ALA’s Backhanded Compliment to Librarians?


In the May-June issue of american libraries, Will Manley referred to library workers who are NOT “Movers and Shakers” as “plodders and toilers”. Hardly a flattering label for “the front-line grunts who make service happen”, and are supposedly his “professional heroes”.

As I suspected, synonyms for “plod” are terms like trudge, slog, tread wearily, traipse, lumber and tramp. Again, hardly flattering terms for any hard working individual who one professes to admire and appreciate, let alone refer to as “heroes”. The synonyms for “toil” are terms like labor, work, sweat, strive, hustle and drudgery. Not derogatory, but still hardly at the level of highly complimentary.

Despite Manley’s profession of admiration for “worker bees”;

That does not mean that I think the M&Sers are the most important people in the profession. Absolutely not. That honor would go to the “plodders and toilers,” or if you prefer, the worker bees. There’s a lot of grunt work to be done in libraries and someone has to do it. There are books to be shelved, shelves to be read, books to be mended, catalogs to be maintained, storytimes to present, reference questions to deal with, and phones to be answered. These tasks may not “edgy,” but like it or not, these services are what keep us in business.

Of even greater value are the worker bees who work nights and weekends with smiles on their faces. The absolutely worst part of management is motivating library employees to work odd hours. The irony, of course, is that nights and weekends are libraries’ busiest times.

The whole opinion article reads rather condescending and somewhat contradictory to me. Why would it be the “absolutely worst part of management is motivating library employees to work odd hours” if one is managing “heroes”, and who wouldn’t want their heroes working at the busiest time? But according to Manley it is ironic to have “heroes” working at the busiest time – “The irony, of course, is that nights and weekends are libraries’ busiest times.”

When Manley goes on to point out that “To be pointed about the matter, it seems that many working librarians resent the award. I suppose that’s the case with any award. The winner wins, and everyone else goes home feeling, well, like a loser.”, it sounds as if he’s thumbing his nose at those who may be upset by the whole Movers and Shakers Award issue, and dismissing their annoyance over the award as just being sore losers.

Apparently in Manley’s opinion there are no noteworthy contributions by those who plan, manage, organize, direct, allocate, reconcile, advocate, mediate, supervise, handle daily customer issues, and cope with dwindling budgets. Apparently, librarians who are not worker bees or movers and shakers are not worthy of “hero” status, or maybe it’s simply an article by someone trying to find something to write regarding an issue that one should feel guilty about their opinions/comments, but can’t quite bring themselves to an apology. Back handed compliments are not really compliments at all.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “ALA’s Backhanded Compliment to Librarians?

  1. We who work what I call the “front lines” of the library (clerks, evening & Saturday workers) are the heart & soul of our library. We are those whom our patrons seek out for book suggestions, local information, and sometimes just a listening ear. We receive smiles, praise and genuine affection from our patrons. We do not need motivation to work odd hours, because we have chose this job and all that comes with it. We need management; management needs us.

  2. We have spent considerable time and energy encouraging staff to strive, achieve their potential and envisions their capacity for more responsibility. How many for profit managers would apply the standards quoted above to their workforce? I want to offer an extended quote from Burchell and Robin’s The Great Workplace. The queston what do employees want: “And it is not rocket science either. What do staff want? They want credibility and belief in their leader. They want respect and feel they are valued members of their organisation.They want fairness. They want pride; to feel pride for their work and their company. They want comradeship and feel part of a group.
    Referring to employees/ staff members as plodders and toilers falls dreadfully short of the mark.

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