If you believe what some people have been saying, maybe so. I didn’t want to be on an Annoyed Librarian kick, but she commented on something that had been bothering me for a while; the assertion that people who blog anonymously (or pseudonymously) are cowards.
Considering the number of bloggers who do not identify themselves on their blogs (almost 1/4 of blogging librarians), I am loath to believe that it is all about cowardice. There may be a lot of reasons why people blog anonymously. Lots of people work in libraries that would not be comfortable knowing that their employees were writing blogs (even if they didn’t blog anything inappropriate about work). Some people are looking for a job and are worried abut how people might look upon what they write. I’d say people who do not identify themselves on their blog to protect their careers are smart, not cowardly. But that’s just my take.
Who among us has wanted to post something but didn’t because you knew it could be bad for your career? Are we cowards for not posting it? Nah, I think we’re smart. I know I find myself in the position sometimes. That’s why some people have additional LiveJournal blogs or MySpace blogs that they keep to write the things that wouldn’t be politic to put out there for anyone other than their friends. I’ve sometimes thought it would be nice to have an anonymous blog in addition to this, but I really don’t have the time or energy to lead a double life. My first life is enough work. 😉
The Annoyed Librarian has made a lot of people think. The Annoyed Librarian has written a lot of things that have really stirred up interesting debates or have made people say “that’s exactly how I feel, though I’d never say it.” As the Pragmatic Librarian wrote:
Contrary to what some have stated, I believe that anonymity and pseudonymity do not automatically negate an opinion. Granted, you might not know the background or the biases of whoever expresses such opinions, but the validity of their claims should become clearer through further discourse. If someone has compelling or interesting arguments, the discussion should focus on those, rather than on the “personalities” involved.
In addition, there’s a difference between one who writes offensive things designed only to hurt people anonymously and one who writes criticism anonymously. We often don’t distinguish between the two. You can’t lump what the Annoyed Librarian writes in with the anonymous comments from some of her readers that are downright nasty.
What I find most interesting is how many people are identifying anonymous or pseudonymously written blogs as their favorites in the three favorite blogs survey. Obviously, many of these are touching a chord. That says something. I look forward to tallying the results of the survey in early October.
There will always be topics that people simply can’t write about under their own names because of the nature of the topic or because of the position they are in. It’s very easy to be a journal editor or a tenured professor or a former president of ALA or someone else with very little to lose to make bold statements about the things they believe in. It’s also easy for someone to make bold statements on topics that are less than taboo these days. It is not so easy for someone who relies on other librarians (who may not agree with him or her) for employment to make bold statements about things that are thought of as sacred cows. And yet, if no one was writing this, we wouldn’t have the lively debates that the Annoyed Librarian has stirred up. I don’t think someone could write what she does and put their name to it. Similarly, I don’t think people can criticize job searching and the tenure track in academia under their real name in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (as Annoyed brings up). It tells me that we are living in an age in our profession where people with certain opinions need to blog anonymously or pseudonymously. And there will probably always be certain things that people will feel the need to blog anonymously about depending on how to political winds are shifting.
Frankly, what does it matter that we can’t put a face to the writings of the Annoyed Librarian? She is a person and like many people we interact with online, a person we don’t know. So many conversations go on online with people we’ve never met. It’s the nature of the medium. Does knowing her name, her face, and where she works really make a difference? How many people do we interact with on listservs that we don’t know and aren’t the least bit curious about? How many blogs do we read where we really don’t care who the person behind the writing is? My friend Michelle was “Jane” for the longest time on her blog until she “came out.” I enjoyed her writing just as much as Jane as I do as Michelle. It’s mainly when someone writes something we don’t like that we really want to know who they are. Isn’t that interesting?
What I love most about the library blogosphere is that we’re not judged by our CVs, but by the content of our writing. Were that not the case, I’d never have gotten an audience at all. If it didn’t matter to people who I was when I first started blogging, why should it matter who the Annoyed Librarian is? If you don’t like her writing, don’t read it. If you like it, it shouldn’t matter all that much who she is.
If you do blog anonymously (or pseudonymously), why do you do it? I know there must be a whole bunch of reasons I can’t think of and I’m curious to hear what they are.
“Pseudonymous bloggers are untrustworthy” is a variety of ad hominem attack, to be given the same credence as other ad hominem attacks.
