The Library Blogosphere?

Rory Litwin — the publisher of Litwin Books and a colleague from my program — wrote a blog post titled “Deprofessionalization and the library blogosphere” in which he diagnoses librarianship with “deprofessionalization”, pinpoints a cause of which on “the library blogosphere”, and prescribes a different sort of blogging as the cure. In Litwin’s words,

I find the library blogosphere to be a problem, and to be a contributor to the deprofessionalization of librarianship . . .

So, for the sake of our ability to make an indisputable claim to professional expertise, please start using the blogosphere for the kind of communication that advances the knowledge base of the profession. Read the journals, and blog about the articles that you read there.

There’s a meta-funniness about the responses that Litwin’s post has generated in the blogosphere: more people blogged about a blog post calling for less intra-blog discussions. This something non-librarians may call irony, but we librarians prefer the phrase “meta-funniness” to refer to*.

I’m going to leave aside the normative question of what the library blogosphere should do (and all the attendant problems of delineating whose blog is properly of that sphere). Instead I’m going to use this opportunity to chat about something that T&B should strive to practice more: effective argumentation.

Suppose that I want to convince you to do something, to change your behavior in some way. How can I hope to accomplish that? First, I can persuade you that this change is rather effortless. You were engaged in this behavior mindlessly, and should you wish to change, you wouldn’t have to bear a huge adjustment cost. You just have to be, say, more mindful and pesto chango.

Of course, you still would have to want to change. So second, this change has to strike you as being worthy in some way. How can I persuade you of that? I would make my case if you could immediately see some incremental benefit from the change you made. In the ideal case, you would take up my recommendation because a) it’s easy to make, and b) having given it a chance, you get immediate feedback about how well that change is working out.

In the less ideal cases, to argue effectively means I have to persuade you that  increases in costs are matched by proportional increases in benefits, i.e. if the cost of making the change is higher, or if the benefit less immediately discernible, then the eventual payoff must be correspondingly higher. Equivalently, the link between the desired behavior and the change it effects must be tighter. The behavior, since more difficult to modify, has to be motivated by assurances of, “yes, you do this, and this great big good thing will happen, no ifs, buts, or other qualifying conditions”, or less sanguinely, but still powerful, “you do this because although difficult, this is the easiest way, perhaps even the only way, to get this change”.

So for Litwin to succeed, people have to be a) relatively little attached to the writing they have been doing previously, and b) convinced that changing the kind of blogging they do would reverse the deprofessionalization that has been going among librarians. If the cost of adjusting their behavior isn’t so negligible, they’d have to be very persuaded by the possibility that changing their behavior, and theirs alone since without effective coordination they cannot count on others similarly adjusting their behavior, will singly change the deleterious direction in which the entire profession, of which they are a very small part, is heading.

If Litwin succeeds, bravo to him! Even if he doesn’t succeed, bravo for seizing on the activist ideal that one person, with one voice, powered by one blog, can initiate a change that will sweep over the (library) world and make it a better place.  Calls to actions reflect optimism, and nobody likes a defeatist downer.


*: OK, so nobody has actually called it that, but hey, the phrase “meta-funniness” may catch on just yet . . . you know, like some kind of antibiotic-resistant skin rash.

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