Killing Fear part 5: Learn something.

[Part one is here. Two. Three. Four.]


  • No, you may not post to a listserv that since something was posted to the internet it’s now “public domain”.
  • No, you may no longer think its ok that you’ve never looked at an ebook.
  • That you don’t really get apps.
  • Or understand why people use Facebook.
  • Or why SOPA was a big deal.
  • Or what all the fuss is about publishing and open access.

That’s cluelessness, and it’s not okay. I dunno why it was ever OK for librarians to behave like ostriches, but yeah. NO. It’s not okay now, and won’t be again, so get your head out of the sand. Now.

I got into an argument a few months ago with a cataloger in a special library who maintained furiously that he has no need to understand copyright in order to be a librarian. His argument, as best I can tell (we were arguing on Twitter, not the best place for nuanced discourse), is that as a cataloger in a special library, all he needs is the item, his systems, and a desk. He can do his job without understanding a bit of copyright, because all he has to do is catalog things.

And he might be right, on the face of it. I was a cataloger, and I know that yeah, to catalog a book, you just need the book, or a representation of the book, and you can create a MARC record. But I disagree that you can be a successful librarian if you don’t have more than that. You can surely do the task work of cataloging with a computer, some software, and a pile of books, but what about the bigger picture of the work you do? The whys, the wherefores, and the for whoms? I assert that if you don’t understand the issues of librarianship, and the information environment we operate in, you’re not acting as a librarian. You’re working as a copy clerk.

None of us who consider ourselves to be librarians has the luxury of just sitting in a corner and “doing our jobs” without a rich contextual awareness of the atmosphere and environment in which we operate. Or we shouldn’t. That’s cluelessness, and as I said, I don’t think that’s okay.

Instead, go learn something. Delve into the forces that push and pull at us as we do our daily work. Begin to understand what shapes our working environment.

In my personal life, when friends ask for advice or are struggling through a personal choice, I often say “chase hope” or “chase joy” or something similarly cheerfully motivational and impossible. But those aren’t always reasonable things to suggest in our work lives, and I don’t mean to insist y’all should want them from your work life. But I do feel confident exhorting us all to chase inspiration. Surely inspiration isn’t too much to ask for?

There are some things that come to mind quickly when I think about what inspires me – I’ve elaborated on them here – and maybe some of them will have meaning for you, or inspire you in turn.

Stay inspired. Chase inspiration. Educate yourself.


  1. somehow i missed your twitter-based discussion with the cataloguer about copyright.
    librarians who don’t realize they are fundamentally involved in copyright issues, are like ship crews who don’t realize they are at sea. it’s all around you. you live in it. it affects your day-to-day. you can tell yourself you live on land and can just do whatever you want – run out to do groceries – but ultimately, you live in another world.
    on occasion, ignorance is dangerous.


  2. Speaking as one who IS a cataloger right now, cluelessness is NOT okay in doing that job. I have to understand the larger context of the bibliographic world in order to DO my job: to create the linkages that enhance the information I am providing, to record the copyright information that is needed, to properly attribute responsibility to the intellectual and artistic content to which I am providing access, etc. Too many of my colleagues are like the cataloger mentioned above, and it damages the profession.


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