I caught a fair bit of flak during my first job interview over CavLec. Recently, I saw a brilliant librarian lose a promotion because her prospective boss didn’t like her blog — specifically, didn’t like the mixture of professional and personal therein.
After that, I’m not throwing stones at anybody who blogs under a pseudonym. Better that than no expression at all!
An excellent post. I particularly appreciate drawing distinctions between pseudonymous posting and anonymous commenting–and between AL’s commenters and AL her/them/it/himsel(ves)f. I just read a comment on an AL post that made me want to scream…but, after all, it was an anonymous comment, not AL’s post.
My problem with pseudonymity is the ease with which it can retrospectively disappear; I’ve seen that happen several times. But if someone’s careful, there’s no question that those of us without Protected Jobs could post things pseudonymously that we’re well-advised to skip otherwise.
This is just a matter of taste, but I find that anonymity/pseudonymous writing always takes my opinion of the writing down a notch. Not because what they say is not valid, or because I see them as cowardly, but because I almost always think “this person doesn’t believe enough in the writing to put his/her name behind it.” There’s an element of passion in a lot of anonymous writing that just seems a tad over the top.
On the flip side, someone says what needs to be said with their name on it go waay up in my books.
But there is a role for anonymous writing in the world, though. Not everyone can lead the march from the front of the line.
Blogging anonymously/pseudonymously also allows the writer to take on (or try out) a persona, which is one important aspect of what AL is doing. Furthermore, some people are very shy or not used to speaking out in a public way – blogging under cover is one way for someone to find their voice in public.
I generally try to find some kind of middle ground on lots of library issues, but I remain pretty adamant in my opinions on pseudonymity/anonymity. Writing under one’s own name is great if one is brave enough, but that’s not always possible in all situations. As in the case of the Annoyed Librarian, posing thought-provoking questions about the profession can get one in trouble with some big names. It’s probably good, and also troubling, that she remains pseudonymous. I’m sure the rogue’s gallery of commenters with their own political axes to grind probably doesn’t help her standing, either. Still, these factors don’t make me think any less of AL. In my opinion, she remains one of the most thought-provoking writers in our profession.
In my case, I write semi-pseudonymously. I started by trying to keep my identity a total secret, but adding “personality” enhanced it. So, over time, I integrated aspects of my personal life into my writings. Although I do not reveal my full real name anywhere on my blog, I give enough hints that would allow someone diligent enough to figure out my identity. Furthermore, I list my blog on my resume, because I’m generally proud of what I have written. (Well, most of it, anyway.)
I started to blog using a pseudonym at first. I was unsure about how my library system would react to it. In addition, I am a part-time Librarian, I just graduated from Library School, and I am looking for a full time position. This made me hesitate to blog under my own name. I wondered about how blogs were considered by library administrators in general – was this a professional activity or a personal hobby?
I started a discussion thread about anonymous library blogging in a forum on Ning (see the URL below). I was surprised at how strong the feelings ran about anonymity. Eventually, I asked an administrator in my library system, who indicated that it was alright to have a blog. So I decided to put my name on my blog, though not the name of my library system.
Interesting discussion of anonymity:
I just wiped out a huge, long essay of a comment ’cause I started rambling. Anonymous/pseudonymous blog postings, comments, etc. don’t bother me if they stay on target with the facts. When they start spilling over into personal attacks and the like, I tune them out. This leads into the question of how do we establish identity on the web? Do I need to list my CV/resume for people to fact check and approve? Couldn’t I have just called myself “Teresa Rollins, an under-30 librarian who hates traveling”. Which would then excuse anyone from not meeting me in person at conferences, but because I gave a first and last name, I’ve “identified” myself?
I think many librarians are stuck in the “evaluating web resources” broken record that says to be trustworthy, it must be signed (hence problems with Wikipedia). In reality, no simple rule of thumb works with the web.
I read a few of the posts and decide on trust based on the bloggers history.
As for anon cowards who hide behind their anonymity to make attacks on people, well that’s a different story!
BTW – there is also a category of person who doesn’t really know how to comment on blogs and sort of forgets or messes up various fields and so comes across as anon.
