I’m currently writing an article about the Annoyed Librarian and her role in debates within librarianship. In fact, I just finished it yesterday and after finishing, I started reading some library blogs. Imagine my astonishment as I went through the feeds in my Google Reader list and discovered that everyone seemed to be writing about the Annoyed Librarian at the same time. Just of the blogs I subscribe to, the AL and her recent post on the Cult of Twopointopia was a topic of discussion at David Lee King, Free Range Librarian, Librarian.net, Library Stuff, Information Wants to Be Free, and Tennant: Digital Libraries.
Of the various criticisms, I think Meredith Farkas’ and Steven Cohen’s come closest to my own opinion, but since I have been thinking about the topic a lot recently, I wanted to put forward what I recently concluded in general about the Annoyed Librarian and what she offers to debates in librarianship. Of course, I might be wrong.
The Annoyed Librarian, at least writing as the Annoyed Librarian, definitely represents the extreme position of whatever debate she enters. In the political battles, she is completely against the SRRT and offers no compromise, much like some of her critics. Her criticisms of the ALA, Internet pornography in libraries, the alleged librarian shortage, the banned books movement, and the Library 2.0 phenomenon have been relentless. Many have taken her arguments at face value and wondered why anyone who was so aggressively opposed to so much in librarianship would remain a librarian. On the other hand, many of her regular readers provide a cheering section and seem to agree with just about everything she writes. As a regular reader, I am somewhere in the middle, mostly because I recognize, or at least I think I recognize, what she is trying to do. Since she has no professional reputation to make and writes pseudonymously, she does not need to be consistent. She does not need to be polite. Yes, the positions the AL takes on various issues are often extreme, I think designedly so. She offers the most extreme argument she can muster against whatever annoys her at the moment, and this very extremity helps to clarify a problem. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein says somewhere that his philosophical work attempts to sweep away the debris that accumulates around philosophical arguments so that we may see them clearly. This, it seems to me, is also what the extremity of the AL’s positions does to debates within librarianship. By posing her arguments in the starkest terms, she often shows what is really at stake in a debate, then lets others wrestle with those arguments to come to a more sensible middling position. Even for her staunchest opponents, she often presents strong arguments they would do well to consider.
While clearing away the debris, she is often satirical as well. In a profession sometimes given to uncritical and humorless jingoism, the AL provides an antidote with her satire. But satire has a purpose; it does not exist merely to make people laugh. Satire aims to correct abuses, and it is often extreme. Consider, for example, Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal.” Some satire is gentle, and some harsh. We usually categorize gentle satire as Horatian. While the AL does sometimes adhere to the Horatian dictum to teach and delight, her satire is far from gentle. No, it is more Juvenalian, exposing abuses with biting wit and moral indignation. Juvenalian satire is so alien to the profession of librarianship that many readers do not understand what is going on. How could someone be so bitter? Why doesn’t she stop criticizing people and go do something else? Why does she remain a librarian? These are responses to her work that I have seen, but these responses miss the point. Some seem to think this Juvenalian satire from the Annoyed Librarian is a sign that she thinks librarianship is worthless, and that she should thus cease to be a librarian. But that shows a misunderstanding of the moral purpose of satire. We do not satirize that which is beneath contempt or that which is unimportant. We satirize abuses to things that we value. The moral purpose of satire is to criticize vice to protect the virtues of things we love. Considered in this way, it is just possible that far from finding librarianship or librarians or even the ALA worthless, the Annoyed Librarian instead considers them very important, important enough to be saved from the follies that sometimes beset them.