Overheard at work

Me: “There’s a publication out there called Peasant Studies Newsletter.

Colleague: “Really?”

Me: “I suppose Peasant Studies Newsletter is appropriate.”

C: “As opposed to?”

Me: “Something grandiloquent like Peasant Studies Journal, or maybe The Annals of Peasant Studies.”

C: “I was thinking Peasant Studies Trade Weekly would be good.”

Other Colleague: “The title fills me with Weltschmerz. With a moment’s effort, they could have entitled it: Serf, Peasant & Villein, or the Periodical Peon, or (my favorite) De Rustici.”

It’s not a contest. But there is a problem. Now with Addendum – no charge.

Apparently, there is an organization out there in the world called “CareerCast” which recently made a point of putting together a list of the “least stressful” jobs.  Setting aside the colossal stupidity of trying to create an ultimate ranking of this type (and that’s a fairly big boulder made of stupid to try to shift), the article was chock-full of misconceptions, myths, and outright falsehoods about a variety of professions.  Two of the professions that made the list were “university professor” and “librarian.”  This list was picked up and run uncritically by at least two news organizations, CNBC and Forbes.

Cue the extensive debunking on Facebook, blogs such as Screwy Decimal, and Twitter.  The last spawned the hashtag #librarianstress.  All well and good – this is a conversation that should be taking place, in my view.  I believe misconceptions about any professions should be debunked in the name of understanding our fellow humans better.

Then cue the small, primly smug chorus of, “Well, [some of] my patrons have it worse, so I will go and do my job and ignore this kerfuffle.”  I find this almost as stupid as the original article.*  The fact that someone has it “worse” doesn’t mean you don’t have any problems.  As I once said to a friend of mine, “The fact that someone else has a migraine doesn’t make my garden-variety headache go away.”  Of COURSE we have patrons who are more stressed, by virtue of the fact that we have “job stress” and they may have no job at all.  And in point of fact, one of the reasons I decided to take this career path is that it is less stressful than my former one.

But the point of this conversation is not to play the victim or define who has it the worst (I would gladly have the “least stressful” job – if I could figure out what that looked like – I suspect it involves slapping together idiotic lists without any research or considered thought to be republished by big media organizations), the point is to address the aforementioned misconceptions, myths, and outright falsehoods that frequently lead to the devaluation of our profession.  That devaluation, by the way, is a pretty nifty stressor right there, for those trying to map this Ouroboros of stupid: one of the major stress factors of our profession is the dismissive reactions we get from people who think that “Google has solved all information-finding problems” and other forehead-smackingly inane sentiments.  We have a PR problem, and most librarians know this – and it’s not a situation that just hurts our feelings.  It impacts budgets, which lead to everything from hard collection decisions to outright closures.  And how did we get here?  Well, at least partly because we kept our heads down and expected the work to speak for itself, for our value to be self-evident.

So fine, just “ignore”* this systemic devaluing and dismissing of our profession.  Just recognize that you’re part of the problem.

*The fact that you’re Twittering about ignoring something, by the way?  Ignoring: you’re doing it wrong.


The Forbes author added an addendum to address the huge outpouring of aggrieved comments from university faculty who outlined their stressors.  She noted the criteria that the original list used to adjudicate who is stressed and who isn’t (things like physical labor).  She fatuously stated, “I think there is value in CareerCast’s list,” without quantifying what exactly that value is supposed to be.  She basically missed the point entirely.  It’s not about the stress levels: it’s about the misconceptions behind the assumption that the stress is low.  It’s about repeating the same old myths and idiocies that equate working among books with not having to deal with or live in the real world.

Meanwhile, on Facebook…

Working on my final paper for my final class of library school, I posted a status update recently which read, “Struggling with APA style for the last time in my life, FSM willing. From here on out it’s Bluebook all the way, baby.”  As is wont to happen, a discussion on the merits of citations and what they are good for ensued.  My friend M suggested that perhaps hyperlinks were the ultimate citation. The following exchange ensued:

J: “Unfortunately, though it does have ease of use on its side, what is attached to a hyperlink is subject to change (so certain styles require you to note when you accessed the linked information). It is also not self-explanatory in a footnote or endnote, so it requires additional description to make up a full citation.”

M: “Got it. Someone should write a book…”

J: “There aughta be a law!!!”

M: “That sounds like a quote. Could you cite that properly please?”

J: “Bite me.”[1]

[1] Summers, Buffy. (2003). Never kill a boy on the first date. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1(5).

Names withheld to protect both the innocent and the guilty

A recent exchange between a friend of mine and an academic publisher:

Dear Dr. R:

In an effort to speed up the publication schedule and work through our backlog, we are attempting to collect any remaining permissions from authors who are moving up in line for publication. Our records indicate that we still require permissions for the image(s) contained in your article, “(redacted).”

Please return these permissions as quickly as possible or update us as to the status of your attempts to obtain these permissions. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us.

Thank you for your interest in The Journal of SomethingOrOther, and congratulations again on the acceptance of your essay for publication.

Best regards,

Editorial Assistant
The Journal SomethingOrOther

My friend’s response:

Dear Editorial Assistant,

Thank you so much for your note. I was very grateful when you accepted my article for publication in your journal seven (7) years ago. Since that time, approximately five (5) years ago, you forgot that you had accepted the article and re-sent it through your review process, after which you sent me a rejection letter based on the insane rants of an inflamed tea-partier (anachronistic, I know, but it gives you an idea of what I mean). After I brought this imbalanced review to your attention, you rescinded your rejection and re-accepted the article for publication. A year later you sent me a letter similar to the one above. Since I had several years before supplied all the permissions, I grew tired of our little back and forth, stimulating though it had become, and rescinded my acceptance of your re-proferred acceptance. Soon after, I also lost the article in a devastating hard drive crash, and subsequently quit my academic career. Since I no longer had a stake in feverishly publishing my feeble pensées in poorly-run academic journals, I thought no more of the matter, until today.

Best wishes to you and the entire Journal of SomethingOrOther family,


Note to self: choose topics that don’t require permissions wherever possible.  (This being only one of many lessons that could be drawn from the exchange above.)

Is it just me?

Or is there an entire Ph.D. thesis to be wrested from the use of possessives in Season 2 of True Blood?

The trouble with academic writing

…the following seems to hold true for library science texts, but may be applicable to other portions of academia as well.  Either the writer devolves into an overly simplistic metaphor (e.g. “information systems are like grocery stores”) or he flits off into a fit of academic navel-gazing that is as astonishing as it is abstract (e.g. “the user comes to the information exchange experiencing a complex set of variables that he must navigate to interact successfully with the information system”).

Hey, I understand: clear writing is difficult.  It takes time and effort and even the best writers and thinkers can either get caught up in a vortex of abstract principles that are fiendish to place in a concrete context or they can get too captivated by their own pet theories or metaphors to examine whether or not they really illuminate the issue at hand.  But those should be first or second draft problems.  Step up your game, academics.