Is A Response Even Worth Our Time

A Facebook friend messaged me to say “ACRLog needs to take this on”, in reference to this comment associated with a Slate piece on why tenure should be abolished. Andrew Sullivan who blogs for The Atlantic shared a few paragraphs from the Slate piece with his readers. It generated a fair number of comments in favor of and against tenure. No one in the academic librarian community seemed to care much about the original piece or the bulk of the comments until one of them attacked our right to have tenure.

My personal inclination is to ignore this comment completely. What I would like to take on is why academic librarians get their panties in such a twist so worked up about this sort of thing? This is an off-the-cuff comment to an opinion piece. It’s not like it’s a well researched, well thought out essay in The Chronicle that might actually dignify a response. For all we know the comment is from a disgruntled librarian who got turned down for tenure and now holds a grudge against librarians who have tenure. Are we so insecure about our professional status and our right to claim tenure status that we have to defend it against every feeble critique. And what’s the point of doing so anyway? Is there anything any of us could write that would change the commenter’s mind – or the mind of anyone who’s against tenure? We’ve all seen dozens of impassioned arguments for and against tenure. Have you ever read a single response or comment along the lines of “What you had to say actually made me change my mind on this issue”? I sure haven’t.

You answer, “but Steven, we should respond not to change this writer’s mind, but to make sure that all the other people who read it know that tenure for librarians is a good thing – and that we conduct really valuable research and that we are really, really busy helping faculty and students and that we really deserve tenure – and that if nothing else we have to correct misstatements and attack outright lies”. I understand that argument – we want the truth to be known. But who is it that we are so worried will read this tripe and believe it? Our faculty colleagues? Our academic administrators? Do we have so little faith in their ability to think critically about the issues that we feel the overwhelming urge to offer up a counter-argument? Do you think your provost will be swayed by this comment’s exquisite logic and well documented arguments? “Hmm, according to this anonymous comment, our librarians don’t have anything to do now that all research can be done with Google. Why did we let them have tenure in the first place? Maybe we should rethink that.” I’m sure that’s how it’s going to go down. Didn’t this article convince us that our academic administrators really do like us and that they have our backs – or are we going to let our inferiority complex get the best of us once again?

My preference is to just ignore this negativity all together. Rather than taking the time to write an impassioned essay defending an academic librarian’s right to tenure (which has already been done anyway) or justifying why we deserve to have our jobs, I suggest we all put our effort into doing what we do well every opportunity we have which is making a difference in our academic communities in service to our students, faculty and staff. If we do that well I think we’ll have no reason at all to constantly allow ignorant fools to push our buttons and manipulate us into responding just the way they know we will. So get your panties untwisted take a moment to think about this and then get back to work.

7 thoughts on “Is A Response Even Worth Our Time”

  1. I had no idea you wore panties, Steven. Or perhaps you are not-so-subtly equating people who are concerned about this article with “hysterical” females? Hmm?

  2. Rural – it’s a fairly common figure of speech – see For me it’s gender neutral – I’m just as likely to say it to a man as a woman. So despite your effort to imply that my observations are directed to hysterical woman – sorry – you are way off base. Could the phrase itself have origins that are related to hysterical women. Quite possibly, but using it doesn’t imply some hidden intent to attach a reaction/issue to a particular gender. Otherwise, given your choice of words I suspect your comment is intended as a mild insult, but I’ll ignore it this time. In the future, don’t make it personal – just stick to the issues.

  3. Way to derail your own post. While I accept that it may not have been your intention to use sexist language, I must address the failure of your argument about sexist language in general. Just because you would use it on either a man or woman does not remove its inherent sexism.

    Let’s spell it out. Terms like p****, c***, b****, “on the rag,” “hysterical”, “don’t be such a girl” are used against both men and women to insult them by attributing their attitude or behavior to an irrationality erroneously associated with the female sex. It was your way of undermining the validity of the reactions you were criticizing by dismissing them as irrational over-reactions. The sexism is built in. “Panties” implies female biological difference, in a twist implies irrationality. No doubt you give your criticism substance later on in the piece, but many aren’t going to bother reading past that line.

    And citing the Urban Dictionary in your own defense? C’mon. You’re in charge of public services, including reference and instruction.

  4. Sigh. I think I’ll have to just read the posts from now on, rather than the comments.

    Steven, I agree with your assessment. This isn’t worth a response because (whether argued well or not) the response would probably do more harm than good. One person making a comment about us does not a disaster make.

  5. As always, well-reasoned argument and sound advice…the “idiocy” tag made me curious to read all the rest of the idocacy entries, which made a worthwhile “best of” collection of BF and SB. Good for both professional development catch-up and a few laughs.

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