WILL UNWOUND #548: “3 Cheers for Francine Fialkoff of Library Journal”September 6, 2011
I think too often in the library profession we approach the topic of intellectual freedom from a negative perspective. For instance, we actually promote something called Banned Book Week every year. It is fast approaching.
I personally am not a big fan of Banned Book Week because I think it grossly overplays its hand. A high school school library in Palookaville, East Dakoka, decides to take Catcher in the Rye off the shelf and all of a sudden it is deemed a banned book. Whoa. Wait a minute.
I thought book banning had to do with government censorship. If the state legislature of East Dakota had passed a law banning the publication or sale of Catcher in the Rye within its state borders, that by definition would be book banning. But its removal from the shelves of Palookaville Public Schools is a simple, albeit regrettable, administrative act. No more, no less.
In a week or so I will have a lot more to say about Banned Book Week, but my message today is that our profession’s approach to intellectual freedom is far too negative and ironic.
Here’s my point. A week or so ago the Annoyed Librarian, who writes a widely read and widely hated blog for Library Journal, went a bit overboard with her snarky approach to life and librarianship and apparently ticked off a whole bunch of people at the University of Alabama, a football team that also masquerades as a university.
The folks at Alabama are not the only ones who are annoyed with Annoyed. Attacking Ms. Annoyed has become a new kind of library game. Don’t you love the irony of librarians advocating the editing of one of our profession’s most widely read commentators?
I have said it before and I will say it again many, many times. The library profession is great at defending the concept of intellectual freedom in theory and terribly hypocritical at exercising the reality of intellectual freedom in the real world.
Ours is a very, very normative profession. If you speak out against those norms, you will be condemned, ostracized, and eventually censored. No wonder the Annoyed Librarian writes under a pseudonym. She clearly does not relish the prospect of hot tar and feathers applied by people with MLS degrees.
The value of her blog is that she regularly questions our norms. Yes, to hammer home her tightly reasoned opinions, she uses satire, irony, snark, and, God forbid, hyperbole. She is a critic and these are the critic’s tools. I find it wonderfully ironic that the same librarians who would defend Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, and Will Rogers to the death would want Library Journal to edit the Annoyed Librarian’s blog into mush.
More pathetic are the ad hominen attacks against the Annoyed Librarian for writing under a pseudonym. All the more pathetic are those who under the veil of anonymity launch these anti-pseudonym attacks!!!
Finally, let me get to my point. There is a hero in all of this. No, it’s not Ms. Annoyed, because she has chosen the safety of her shield of a pen name. The real hero is the Editor in Chief of Library Journal, Francine Fialkoff. She made the bold and courageous move several years ago to hire Ms. Annoyed to write for Library Journal. She was widely criticized for this move. More impressive, however, is the fact that Francine has stuck with, defended, and protected The Annoyed Librarian blog through even nastier and more vociferous criticism.
For this, Ms. Fialkoff, should be getting kudos, not Bronx cheers. She is a true intellectual freedom fighter and I just wish her librarian critics would see the light. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of hypocritically condemning censorship, the profession would applaud someone who defends someone’s unfettered right to express unpopular points of view within the library profession itself?
Until then I guess we can all enjoy the irony of librarians urging Library Journal to put a muzzle on its most widely read blogger.
For more on this topic, please read Francine’s excellent essay by clicking on Annoyed Strikes Again!