On Cliques


Caveat secunda: I don’t consider myself to belong to a clique. Heck, I haven’t even read the LIS NPN forum post about all this.

As part of my CPD23 stuff, I mentioned the fact that I tend to lurk around blogs rather than commenting on them, a bad habit I’ve once again found myself guilty of. As I mentioned in my reasons for not tending to comment, it’s usually because I’m not interested enough, don’t have anything insightful to say or am Too Darned Angry to say anything sensible.

The reason I haven’t commented on blogs about this so far is definitely within the latter category, but I feel something of a duty to write about it because Rachel’s post on the topic is largely based on things I said, and the term I believe I coined (correct me if I’m wrong), much to my shame – #cliquegate – now seems to be the hashtag du jour. I have too much to say for it to be a comment on her blog – there’s nothing I like less than an essay-length comment – so I hope she’ll forgive me for putting it here instead.

Yes, yes, I do use old twitter. No, I am not sorry.

So. Here’s my two-penneth’s worth, for what it’s worth.

Over the last couple of days a few people have written about Rachel’s findings for her New Professionals Conference paper that one respondent to her survey (out of 35 respondents) said they do not “identify with the current clique”.

My first concern here is that the survey was about ‘non-new professionals’ and how they perceive ‘new professionals’. Not about the online librarian community, not about the twitter librarian community, not about the blogging librarian community, not even about the LIS New Professionals Network librarian community. However, it seems to have been automatically assumed that this one respondent meant the entire online community of new professional librarians. I find this in itself bothersome for a couple of reasons:

1) They never mentioned the internet (did they?) so I think worrying about an online community might be worrying our little heads over something that isn’t an issue, not even for one person in the entire profession.

2) (Even if they did specifically mean the online new professional community) There are literally, like, a gazillion new professional librarians on the internet. Seriously. The internet, I don’t know if you’ve heard, is kind of big. And librarians, I don’t know if you know, are down with that kind of thing, so they all kind of have a go on it, all over the shop. They’re everywhere. For my reasoning here I shall now refer to my usual recourse in all matters rhetorical, the Oxford English Dictionary:

clique, n.

1. A small and exclusive party or set, a narrow coterie or circle: a term of reproach or contempt, applied generally to such as are considered to associate for unworthy or selfish ends, or to small and select bodies who arrogate supreme authority in matters of social status, literature, etc.


“Small.” “Narrow coterie or circle.” Not huge great whopping number of people in the same profession who happen to use a wide range of social networking tools to keep in touch with fellow professionals around the world.

My second concern is a small but important one. Cliques are “exclusive”. New professionals aren’t. Except for that bit where someone labelled everyone who’s been in the profession for less than five years as a ‘new professional’. Which I hate. I didn’t make it up. Who did? Shoot them. Anyway, it’s not the fault of some poor LIS graduate that they’ve been termed a new professional and are thereby automatically part of some sort of ‘set’ that they might not even want to belong to or identify with.

My third concern is about the aforementioned identification. What Rachel’s respondent said was that they don’t “identify” with a group. That’s surely ok, right? Not everybody has everything in common with everyone. I’m aware of a lot of groups in my day to day life that I don’t identify with. It doesn’t mean I don’t accept them as valid and valuable groups. It just means that I, personally, don’t see a need and/or don’t have a desire to be involved. It doesn’t mean I want a cuddle and an invitation to become vegan/existentialist/join the LGBTQ community. I demand the right to not identify! Rather than the respondent complaining about a “clique that they cannot infiltrate” as Rachel interpreted this, I’d suggest that maybe they just don’t want to. And even if this person kind of does want to (I don’t know), it’s not to say that everyone who doesn’t consider themselves involved wants to.

Fourth, the term ‘clique’ is one of “reproach or contempt”, i.e. it’s something applied to a group by an external body in order to make out that there’s a degree of disapproval. To that I say: “I don’t need your approval!” I made a flippant comment on twitter about my imagined reaction to being accused of being in a clique. It involved 1) telling the person they’re an idiot 2) flicking them the bird and 3) bitching about my peers so how can I even be in a clique anyway. I guess this paragraph is 1) and 2). This entire blog post appears to be 3). Whoops.

