lightning rods

Jesus. It’s just tape.

Except it’s never “just” anything, and often it’s not even the thing under discussion.

A bunch of people have done virtual and verbal fist-pumps of triumph and agreement. I suspect “straightforward and unapologetic” are things they see as virtues.

Someone called me snarky; sure, in my own writing. I don’t see it in The Tape Letter itself, though. I’m waiting to be proven wrong, because I’d be unsurprised to know my personality seeped through. But I don’t see it, myself.

Someone else attacked me, implying that I’d spend money on luxuries for staff but not for students, then declaring that I was shutting down anyone who disagreed with me. I don’t believe that’s who I am, but it’s an opinion that has value and reality for some.

I debated about posting the letter. All night. I know that what I see as straightforward and honest, unapologetic and open, is often perceived by others as disagreeable, aggressive, rejeccting criticism, and unkind. I don’t think that conciliation is always appropriate; I do believe we owe our users the best experience we can offer them. I am painfully aware of the restrictions that our budgets place on that experience. I wrestle with it. Maybe that’s not clear here, and I’m sure it’s not clear in The Tape Letter. But it wasn’t supposed to be. I was providing facts in answer to the specific concern voiced by the student who wrote to us.

So I debate. I think, “Someone’s going to tell me I’m an asshole for this,” and, hey, I was right. I also thought “Someone will find value in seeing it, and learn from it, and I bet there’s an interesting conversation.” I was right about that, too.

I’m not a monolithic mind. I’m not an egomaniac. I’m uncertain and struggling and forging forward and fighting strange battles and looking for opportunities and juggling multiple roles and perspectives and doing the best I can with what I have to work with. My personality is part of what I have to work with, and I have capacities and limits just like anything else. One of the things I don’t do well is lie. Small lies, big ones, it doesn’t matter. I don’t like it, I don’t believe in it, and I don’t promote it. That’s my personal version of transparency. I will tell you true things as I know them.

So I told the student who wanted tape true things. About my beliefs, about our budget, about how to schedule an appointment with me.

I posted true things on the internet about my internal debate about writing it. I just now posted more true things about my debate about posting it.

That’s my version of transparency. You want to know what I think? If I’m legally allowed to tell you, I will. Need to know how something works? I’ll tell you, to the best of my ability. Want my advice? I’ll give it, but it’s up to you to decide if it’s any good or not. I’ll do my best not to swear for creative emphasis, and I’ll parse the information through my contextual role in an attempt to balance honesty and appropriate information sharing. But I swear to you it will be true.

And I’ll accept criticism, too. Critique away. It’s the anonymous internet. Have a blast. Unless you’re abusive, I’ll take it, and I’ll listen. Because transparency ought to go both ways. Reflective practice has to include self-evaluation, and community conversation shouldn’t just be a heaping of accolades. We have enough echo chambers, and nuanced discourse is a dying art. Discussion has value. I believe in all of it, good, bad, and difficult.

And I’ve learned that even things like scotch tape for students can be a lightning rod, because even scotch tape can pull at something deeper than office supplies as a library affordance.


  1. Quickly, and with respect:

    My FriendFeed quip about donuts was not intended to imply that you would “spend money on luxuries for staff but not for students,” though I can see why it sounded like that.

    I intended to point out that if you are going to break down the costs as you did in that letter and say that every expense has to go through a rigorous test, then be prepared for that same tape-wanting student to cry foul if the library ever pays for food at library events.


  2. I think the forgotten variable in this equation is that policies and practices continue to be hyperlocal. If your budget and staff allows for the offering of office supplies, awesome. If those things doen’t allow for it or it stopped because it became an issue, sorry to hear that but glad you found a solution that lets you get back to business.

    While the demand for consistency and standardization in certain areas of the library world make rational sense (such as cataloging standards or ILL protocols), it should not be the norm for policies that operate within the realities of the local level. What works in upper state New York may not work in Colorado or Texas or Florida. The uniformity of libraries only happens to a certain extent; everything else is local.

    So long as we are talking about perspective, some might be applied here. We are talking about office supplies. No one should be made to feel like a bad person over it. Considering the other challenges out there for all types of libraries, this doesn’t even show up on my radar. Agree, disagree, but seriously, it’s not that big an issue.

    Bottom line: what works at *YOUR* library may not work at *OTHER* libraries. This is not because of cruelty or laziness or indifference, but because the other equation variables (community, staff, budget, patron antics) have changed. When variables change, you get different answers to the same problem. It is neither good nor evil, it just *is*.


  3. Andy, agreed, agreed, agreed. It’s the eternal challenge of libraries, I think. As you so aptly put it, we’re all hyperlocal communities, with distinct cultures, expectations, behaviors, and needs. Even though there is a pile of similarity, and a whole bundle of national and international surveying that has value and validity, we’re all hyperlocal.

    And it’s an interesting challenge — what applies here? what doesn’t? what can I learn from this? what’s never gonna be relevant at my place? what’s never gonna be relevant at yours? Those nuances are what make it all hang together, and it’s far too easy and far too common to lose sight of the nuance in our current modes of discourse. I’m as guilty as the next guy on that one, but it’s so important…

    But I think it’s also true that we’re not actually talking about office supplies. not when the hardcore critique slams down. Then we’re talking about attitude, and approach, and communication, and power, and priorities. which need a whole lot more nuance than tape does. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s