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vague thoughts about the Thing that happened last year

While my sister-in-arms has finally opened up about the Thing, I still find myself generally… not willing to. In part because one of my two New Year’s resolutions was to Not Get Sued, but also because I’m not really sure what it’d accomplish.

After the settlement and dismissal, I was desperate for people to understand why what happened, happened. Why we decided to settle after being pretty staunchly unapologetic for pretty much the entire preceding year. I did, in fact, share some of the reasoning with a few trusted people.

Almost two years since it all began and seeing Lisa’s difficulty in finding employment, I’ve given up on the notion that I have any time of future in the field. I can understand why she is persisting (and wish her all the best and success and to conquer all). My situation is somewhat different. As I’ve mentioned many times before, even before the Thing began, I was having a terrible time finding full-time employment. Very few interviews and none that went beyond the first round. My chances were really great to begin with and the Thing only convinced me that it was time to move on.

I finished library school in 2012. In the four years since graduating, I’ve had two interviews for full-time positions. The last position I applied at literally had the same job title as my current one with nearly identitical responsibilities and required skills. I didn’t even get an email acknowledging that my application was received, much less an interview. If I can’t even land an interview for a position that is pretty much exactly what I’ve been doing for three years, just full-time, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m done.

And? Honestly, its kind of a relief. It wears on person to spend all this time and effort trying to find work and just not succeeding. Moreover, I am also convinced that the Anito actually have a different path for me in mind and that it is time for me to start walking it. By and large, I don’t even really consider myself a librarian anymore. I’m a philosopher and a writer1. Sometimes a publisher/editor. I know that most ppl in the field don’t know that I’ve actually been blogging a lot longer than when I started my professional blog.

The Thing taught me a lot of important lessons. Perhaps stripping, at long last, whatever remaining idealism I still had at that point. Not sure if I’m a cynic at this point. But I do know that I’m trying to figure out how to live a life without hope and without dreams.

But here are some of the lessons I learned:

  1. Living ethically is impossible within institutional oppression.
  2. Attempting to live ethically within institutional oppression results in punishment.
  3. Most people don’t actually care about what is Right or Good, especially if they don’t like the ppl involved.
  4. Notions of professionalism are absolutely, 100% tools for discrimination, exclusion, and outright oppression.
  5. A lot of people take a ‘wait and see’ attitude before committing themselves to a position, out of apparent fear of being ‘wrong’.
  6. Collective action is pretty much impossible within institutional oppression.
  7. A lot of people claim to want change, but won’t even cross the street to get a change in perspective.
  8. Information ‘professionals’ are incredibly lazy about seeking out factual information (preferring instead to gossip and speculate).
  9. Even the seemingly innocuous parts of the legal system are intended to protect the privileged and punish the oppressed.
  10. Most librarians have wholly bought into the carceral system.
  11. Many librarians lack imagination and the ability to see the ‘big picture’.
  12. Most librarians don’t actually care about anything other than their cozy position.
  13. People’s threshold for picking self-interest and survival over integrity is signficantly lower than my own.
  14. Having a ruined reputation is actually kind of liberating, since you no longer have to ‘keep up appearances’.
  15. That there is no point in defending yourself, if you’re one of the types of people that most people already consider subhuman.
  16. People will absolutely blame individuals for institutional failures/oppression.
  17. You can make valuable contributions to a field and people will still think you aren’t worth compensating, much less being credited.
  18. Librarians don’t actually want change, either within or without of the field.
  19. Attempting to create change without support is doomed to failure. And people won’t support the ‘wrong’ kind of person.
  20. Did I already say that librarians are apparently allergic to doing research and learning about stuff outside of their well-worn paths? Because… yeah.
  21. I no longer think the field has any hope of being reformed. The only real solution is to get rid of pretty much all librarians.

Ok. I’m falling asleep so I’ll stop here.

I think the two things that get me the most, looking back, is how not a single information ‘professional’ has bothered to seek out the publicly available court documents. I kept hoping that maybe someone who go and scan them and post them somewhere. But it doesn’t look like anyone cares enough to actually get some of the details and facts, preferring instead to speculate and gossip.

This and the general unwillingness to put any effort into researching unfamiliar ideas or concepts. It still bugs me that so many people got a laser focus on one part of my post on community accountability, without realizing that a) I didn’t invent the term or related concepts and b) my perspective is reasonably representative of a lot of anti-oppressive discourse. Instead of realizing that community accountability is one suggest alternative for the current legal/carceral system, most ppl simply analyzed that argument using the incorrect framework (indeed, the very framework I was resisting but whatever).

I do want to finish by noting that I don’t blame the individuals who didn’t want to go on record with their experiences. Given the current context, you probably made the correct decision. But I also know that very few people will understand why this is a community-wide failure and damning evidence of just how ‘dog eat dog’ this field is. Not enough people will understand why this inability to support each other and work collectively is why we face many of the problems currently plaguing the field.

It’s why journal prices are too high and just getting higher. It’s why OA will never succeed. It why the actual practice of librarianship contradicts whatever ideals are currently in vogue. Or even any of the ideals ever expressed by the field. It’s why library budgets keep shrinking. Its why no one takes us seriously. Its why we get erased from movements we helped start. Its why our work is so undervalued and underpaid.

Interestingly, the thing that hurt the most about the fallout is actually something that makes me glad nowadays. Several people, after the settlement, said that what we did and how we did it ensured that they’d remain quiet about their own experiences. About how we made it ‘harder’ for for people to speak out about this. This is actually the only part about the whole business that I regretted… except I now realize that this is actually a good thing, afterall.

In part because of the erroneous assumption that, prior to the Thing, it was easy (or at least easier) to speak out about sexual harassment in the field. Except… no one was actually doing this. This is actually the primary reason why things developed as they did.

But now Lisa and I are a cautionary tale. I’m just not sure if people actually get what the moral of the story is…

The moral of this story is:

The unwritten rules of professionalism and the written rules of the legal system are and remain violent tools used to silence certain kinds of people who wish to talk about certain kinds of things. That the fear you’ve had over whether or not to publicly talk about your experience is actually justified. That there is no ‘library community’, instead just a collection of individuals. Many of whom wouldn’t piss on you to save your life.