(Heidi Dolamore offers a companion piece about the plague of politeness at Quiddle. Thanks to Heidi for her ideas and comments.)
In my new year's post, I mentioned that I was thinking a lot about the direction of Tinfoil+Raccoon, and about the state of the biblioblogosphere in general, and promised a follow-up. At the time, I was giving serious consideration to backing way off from writing about library issues because I've felt like I haven't had much original to say lately. There are a lot of people blogging about library issues, and I've tried to resist the pull of me-tooism. I've also been a little discouraged because of what I think of as politeness gone amok. I'm sure it's hard to read that without thinking that I'm a total ass, but let me explain.
In a recent post, It's Not Only the OPACs that Suck at Information Wants to Be Free, Meredith Farkas was taken to task for using the word "suck." The commenter thought that it was unprofessional and unnecessary for someone as talented as Meredith to use that sort of language. I disagree. Most of us don't count our blogs as professional pubs, so I don't see any need for more formal writing. I read Meredith because she writes not only from her head, but from her heart. She is genuine and honest and direct--all qualities I value far above politeness. And we, as a profession, are too damn polite. Polite, from Merriam Webster Online:
1 a : of, relating to, or having the characteristics of advanced culture b : marked by refined cultural interests and pursuits especially in arts and belles lettres
2 a : showing or characterized by correct social usage b : marked by an appearance of consideration, tact, deference, or courtesy c : marked by a lack of roughness or crudities
After I decided that "too polite" was, in fact, what I meant, the word "effete" popped into my head. Like, so much politeness makes us effete. Again, Merriam Webster confirmed my hunch.
1 : no longer fertile
2 a : having lost character, vitality, or strength
Excessive politeness, I'm convinced, makes us weak and vulnerable and is directly responsible for many of the things that make libraries suck--OPACs, dysfunctional architecture, outdated service models and collections. A lot of librarians are hesitant to step on toes, speak up, say no, or demand the best from each other. Certainly, be polite with the people who walk in the door (physical or virtual) to use your services and facilities. Exercise politeness much of the time with your officemates, board members, staff, and outside colleagues. But when preparing to hand over loads of taxpayer money to vendors, jobbers and consultants, politeness should be one of the the last considerations in your interactions.
I think it's time to stop using the excuse of politeness to sweep the suckiness under the rug. Once in awhile, you have to put on the gloves and have a good, fair, honest, passionate duke-out. It's not a bad thing, and it's not hard: know the rules before you start, keep them in mind as you parry, take off your mask (no luchadores allowed!) and shake hands when it's over. Heck, offer your partner a raw steak to put on her black eye and accept her offer of a towel to sop up your bloody nose. Agree to disagree. Hug if that's what you need. But for Pete's sake, don't believe for a minute that we can solve all our problems or grow as a profession or an institution by sitting down over tea and cookies and exchanging platitudes.
Criticism is not only good, it's essential. As a lifelong writer, I'm here to tell you that the last thing I want is for someone to read my work and respond with a smile and tell me "that's really nice." I want to see a furrowed brow and a red pen and I want to hear an honest response. If I were writing just to please myself, it wouldn't matter. But I don't write merely to please myself. I write for an audience. I want to amuse, provoke and influence. I hope that's what we want from and for each other. It should be want we want. What we do is not about us, and we had best be prepared to take it on the chin and put up our dukes in order to defend our work and beliefs. Doing it in front of a crowd lends transparency to our work. There's a huge difference between slagging someone and offering criticism. Offering candid, constructive response is not a negative act. There are a lot of cheerleaders among us. It's awesome that we acknowledge and celebrate each other's work and successes. I really do value being part of such a caring, communicative community, but some days, it feels like more of a beige suburb where everything looks good, even though you know there's more going on than meets the eye.
I'm not much for making New Year's resolutions as they tend to lead to disappointment in oneself (at least among we less resolute). Instead, I offer my hopes and goals for the coming year:
- I hope that the biblioblogosphere gets a little less echoey.
- I'm throwing out 2.0 as a fetish. I'm snatching if off my alter and tossing it into my toolbox.
- I will continue to praise innovation, acknowledge success, and offer my thoughtful criticisms of ideas and projects that others actively promote. If you don't want honest response, keep it in the basement or garage until you're ready to talk about it.
- I fully expect others to challenge my writing and ideas in thoughtful, honest, open ways.
- I will continue to allow anonymous comments, but will not necessarily recognize them as valid.
- I will continue to fight my brain chemistry and strive for more thoughtful, and less reactionary writings and responses.
- If you ever watch me eat, you'll notice that I like to mix things up on my plate. I like to combine textures and flavors and experience it all at once. Every once in awhile I consider separating this blog into two parts--one for the personal me and one for the professional me. Not gonna happen. Tinfoil+Raccoon will continue to be a mushy casserole of all my experiences. (Or, a hot dish, if you will, since I am now a resident of the northern climes.)
I've got my iodine, mouth guard and ibuprofen at the ready. Let's rumble.