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In praise of friction

July 5, 2011

flickr - Andrew_C

Friction, not fiction. You read that right. Nothing against fiction, of which my readerly side is rather fond, but this post is about friction and the good it can do.

At this point in my career, I have come to accept that I am a somewhat dyspeptic and abrasive librarian, as opposed to a cheerleading, librarian-affirming librarian. Why? Well, if I had to offer answers, I would say that it stems from a belief that we need more tension in our field of the type that leads to open debate and the challenging of assumptions, no matter how dearly held. What librarians generally consider conflict most faculty (or most people in any profession) would consider to be a polite disagreement. Rarely are speakers challenged directly, and, if so, only after the interlocutor has effusively praised the speaker.

We also need to be more cantankerous (to borrow a former colleague’s word) toward our vendors, since playing nice and entering into ‘partnerships’ has given us a crapload of mediocre yet overpriced software and services with which we constantly struggle. Let’s raise a little ruckus, poke some sensitive spots, and get things moving. And above all, we need to learn to vote with our money. We don’t like your product? None for you!

For my own part, it comes to this: were I just spouting off to experience catharsis, I’d feel bad, but there’s always an agenda, and there are ideas, so it’s not like I’m just tearing down without offering ideas for building up. Friction can be a good thing when applied judiciously.


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