Fifth, I feel one of my arguments has been misrepresented. Rachel said “The argument that there is no room in the profession for someone who lacks confidence and feels unable to get involved has been made”. If it wasn’t just me who said something along these lines, then hurray. If it was, then that wasn’t what I said. What I said was “Mostly I am of the “they need to man up” school of playground politics” (call me a cow, but know this: I certainly wasn’t ever one of the cool kids and it didn’t do me any harm to not belong) and “This profession no longer belongs to the meek and mild”. I stand by that. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but the profession is kind of falling in around our ears in many ways. This ain’t no time for navel-gazing. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dusty. Besides, we’ve got too many LIS graduates and not enough jobs. It’s a dog eat dog world, guys… (ooooh that one’s going to get me into trouble…)

Sixth is something that’s hit a nerve, I guess. This one’s about what the heck this clique/these cliques might be and who’s in them. I covered the fact that it’s spectacularly ridiculous to suggest that all librarians with any kind of internet presence are in a clique by virtue of sheer scale up in my first issue. All those hours ago… But also, Steve, Rachel’s boyfriend (that’s a clique in itself right? I think we should all demand to be invited in 😉 ) blogged about the topic too. I happen to know them both personally – I did my graduate traineeship alongside Rachel and did my MA with them both. If you’re screaming “CLIQUE!” right now, I’ve got something in my pocket for you. Aherm. So. Yes, I know Stevelin. He’s a lovely chap. And I was sad to see that he used #UKpling as an example of something that is in its nature “exclusive”. For those not in the know (there is irony dripping from my pores), #UKpling means ‘UK public libraries in need group’. I know, I know, it’s a bit lame. What can I say? It was a late night. I think we were all having a bad day. I suppose Steve’s right – at the beginning, it was exclusive. That was kind of the point – it was set up to discuss a specific topic – but that’s how twitter works. The hashtag grew – and before we’d had a chance to pick something slightly less lame and more obviously meaningful, it was incredibly popular and it was too late to change the account to something like VftL – believe me, we agonised over it. The hashtag grew, and then #savelibraries came along. Everybody pretty much went over there and used that instead, because #UKpling was a small thing for organising stuff between a small group of acquaintances. #savelibraries is the big, public-facing, outreaching hashtag. And although yes, Voices does have a core membership, we need to. We’re a campaigning body and have to have some sort of semblance of organised-ness. We’re not a professional network and involvement is absolutely not something people should be seeking as something to put on their CV to demonstrate that they’re professionally active. I mean, it does mean you are, but lawks, there are less stressful things to do if that’s all you’re after. I guess what I’m saying is that folksonomy doesn’t equal clique. I suppose it has to mean exclusive, because, well, you’re librarians, figure it out.

In conclusion, despite this giant rant, I still don’t think there’s much cause for concern. I think it’s a topic that nice people worry about because nobody wants to be a meanie pie. Librarians, on the whole, are nice people. Which is why the clique thing isn’t an issue. If people want to get involved, it’s ridiculously easy to get involved. If they refuse to engage, it’s their loss. I don’t know what exactly Rachel intends to do as part of her “contribution to library advocacy” – Hair stroking? Hand holding? Personally visiting each and every person in the library profession who expresses some kind of insecurity about their sense of belonging to make them feel better? Forgive my cynicism, I’m just really unconvinced that there’s much to be done.

In conclusion conclusion, what I said in my first tweet-response still holds true. I think it’s BS and I think it’s about how members of the new professional community conduct themselves that is important, and none that I know are exclusive in the slightest. I’m also acutely aware that my very…passionate?…response to this and my belief that it’s a fairly BS-filled topic make it fairly likely that I alienate some people. Probably new professionals. Thereby either 1) exacerbating the problem or more likely 2) excluding myself from any perceived clique that people might perceive me to belong to. Hey guys I exploded the clique! Problem solved! We can talk about something else now!



18 thoughts on “On Cliques

  1. After agonising about this because I don’t want to be a meanie pie, I decided that it’s all subjective. ‘Clique’ can just be a more negative word for ‘community’. And maybe that’s OK.

  2. I think it’s also influenced by the fact that librarians are by their nature very good at classifying things, including themselves, & once you put things into groups it’s easy to move beyond useful labels into cliques, and onto entrenched silos. This then has an impact not only on people within the profession feeling ‘ excluded’, but also to external groups (the media, government, etc) being confused by a plethora of groups, who apparently don’t talk to each other or agree on key issues, which then impacts on advocacy. Hard as it is, I think sometimes people need to resist their natural urges to classify, and aggregate instead!

    1. I don’t think it’s as easy as saying “ok, let’s all be friends and agree on key issues” – there’s never going to be agreement on them. I’m not convinced there should be. I do agree that it’s important to talk to each other about them, though, just that I don’t think consensus will or should be reached. As far as a plethora of groups goes, I’m looking forward to cilip’s more active role in bringing the groups together and being a focal point for the majority of the issues. And as Simon mentioned a few days ago, Voices being the Batman to cilip’s Gotham City PD. 🙂

  3. This cliquegate business has rather passed me by; I saw a few tweets tagged with it., but didn’t really grasp what it was about. I’ll give the standard old man’s response: when I was a boy we had proper cliques. I’m not being flippant either; if a head of service wanted to get on and network, he (for it was invariably a he) had to join the council’s Masonic Lodge, which was where the business was done, contracts handed out, etc. I went to my first meeting of an LA branch as a newly qualified librarian. It was entirely made up of men in suits (OK, I know I wear a suit, when I’m working, but I wear a good suit, not like these ones) who all knew each other, totally ignored me and the meeting consisted of them voting to send each other on expensive foreign junkets. LA Council was more or less entirely made up of heads of service, again male, and again clad in cheap suits. Those were real cliques, young feller-me-lad.

