying the June edition because of my survey.
- June 1992…The American Library Association passes a resolution supporting me and condemning the H.W. Wilson Company.
- June thru September 1992…Over 5,000 librarians fill out and return the survey questionnaire to me.
- August 1992…I get writing gigs with American Libraries magazine and Booklist magazine.
- August 2007…I retire from a career in librarianship and public administration and move to the San Francisco Bay area to be with my sons and grandchildren and to play golf, nap, read Finnegans Wake from cover to cover and write books.
- January 2010…One day at the local library I notice that no adult is actually reading a book but there are a lot of adults on laptops and computers. I have an “aha” moment and decide to stop writing books and start writing a blog entitled Will Unwound.
- The blog turns out to be great fun. I write something every day, and *presto* I get interesting comments from interesting people.
- On March 28 a commenter suggests publishing the old librarians and sex survey. Other commenters agree that it would be fun to look at the results 20 years later.
- I am reluctant to do this because the survey is a) old, b) mossy, c)completely unscientific, and d) I don’t want to lose readers because the survey is so old, mossy, and completely unscientific.
- I give in to my blog readers and publish the results on Sunday the 11th of April.
- The immediate response is nothing very abnormal. 540 readers visit the site on Sunday; 1104 on Monday; and 1042 on Tuesday.
- All Hell breaks loose, however, when someone named Norman Oder, a Library Journal blogger, links to my blog and runs a post entitled: “Some 18 Years Later, Will Manley’s Sex Survey Surfaces.” Oder goes on to write: “Good stuff: Will Manley on his blog publishes the results of the 1992 Librarians and Sex Survey that Wilson Library Bulletin commissioned but killed, leading to his firing. The results are fascinating….. “
- At least 50 different blog sites (none of which are library sites) appear to pick up on Oder’s blog. They then post links to my story. The result is 2,000 reader clicks on Wednesday with the number of clicks rising to 7,500 for today. I can’t imagine what it will be tomorrow.
- But here’s where the weirdness really begins. Today I start getting e-mails and phone calls from various blogs, news sources, and newspapers to do live interviews. My interview with Yahoo News is set for tomorrow afternoon.
- It gets even weirder. Today the New York Daily News runs a news story entitled “Lost Librarian Survey Reveals 1 in 5 have gotten intimate in the stacks.”
- A reporter from a newspaper in Austin, Texas e-mails me to say that she is doing a news story on the survey.
- E-mails are now starting to come in from other newspapers from all over the country, and just now the story appeared on the UPI news wire. If you google “Will Manley” and scroll down to “News Results for Will Manley” you will see a lot of these articles.
That’s the chronology. I think this whole thing keeps getting bigger and weirder by the minute. This is no joke. Here are my questions for you to comment on today, and on a personal level I really need your help in understanding how the world of information works today because, quite frankly, I find the ongoing dynamics of this situation quite startling and more than a little off the wall.
1. This 18 year old survey started out as a joke, turned into a joke gone bad, and was totally forgotten for 17 and a half years. It was dead and buried for almost two decades. Is the blogosphere really so desperate for news that a mossy 18 year old joke would become such a big freaking deal? What does this say about the internet?
2. Of all the many bloggers and newspapers who have run stories about the survey, not one of them has asked me for my methodology (there was none!), and not one has asked if I used a random scientific sample (no!). As information specialists does this bother or surprise you?
3. 7,500 people went to my blog in a single day. Doesn’t this strike you as odd and perhaps a little sad? Shouldn’t they be reading Plato instead or at least articles about Obama’s job bill or the volcano in Iceland? Maybe they should be working.
4. Here’s what really blows my mind. The newspapers are following the lead of the bloggers in presenting this story. In other words professional journalists are getting their news from blogs that may or may not be reliable. Don’t they care that this survey was a tongue in cheek attempt at humor? Does this worry you about the news industry and journalists in general?
5. Finally, given the fact that this survey is now all over the internet and news industry, what does it do to the image of the librarian? Does it help or hurt?
Finally, please comment on any of your own thoughts about this issue as an information expert. Thanks.