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December 2008

Too Predictable to be Annoying

In the waning days of the Clinton administration, when many of my friends who'd had such high hopes when Bill was first elected were down in the dumps over the unsavory aspects of his character and the failures of some of their most cherished initiatives, I was fond of saying, "Bill Clinton has never disappointed me."  I rather liked Bill, happily voted for him twice, and think that, all things considered, he had a pretty good presidency.  But I never had illusions about his ego, his excesses, and his feet of clay.  Much as I wish he hadn't been an idiot, I never felt personally betrayed.

I feel the same way watching the flurry of dismay being expressed over the latest issue of The Journal of Access Services, which is apparently a collection of edited blog posts from the Annoyed Librarian.  I'm not disappointed that this appeared in a Haworth journal because, with very few exceptions, I don't have much respect for Haworth as a journal publisher.

I hasten to add that there are very many fine librarians working on Haworth journals as editors and editorial board members and some good material has shown up in the pages of some of those journals.  Medical Reference Services Quarterly has distinguished itself over the years as a pretty useful journal.  But, particularly in the last decade or so, Haworth's approach has been to come up with smaller and smaller niches, and then rope in a bunch of librarians to serve as editors and editorial board members, feeling fairly confident that they'll be able to eke out just enough subscriptions to make the journal marginally profitable.  They exercise little, if any, quality control and clearly provide little support and guidance to their editors.  Most of the journals, particularly the newer ones, are obviously starved for quality manuscripts, so it's not as if they're really filling a need.   Librarians complain about the excesses of commercial publishers, and proclaim the ethical superiority of open access, but when offered the ego stroke of their name on a masthead, appear to be happy enough to work their asses off to enable a two-bit publisher to make some money.   I remain hopeful that the Taylor & Francis acquisition will result in some judicious pruning of the title list, but that remains to be seen.

Personally, I enjoy the Annoyed Librarian.  The kerfuffle over her column in LJ seemed to me a pretty sad example of how librarians (like anybody else, I guess) can quickly lose their senses of humor when the satirical knife gets a little too close to home.  As AL herself has said, the silliest thing anyone can do is to take the Annoyed Librarian seriously.  (And I'm definitely on the side of those who think there is a world of difference between a pseudonymous blogger and an anonymous one). 

But while I think it's fine for Library Journal to pick her up as a columnist, to devote an issue of a supposedly peer-reviewed scholarly journal to a series of edited blog postings that are meant to be nothing more than light entertainment in the first place is pretty reprehensible.  I haven't seen the physical issue (and, of course, it goes without saying that this is not an open access journal) so I don't know how the editor justifies it -- but I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a valid justification.

To those librarians who say, "That's it, I am never going to submit to another Haworth journal again!" I say, "Good for you and it's about time."

But as far as being disappointed by Haworth?  Nope.  Not surprised at all.

The Wonder of the Unremarkable

In 1964, in the small paper mill town of Kaukauna, Wisconsin, where I grew up, the local high school participated with an inner city school in Milwaukee to do a production of "In White America," Martin Duberman's documentary play.  The play was performed in my town for several nights and then at the Milwaukee high school.  The kids from Milwaukee stayed with their counterparts in Kaukauna and vice versa.  My oldest sister was in the cast.

We had seen the news from the south.  We had watched the dogs and the fire hoses on tv.  We knew about the bombings and the murders.  Few of us had ever seen a black person, certainly not in the streets of our town.  I know that my mother and father talked long about participating.  Would they be putting their children at an unacceptable risk?  This was deer hunting country.  People had guns.

I remember watching the local news, and have a particularly vivid memory of one smiling young man being interviewed, saying, "Yeah, I'm a racist.  They shouldn't be here."  It was one thing for me to see on tv what was happening in a remote part of the country.  It was something else entirely to watch an interview that had been filmed three blocks from where I lived.  Everyone in town knew which homes those black kids were staying in.

The play was a great success, in both cities.  When it was over, my parents invited the family of the girl who had stayed with us up for a backyard party.  She had younger brothers about the ages of Dan and myself and I have wonderful deeply cherished memories of that afternoon, laughing and running and having a great time with our newfound friends.  It was one of the most powerful and formative experiences of my young life and, even writing this, I feel the tears well up with pride for my siblings and my parents and the leaders at the local high school who took this one small step to be a part of the great struggle that our country was going through.

I was pretty pragmatic about this election.  I admired both Hillary and Obama through the primaries, and never made a choice between them.  I knew I'd be happy with either one as the nominee.  (I have an aversion to open primaries, so I never had to actually decide which lever to pull).  Early on, I was convinced that Hillary would take it, that Obama simply didn't have the political experience to withstand the tortures of a modern presidential campaign.  I guess he showed what a community organizer can do.

But the emotional enormity of what the country had done didn't really hit me until Tuesday evening, when I watched that family stand on the stage in Grant Park and thought of them as the family in the White House.  As President Obama's re-election campaign heats up in the spring of 2012, Josephine will have just turned seven.  He will be the first president that she's ever been aware of.  It will be normal.  It will be unremarkable for her that a black man is the President of the United States. 

On November 6th, Judith Warner published a wonderful essay in the New York Times.   She wonders if her daughters, age 8 and 11, will be able to appreciate the enormity of what the country has done, if they can really understand where all those tears came from on election night, the wonderful shock that so many of us felt to realize, finally, what had actually happened. 

I don't know about her kids -- at their ages they're already pretty tuned into what's going around them.  They may not feel it the way the adults do, but they know that it's something pretty momentous.

For my entire life, the question has been hanging in the air, "Will America ever be ready to elect a black man president?"  Ten days ago, that was still a real question.  Now it's dust.

For Josie, it'll just be history.