I’m not blogging to get famous, so why should it matter if you know my name? I see anonymity as 1) a protection against ID theft and 2) a way to limit the number of Google hits against my name.
Consider this: when a hiring manager (or your current boss) finds your blog, they can also find your blogroll and anyone else who has you on their blogroll. I’m not ashamed of anything on my own pages, but I would NOT want any potential employer reading about a certain acquaintance’s travel experiences.
I use a pseudonym on my private blog mostly because of vindictive ex-spouses (mine and my current partner’s). This is where I blog about any work-related gripes, although I don’t do very much of that either. Generally the issue that had me upset has blown over (or I’ve cooled down) by the time I have time to write about it…:)
I use my first name only in the two blogs at work (one for the public, one is staff only) and in all other blogs that use that same blogging software – I don’t have time to create different personas. I watch what I say in these.
I comment regularly on a popular book review blog that’s in WordPress; it required me to set up an account so I use another pseudonym. The author of the blog though knows my full name and address as we have communicated outside the blog; recently she asked me if she could refer to me by my first name rather than the pseudonym, and I’m going to say yes.
I never use my first and last name together due to concerns about ID theft, search engine hits, and other privacy issues – seems we have to give out too much personal information on the net as it is.
Feel-Good Librarian is anonymous for good reason. She writes about real situations that come up in her library to help illustrate points about library work and to start discussions. If she and her library were known, client confidentiality would be compromised. I think there is a place in our library conversations for this type of case study examination.
I do not write about similar situations because I am known and there is a slight possibility in some cases that the client could be embarrassed.
Thank you for this. The tirades against anonymity/pseudonymity are fairly tiresome. I don’t blog publicly but I can explain why I comment pseudonymously.
Fear is the main reason. I don’t fear for my job or my future job prospects – it’s more an issue of physical safety. I was beaten fairly severely by a group of patrons who decided I “must be a fag” and I have felt homophobia/sexism at other times in other places… needless to say, I’m a bit leery of openly discussing homophobia in the workplace and in society as a result. Indeed, I tend to guard my privacy fairly intensely. If that makes me less “ethical” – so be it.
I started out anonymously as I wasn’t sure where the blog would lead, and I didn’t want to put my name to it in case it turned out to be an incredibly bad idea. There was also an element of fear of reprisals to the decision.
I’ve now come out and put my name on it, but it was done in consultation with my manager and I only went ahead with it when she gave the OK.
I really think it depends on the content. I have a ‘professional’ blog (as used here) which is reasonably employer friendly, though I’d like to think I speak my mind when necessary. But I also have a ‘family’ blog under a pseudonym as I’m not just writing about my own private life – I’m talking about life with two other people who are entitled to their privacy. I could also provide a list of blogs I read to Ryan where without anonymity, they simply would not be written. I agree wholeheartedly with the comment about personas – even under your own identity, any act of writing draws you into experimenting with personas.
Lastly, I’d say that an anonymous blogger who posts consistently over a period of time has actually invested a great deal in that identity – it’s certainly as real to them as an ‘off-line’ ID.
As I said, it’s just a matter of taste. The vast majority of blogs in my aggregator are from non-anonymous blogs. The anonymous blogs I read are mostly satirical or humorous.
Personal blogs are an entirely other story, of course — though in general, I am not into personal blogs, really. And of course, there are tons of interesting bits and pieces of information that would never have existed if it weren’t for anonymity. I accept all of this and appreciate the benefits that anonymity can do for free speech.
If I am to be honest with myself and others, I just have to say that an anonymous work is “down a notch” for as long as it is anonymous. It may be valid, well-written and a whole slew of other things — but authority and accountability do matter in the long run. And part of that authority and accountability is being able to understand the potential interests, biases and whims of a particular author.
My library blog is not anonymous, and anyone who reads regularly can also figure out where I work. The blog is a mix of straight-up info to cool sources, and random ranting.
That being said, I also maintain a semi-anonymous personal blog. I use my first name on the blog, and state where I live, and anyone who really cared could pretty easily figure out who I am and where I work. I have friends, and library friends, who read that blog, so it certainly isn’t completely anonymous. However, I did take some recent precautions to separate my personal blog from the Cool Librarian name, and my full name, mostly because I am job hunting. Though I stand behind whatever I say on Cool Librarian (however damaging that may be), I say what I really FEEL, often about my work, on my personal blog – and sometimes it ain’t pretty. I am careful to not use names, of course, but I don’t really want prospective employers reading my latest job-hate (or my boyfriend woes, etc).
