Deepening the Conversation

thinking about questions of authority, technology, learning, and 2.0 in academic libraries

Dancing the dance and avoiding the dancers


wow- it’s been too long since I’ve posted! There’s been a lot going on on the work front, closing out the budget year, finishing my reappointment dossier, working on conference proposals (2 for Internet Librarian, 4 for a local conference — well, organizing 2 panels, and an open meeting, plus one session proposal), writing cover letters, workshops, and dealing with with the fall-out of a situation that was… ignored…before my time.

I can’t discuss particulars, but the situation has gotten me thinking a lot about how young librarianship is a profession, especially as academic librarians with faculty status and expertise and expectations. Seriously — it was not so long ago that the retired History profs manned the libraries, keeping the riff raff away from the books, except in limited and controlled interactions.

A colleague and I were discussing this incident, and she feels strongly that the timidity of librarians in claiming our expertise and authority is a passing generational moment. And I truly hope that’s so. Because for me, and other newer librarians, it is increasingly difficult to understand and interact with the complexities of our job and try to dance around the toes of professors who think our toes are theirs for walking on. And some days, it is only basic human courtesy and my desire to keep my job that prevents me from exerting — as loudly, rudely & aggressively as it can be claimed away from me — my own authority over my work. The real problem (institutionally, that is) is that I am less and less confident that going along to get along is the best thing to do professionally. As a professional. As a profession.

For the most part, the professors I deal with are really fantastic folk. They are without a doubt my favorite part of my job — open, curious, willing to engage, and learn, and teach, and be taught. They are open to collaboration in ways large and small. I will really miss them when I leave this still-frozen over, isolated edge of the planet.

But there are some professors, professors who have been long ignored and worked around, who are so intransigent and potentially hostile and entrenched that we don’t even realize we have integrated not-provoking them into our daily dance. And allowed them to fester in their corners with their own aging perceptions of the role of the library and library policies and services. This is generally fine, because the passive avoidance goes both ways. But every now and then, and intransigent professor ( or department) decides it wants something from the library. It’s way. Old School. And instead of understanding that things have changed — or that if they had read their email or come to liaison meetings or listened to their liaisons they would have known– lash out. With all the wrath of righteousness that a bone deep sense of entitlement can muster.

They’re the professors, right? So: do we let that override our own understandings of who we are and what we know and why we do what we do? Do we let their status override ours? Or are we still so tenuously trying on faculty status that don’t quite believe we deserve it? Of course, if we don’t claim it and exercise it, we don’t deserve it, right?


5 thoughts on “Dancing the dance and avoiding the dancers

  1. I think it’s a momentary thing. At least, I hope so. I make a regular practice of antagonizing old fogeys, both in the regular faculty and in library admin (the admin at my FPOW), and I generally bully them my way, but they walk out smiling.

    If calm, rational conversation doesn’t work, I start slinging acronyms and sounding very snooty about all of my knowledge. Then I waggle my tattoos at them. Finally, I explain that this is my job, and while I’m sure they are very good at their jobs (*snort**choke*), at least once they blow the dust off their syllabi, I *know* I am good at mine.

    *sigh* Okay, so I haven’t gotten past the calm rational explanation to crusty professors, with a charming smile. They let me do what I want, pretty much. Perhaps the tattoos intimidate even without waggling?

  2. Alas, the incident so far ended with almost comedic phone sputtering! I could literally get no more than a three word string between interrogative interruptions demanding an answer to the demand. If the first word out was not Yes, the demand was screamed again. Face to face, I might have stood a chance! I need to be able to get my words in to make my case!

    It is working its way through the powers that be. Except I think my PTB is waiting to see what ThatChair does. And I’m left wondering how people treat people like that — colleagues like that — fellow faculty like that — (now former) friends like that. Plus pondering the profession and its trajectory and all that.

  3. Colleen — you’re a wordsmith– what’s a gender neutral term for emasculated?

  4. “Eviscerate” may work. Not a true match, but similar in effect.

  5. I think I need to get more tattoos!

    You bring up some interesting points here that I’m going to have to ponder. At least we aren’t those carefully guarded places any longer. And I’d say we’re better for the change.

    Thanks for a very though-provoking post.

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