7 Maii 2008

On “repository rat”

I’d like to welcome my good colleague Shane Beers to the biblioblogosphere. Shane took over my duties at George Mason, and has done a lot better with them than I ever did. I’m happy to see other repository managers blogging, and thrice happy to see Shane.

He brings up something that I’ve heard from other people as well: annoyance at my insistence on the phrase “repository-rat” to refer to librarians who manage institutional repositories. Some of that is me, and some of it is deliberate and calculated rhetorical strategy. It seems worth picking apart.

The “me” part, I confess, is of a piece with my steadfast refusal to take myself and what I do too seriously. Back in the day, I called myself a conversion peasant. Now I’m a repository-rat. I’m stubborn about this, and I don’t anticipate changing it… but I also recognize that it leaks into how I refer to other repository managers, as well as the specialty as a whole, and I see how that can feel like disdain.

It isn’t. It takes quite a bit of dedication to stick with IRs, and an impressive array of skills to manage one well. (I’m not saying I do, mind. Not for me to say. But I’m steeped in this field, I know whom I respect, and I know what they are capable of.) Moreover, these dedicated, skilled people have to persevere in the face of widespread ignorance, apathy, and even opprobrium directed at them, never mind lousy software and badly-stacked odds.

Which leads me to the rhetorical-strategy bit. I feel like a rat in the wainscoting, ignored and despised and isolated. Why shouldn’t I? Why should I be any prouder of what I do than my employer (which has partially defunded my service), my profession (which barely acknowledges I exist and makes no effort to support me), or the open-access movement (which openly insults me when it doesn’t ignore me)? Why should I pretend to support and respect I don’t actually have?

And why is it uniquely my responsibility to redress these issues? If the institution I work for, the profession I have joined, or the open-access movement I am part of would like me to stop referring to myself as a rodent, howsabout they toss me a bone so I can move up the animal taxonomy a bit?

Like the immortal archy, I see things from the under side. There’s use in that, I maintain, just as there’s use in colleagues such as Shane asserting themselves to raise the profile of our work and the esteem in which it is held. I’m on their side, I truly am—I just approach the work from a different angle.

insects are not always
going to be bullied
by humanity
some day they will revolt
i am already organizing
a revolutionary society to be
known as the worms turnverein

—Don Marquis