So, basically, I know that a prospective employer may come upon Cool Librarian and not like what I have to say – and that’s OK with me. I am looking to work for a library that is progressive, and if a prospective employer is THAT put-off by what I say on the CL blog, then it probably isn’t a good fit in either direction.
I don’t ever comment anonymously. If I feel strongly enough to comment, then I feel strongly enough to put my name on it. If it’s a touchy subject, putting my name on a comment helps ensure that I treat “opposing” commenters (or the OP) with respect. I respect discussion, and dissenting opinions, and I think throwing out flame bombs anonymously in a comments section is cowardly. But I don’t think that’s at all the same as having an anonymous blog to protect your job or your privacy.
I only know of two instances where one’s personal blog barred them from employment. Both candidates blogged about their interviews (replete with search committee name dropping!) without obscuring the name of their prospective institutions. This is disrespectful to search committees who are required to keep their interview records confidential.
Apart from specifically blogging about interviews, I’ve never known a blog to hurt anyone’s chances for employment. At the same time, I don’t blame AL for being pseudo-anonymous because it could potentially damage her career. Why take the risk?
Great topic! I see nothing wrong with anonymous author blogs. It’s up to the author to determine whether to publish his or her name, enough said! Speaking of anonymous author blogs, here is another one…. http://talkingbookslibrarian.blogspot.com/
As I’ve said other places around the web when this topic comes up: The Right to Speak, at least in the US, is the Right to speak anonymously.
I do respect people who say controversial things with their name attached. I personally blog under my name because, I decided long ago, I’m not interested in working for someone if they don’t like what I say. But for all that, we have a LOOOOOONG history in the US of protecting anonymous speech, and the Supreme Court has ruled time and time again that anonymity is an understood piece of the 1st Amendment.
So: I’ll fight for the rights of the anonymous, even as I myself do not choose that path. Viva la Differance!
I blog and comment pseudonymously 99% of the time to protect my family from evil people out of their past. I do not keep my name dis-attached from my pseudonym at conferences or in person. If we start up a professional conversation where Google won’t index it, I am happy to use my real name and credentials.
Wow, this has been a really interesting discussion. There were a number of reasons for anonymous blogs that I’d never thought of. Thanks so much for sharing!
I must admit that I do respect someone more for saying something controversial if they put their name to it. I know that it takes real guts to do it and it’s a real risk. However, I’d rather people say things that need to be said and if they must do it anonymously (or pseudonymously) so be it. I definitely respect people’s concerns about privacy and safety and job security. I’m as willing to trust an anonymous blog as a non-anonymous blog; all that matters to be is that you write well and you write interesting stuff.
Like Jason, I also feel like I wouldn’t want to work for anyone who isn’t ok with me being me. However, the “me” I am at work and on my blog isn’t exactly the “me” I am at home (meaning I censor myself to some extent on my blog).
I started out as an annon for a couple reasons: One, I thought I might suck at blogging. Two, I was unsure how MPOW would react.
Even though I know at least two people who did not get a promotion because of the content of their blogs, I do not care as much what MPOW has to say about my online activities. I believe what I write and will take the heat if need be. I try not to write anything online I would not want to say to anyone’s face. I am true to myself onI would not want to work anywhere that would refuse me employment because of my blog. That is not the kind of library (or other workplace) that I want to be in. It’s not like I am offensive or anything.
My comment got a bit long: http://lorelibrarian.blogspot.com/2007/09/anonymitypseudonymity.html
Here’s an AL image for all you AL’s. Use as you like.
I’d say people who do not identify themselves on their blog to protect their careers are smart, not cowardly. But that’s just my take.
It’s not just careers. It’s Everything that is Dear to them that they are protecting. AMEN!
It does seem the older crowd is used to using source quality as a meaningful determinant of how good an arguemnt is, regardless of the arguement itself. If you can’t attack the arguement, attack the person making the arguement.
Well, game over 😀
I will let those I want to know me know who I am. if I don’t know you, I don’t want you knowing me. Is that so difficult to understand?