Accentuate the Positive

negativeYou’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene

Johnny Mercer

I like being nice. It’s true. There’s nothing I like more than making a friend smile by treating them to dinner out or with a small, silly, yet thoughtful present. I’m always happy to hold open a door for someone with a heavy load, or cover a story time so someone can go on vacation. If someone seems anxious I’m happy to offer a listening ear.

I guess what I really mean is that I like doing nice things for people, which is a bit different than being nice or keeping sweet. I like acknowledging good work (like Anne Clark‘s conference program title, Aww Chute: Children’s Programming ideas with parachutes, scarves and other props), giving pats on the back, and generally drawing attention to and basking in the awesomeness of great people that I know.

Yet that doesn’t mean I shy away from the darker side of life. I’ve known trouble in my life, both personal and professional, and while it might seem easier to ignore it, we all know that it’s really so much better to address trouble head on and get it taken care of.

It’s ignoring trouble that leaves organizations with people in positions of power who should have been fired years ago. Why go through the mess and the trouble of documenting issues and firing someone when it’s so much easier to just promote him or her? Why actually address sexual harassment or discrimination in a workplace when you can just shuffle people around or promise someone a good reference if they will leave? Why bother fighting for what’s right when acquiescing is so much easier?

It’s sometimes hard to speak up when you believe something is wrong. Sometimes–rarely–you learn that because of additional information you were not privy to, the situation isn’t what you thought it was. But more often than not, it is. Your instincts are right. There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. And it’s not going to change until you speak up.

Me? you think. Why me? Why can’t someone else do it?

Because everyone is thinking that. Everyone is waiting for someone else to speak up and start the conversation. And so those conversations never happen. And things never get better, and will most likely get worse.

I’ve written before about ethical courage and ethical librarianship. The best class I took in library school was Information Ethics, and ever since that time it’s been my mission to be an ethical librarian who has ethical courage.

That was all prelude, of course, to talking about Will Manley’s eloquent and carefully considered post about the ALA code of conduct for conferences and meetings, a work of such heart rending truth and shattering genius that he or perhaps the spirit of Ranganathan himself has removed it from view, to protect us mere mortals from being blinded by its brilliance.

(It’s 2014, where is that sarcasm font?)

Essentially, Will wrote that a code of conduct (which came out of many discussions about sexual harassment at conferences being a huge problem) was tantamount to censorship and an attack on freedom of speech.

But you know what it really was?

It was a small, but important, step in the right direction. A code of conduct isn’t going to end sexism, harassment and intimidation overnight, but at the very least it indicates that our major professional organization believes that its members should feel protected and safe at their own conferences and meetings. Further, it was the direct result of librarians finally speaking out. These librarians, many of whom are women, and several of whom have been brutally victimized at conferences and elsewhere, finally felt safe enough, or enraged enough, to speak out and demand some protection.

Some people said to just ignore Manley’s idiocy, to not dignify it with attention or comments. And I can understand that impulse. Hell, I could have well done without the rage inducing distraction. But I read it, and participated in the backlash, because he needed to hear that he really doesn’t understand of what he spoke.

Further, this is a man who has been given several major platforms from which he speaks for the profession. I mean, he has columns in both Booklist and American Libraries (the official publication of ALA, mind you), two publications that reach a large swath of the profession who might know nothing of the conversations on twitter, on blogs, or even, god help us, in Facebook groups. For some, his voice is a major influence…and for a man who doesn’t even really understand what freedom of speech really is to have that much influence over my profession frightens me. Between Will and the Annoyed Librarian, I don’t know whether to drink tea or hang myself.

So, yes, I dearly love to accentuate the positive, and spread joy. But for that to happen, we need to eliminate the negative–and in my view, a discussion where gendered insults are bandied about freely and in fact applauded is a huge negative in my book.

Finally, for all my snark, I do want to say that ultimately, I feel no ill will for Mr. Manley— I mostly feel disappointed that he shut down the discussion once it got thorny. That’s freedom of speech at work, sir. You can’t shut down what people say just because they don’t agree with you. That’s the easy way out. It’s much harder to listen, reflect, and perhaps even reconsider your original stance.

Will’s been at this game for a long time. I hope he comes back ready to continue the discussion. After all, if Richard Pryor, one of the comedians Manley name checked in his article, could make a comeback after lighting himself on fire, certainly Will can come back after having his comment thread set aflame by some angry librarians who refuse to stay silent any longer.

More discussion of Manley’s folly can be found here (wherein Lisa also links to more discussion).

ETA 01/02/14: Matthew Ciszek has an excellent point by point rebuttal to Manley’s folly.

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7 thoughts on “Accentuate the Positive”

  1. I’m glad you wrote this, and I agree wholeheartedly about the entire situation.

    It’s important to do nice things and encourage good behavior. But it’s equally important to speak up and out when it’s necessary to call attention to NOT so good things or behavior. In either case, it’s the only way things have a chance of changing….or stand a chance at being understood for what they are.

    1. “In either case, it’s the only way things have a chance of changing….or stand a chance at being understood for what they are.”

      Exactly! We need a balance so we know both sides of the coin.

  2. OK, I get it. I read Manley’s blog and Matthew Ciszek’s point-by-point. Having been to a few conferences, I did notice that some participants got rather rowdy when the booze was flowing. That is never an excuse for acting like a pig. A code of conduct is a good idea, though I do expect people to know how to be civil and respectful, I am lately disappointed.

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