the radical imagination

Please note, this is a thinky sort of a piece rather than an informational one, but this seemed like the right place for it, and I'd appreciate your thoughts, should you have any.

I was recently at a humanities conference where I gave a short presentation on using social networking for professional development (notes on that, if you're interested, though it is not really the topic of this post). Anyway, everyone there was very concerned with How We Make the Humanities Matter, particularly in a state with a certain allergy to intellectualism (the first lady, in her keynote, even specifically said we had to "talk in terms people understood"). I always hope that's going to mean that we're going to avoid jargon and academic-ese, but more often it means "how are we going to market this stuff?" and, being a good anti-capitalist, I'm kind of allergic to the idea of marketing.

I'm in the middle of reading Ken Auletta's new book on Google (which is fascinating), and I ran across this section where a CEO is talking about comparing his journey of adapting to new media to the five stages of grief outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and I thought, "see, now here is an example of using a metaphor to guide your understanding of your business," and in the small corner of my brain given over to "marketing the humanities," I thought, "hey, great example!" But pretty soon the much larger part of my brain devoted to making the world a better place thought, "I really don't want to turn creative work into a source of metaphors that are useful for corporate profit." And that, in turn, got me thinking of something I said at the Google Books Settlement salon last month--that being a radical means never really being happy with anything. I use Google, but I'm not on their side, but I'm not really on the side of the publishing industry, either. I suppose I became a librarian in part because our "side," such as it is, is the closest I can get to how I actually think about things.

As I noted, this is not really a post with a point--just me thinking out loud about how to function in this world.

Yesterday I found out that,

Yesterday I found out that, at the public library where I work, we are no longer allowed to add donated materials to the collection -- not any, never. (Granted, as every library worker knows, most gift books are garbage or at the very least in too poor condition to add. But we all still get some good stuff some of the time, including copies of books that have holds on them.) Rather than just tell the staff that if they don't have time to fully process donations, don't worry about it (we're all in various stages of short-staffedness), they came up with this blanket policy, as if we're incapable of judging how best to prioritize our time. Also, there's concern that some of the clerks don't really know how to link items, so instead of training people to do it properly, the management is taking away duties and making it less likely that people will ever remember how to link.

There doesn't seem to be any way to be sensitive to people's time and staffing issues in the branches while also making sure that people are trained to know essential (and, frankly, basic) library database skills and have the judgment to select what donations are worth adding (I also heard that some librarians were sending outdated crap to our Cataloging department to get put in the collection -- arrgh!). My library seems to have decided to treat every employee as the lowest common denominator -- idiot-proofing us on our way to deprofessionalization.

I don't know how to function in the world, either, including the small world of my job. I wish I could think creatively about ways for us to collectively rebel against this directive (besides just linking and processing any excellent donations for my branch myself), but your comment about how being a radical means never really being happy with anything popped into my mind. (Not that you intended it to be a justification for inaction.)

Maybe your post didn't have a cogent point, but I enjoyed reading it, and now it gives me an opportunity to vent with no point. :)

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