I deleted the Twitter app off my phone yesterday. I still have a Twitter account, but I just didn’t like having it constantly with me. Frankly, I’ve been deeply disappointed with library twitter. I’ve found that bipolar Twitter is a lot more positive and supportive, a real network that helps people going through some very real (and sometimes scary) struggles.
In my brief time on library Twitter, I’ve seen people call for the complete disbandment of the American Library Association, disparage library administrations, complain about library managers, and engage in pitched warfare with other library workers over whether it was acceptable to use a swear word in a conference presentation. Attacks on vocational awe are always present, and I largely agree that it’s a huge problem. But another large (and growing) problem is that of vocational bitterness, where library workers seem to be just as idealistic but directing their ire against the very institutions they claim to support.
I’ve seen attacks on library conferences. Attacks on those who contribute to the professional literature. Attacks on the masters programs. Attacks on library advocacy organizations. I want to be clear: many individual points are valid, and many library organizations have a long way to go to be healthy, flourishing institutions. But at some point I think it’s fair to ask what we’re hoping to accomplish here: the consistent onslaught doesn’t really indicate a willingness to help solve the problems in a constructive manner, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not designed to assist libraries be better.
The fact is that creating change in entrenched institutions is always daunting. It takes patience, compromise, and courage. It also takes respect — not just for the organization itself, but for the people running it. Nobody is perfect, and we live in an era completely bereft of the benefit of the doubt. In its place, we have constructed a dogmatic culture that pillories anybody with whom we disagree, and it’s vogue to cast aside anything imperfect as having the worst intentions.
It’s not popular to sit down with our leaders, discuss differences, and move the battle lines incrementally in a positive direction. It’s not easy to do the work, contribute where you can, and understand that you may not always win the day, and that victory is almost never complete. I worry that there are so many outspoken critics with no solutions and no patience and no willingness to help in the fight. Invective doesn’t count, in my opinion. It’s a distraction from the real work, and is deceptive: it makes us feel like we’re contributing in some way, when we’re really just shouting into a void. Or worse, a self-congratulatory echo chamber.
I’m worried for the broader society. A lot of the habits I’ve seen on library Twitter are practiced online in other areas. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a plea for tolerance of wrongheadedness or the notion that all sides of a debate are equally valid and valuable. But we lack leaders who can work to push our organizations (not just library organizations, but governments, corporations, and others) in the right direction and in a productive way. We need to be a lot more results-oriented and less focused on impotently hurling our frustrations at our problems. And so I’m not going to really dial into Twitter very much anymore. My best wishes to those who can wade through the negative energy that flows through it, but I find it a distraction from the real work: leading for change in an environment that is resistant to it.