in which i apologize and ask for clarity

Warning: bad language ahead.

This morning, I wrote this:

I also wrote this:

And this:


It’s that first one that pissed people off, though.

Sorry about that.

No, really. I am. I apologize to those I offended. I use the phrase “bunhead librarian” to mean people in my profession who I believe are focused on small or outdated issues instead of important and big ones. It’s personal code. I also say fuck a lot. But I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings or call anyone names. I am generally opposed to those things, and broke my own rule. I was angry, and frustrated, and wrote something that was probably better sent as a DM to my friend Andy. I wrote it in public, though, and offended people.

I do that sometimes.

And while I am sorry for the upset, and my not-so-awesome judgement, I’m still waiting for someone to write something that’s clearer about why the bloggers and ARCs at ALA are a problem worthy of a) this level of passion, and b) an institutional response. From where I stand and in my experience, vendors give away free stuff to lure you to their booths so they can sell you things. If they run out of lures, we can still go get them to sell us things. I’m not clear where the crisis is, and the responses on Twitter are abysmally bad at doing anything other than making advocates look more shrill and shitty than I was.

What should I be reading to make sense of this?


  1. I’ve read more about ARCs in the past 24 hours than I ever did in my career! I think I’ve come away with the impression that ARCs have a different use for folks working in public libraries, particularly in YA services. It’s more of a business tool for them, more like maybe we would see a database trial in an academic library, or sample journal issues (back in the day!). I don’t think I really got that before, since for me and my academic colleagues, it’s free stuff for fun reading and souvenirs for the folks at home. It sounds to me like maybe the vendor roundtable, PLA and YALSA should do a little brainstorming on whether there’s a way to separate the business side of ARCs from the fun giveaway/promo side. I also have zero clue why physical ARCs are still so important – why do services like NetGalley not make this whole thing go away? Piracy? Mysterious.


  2. Hello,

    Is it okay to use your phrase “Fucking Bunhead Librarians” for a t-shirt design in my Cafepress store, please? If I sell 20 or more, I will send you your own t-shirt in return.

    Thank you,


  3. Elegance achieved! I’ll be using this post as a model for how to apologize after the frequent occasions when my ire and bluntness run ahead of my tact.

    I also don’t understand the sturm und drang surrounding advanced reader copies. I think you’ve nailed what they mean to the publishers, but apparently they mean something quite different to both bloggers and YA librarians with underfunded program budgets.

    I wait in hope that one of the above will find your elegant apology and explain why some desires for ARCs are wholesome while others are just greedy. Because I don’t see it. (Says the instructor with several professor’s exam copies on the shelf above his desk, but plenty more copies he had to buy his damn self.)


  4. Here’s, as far as I can tell, the blog post from @catagator, which set this whole thing off. It got my attention:

    It is also my understanding that just as vendors give ARCs to librarians (and bloggers) at conferences, some librarians then regift them to patrons, using ARCs as marketing/promotional/swag for library events.

    I’ve used ARCs for collection development, and then put them on the free book shelf.


  5. Over here on the other side of the world our conference swag consists of free pens and advertising guff sometimes contained in a bag (sometimes not). So this definitely comes across and sturm und drang to me. What I would give for a budget to buy books … ARCs is a fairy tale to me!


  6. ALA is a conference for librarians. It gives us tools, both physical and not, to do our jobs better. We learn new ideas and get to test out new products. Many librarians who are heavily into reader’s advisory like to use ARCs to plan future purchases and programs. Teen librarians especially love to give ARCs to teens. The exclusivity of these items make teens feel special, important, and get them excited about reading.

    When I pay money to attend my primary organization’s conference, and to be a part of that organization, I expect that the programs and resources there will be available to me so I can become better at my job. If outside entities were taking up all the chairs so that I couldn’t attend workshops, I would be pissed. So it is with access to ARCs, which, for many, are not about “swag”, but about having a tool that helps with their job.

    I write this as a fan of your work and your ideas, Jenica. I was really sad to see this whole conversation go so sour.


  7. On the contrary, I think an institutional response such as a member’s only day would be a much better solution than the shrieking and finger pointing.

    I for example depend on ARCs of certain titles because my copy deadline for my library’s well-known “Best of the year” publication is in October, so I can’t just wait for the final books to come out.

    That said, I went in with a list and left ALA with 15 or so galleys. The librarians grabbing 50+ are no more helpful to the general idea than the bloggers doing it.


  8. So, I’ve read all that I was pointed to, and I’m still not seeing this.

    If your library relies on ARCs to support facets of your programming or work, shouldn’t you be building direct relationships with publishers to get said ARCs rather than hoping to get what you need at a conference of 15,000 pushing and shoving librarians (and other interested parties)? If you and your library don’t have the funding to do what you need to do and thus need ARCs and other free publisher gifts to do your work, shouldn’t you be spending your energy on enhancing your funding situation to meet the basic needs of your library, rather than shouting about how bloggers took the ARCs that are rightfully yours? If you feel that publishers are giving away too many ARCs to non-librarians, shouldn’t you reach out to the publishers to discuss their practices, not agitating that ALA fix publisher behavior in the exhibit hall which publishers have paid for?

    This is probably my last comment on this. I am obviously not a stakeholder in this discussion, my perspectives are clearly way off from where the stakeholders are coming from, and I seem to be missing the point others are trying to make.


  9. Jenica — As always your writing hits all the nails on all of the heads. Not having attended ALA this year and having to do catch up to understand what the conflict was about I must confess that, before reading the source materials, I had no clue what ARCs were. Why is everyone up in arms about ‘amateur radio clubs?, I wondered… first plausible choice on Acronym Finder 🙂 Thank you for all your insight and your suggestions on solutions for this problem. Btw, how anyone could misconstrue your use of ‘bunhead as metaphor’ amazes me. And I’d like one of those t-shirts when they are available please!


  10. You asked “shouldn’t you be building direct relationships with publishers to get said ARCs rather than hoping to get what you need at a conference of 15,000 pushing and shoving librarians (and other interested parties)?”

    The answer is “Yes.”

    The problem, as I see it, is poor leadership, poor planning, and the usual passive/aggressive stuff. Because those libraries just paid probably over $2000 to get that poor librarian to a conference to wrangle for some free books, rather than deal with the real issue – that of giving someone the job of calling and asking for ARCs, making contacts, etc.

    IMO and all 🙂


  11. David, yeah. That’s where my brain goes, too.

    And, Richard, you go right ahead. I’ll buy my own, and wear it when I’m blowing off steam on the archery range. 🙂


  12. not being an academic librarian, or a school librarian, or a special librarian, I don’t really get too deeply involved in the particulars of those tracks, although I try to keep abreast of basic developments and such. But if they tell me something is foul in their world, or they need help or support, I will listen and do what I can, because librarianship as a profession is a larger issue.

    Telling a public, teen services librarian that what she cares about is stupid is not helpful, and actually quite willfully ignorant.


  13. Julie, given that I already apologized, telling me that my behavior was shitty doesn’t actually help move anything forward. I’m pretty clear on that, and have publicly acknowledged it. As for willful ignorance, you might also note I asked for help in understanding the issue better, so as not to be so ignorant about why this incited such passion. Since you didn’t provide anything but a chiding, I’m not really sure why you chose to post here.


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