  4. I promise a proper response at lunchtime, but having just looked at this quickly again, we do actually agree in our conclusions (although mine could have been clearer) – it’s time to talk about something else now! My blog post was trying to say that – I was trying to offer a conclusion as the person who started the whole blummin’ thing – but I don’t think I put that across in the title or the post itself.

  5. I think this is really interesting. I agree with Rachel, but I can see where you are coming from.

    There are librarians who look to support the next (or current) generation, through stuff like the New Professionals events and LISNPN. And there are librarians who seek to actually save libraries themselves, such as VftL. (Plus there is @Bethanar who is superhuman so features prominently in both. 😉 ) As a member of the former group, I can totally see how frustrating it must be for you as a member of the latter when we get too caught up in all that stuff – libraries are dying around us for God’s sake! But, we can’t all do what you and, for example, JoBo, do – I certainly couldn’t, so I channel some effort into stuff like LISNPN to at least do *something*.

    Rachel as a LISNPN person (who is about to take full control of the network, with Lex, in the next couple of months) has a sort of responsibility towards the up and comers to support them – it’s not an obligation as such, but it’s something some of us want to get involved in and feel strongly about. Where your post gets off base is the stuff about hand-holding and hair-stroking – it sounded sneery and nearly got in the way of the point you were making. I’d argue that whilst librarianship is no place for the meek, there are plenty of librarians doing great things who USED to be meek but were nurtured through it by the hand-holding and that enabled them to kick so much ass now.

    Let’s forget the word ‘clique’ has it has connotations beyond what we’re discussing – let’s say, as Simon does, that there is a community, and let’s say that some people perceive it as inaccessible (and if they do think that way, that’s almost the same as it actually *being* inaccessible). If we don’t address the issue and help people feel the community is accessible, we’re losing out on people who can actually help #savelibraries later when they have some more confidence.

    So for example at NPC2011, Simon and Alice presented on activisim and UKPling stuff. Just to be clear I’m *not* saying they are or were meek – but let’s just imagine a scenario in which they’re just starting out into the world of professional development, networking etc now. If they were starting out now and felt excluded, they might never join in with the community or develop the confidence to ultimately become library advocates and not just that but cheer-leaders helping recruit the next influx of campaigners! That would be a huge waste. So that’s why the nurturing stuff is also important, even though, as you say, there are bigger issues out there to deal with.

  6. What an interesting can of worms! Just popped in to say a couple of things: a) Tom’s comment is a useful reminder that our profession (like most others) has in fact been massively democratized in recent decades and that is A Good Thing, and b) though Lauren’s ‘dog eat dog’ vision of a crowded profession is probably fair, I do still think there is room for different personalities, including shy people who excel at their job but don’t much fancy networking. But you can’t have it both ways – if you don’t make the effort to join a group, or a network, or a community of practice, or a vigilante superlibrarian gang or whatever, then you can’t complain about being excluded. (Not that anybody really is, as far as I can tell!)

  7. Great post Lauren… In the most part I agree.

    I think it’s important to mention to whoever it is that thinks Voices is a clique is also wrong because even though there is a core group, this has been added to as more people have got involved, correct? The group is bigger now than it was when it first started. That doesn’t suggest ‘exclusive group’ to me. I don’t particularly identify with the #savelibraries campaign, not because I don’t care about libraries but rather because I’m just a pretty crappy campaigner when it comes to libraries, I could bend your ear a good while about marine conservation though :p

    I don’t think New Professionals are a clique… they’re, as Simon said, a community of people with somekind of shared experience/interest. As in life we have to accept that within communities there are smaller groups, of friends, of associates, of colleagues and as with life there’ll be people we don’t like, find annoying or have absolutely nothing in common with. I like this manning-up thing. I liked what I saw the originators of the New Professionals Network were doing and decided, hey I’d like to get involved with that… so I did and I made some friends out of it too. Double win!

  8. What I find interesting here, when taken in the context of Tom Roper’s point, is how this quickly became an issue. I think it will very quickly stop being an issue as we move on to the next topic. In Tom’s “day” this would have been a prevailing attitude for years and years but in this networked world we’ll all have a good rant and then move on. I’m actually glad this topic came up as I’d been worrying about the possibility that this could be the perception of many but I think it’s been addressed now. I love you all, and I’m off to do my job now 😉 Ta ta.

  9. In Tom’s day, the New Professionals wouldn’t have had a voice at all, let alone issues of inclusivity. It’s really only been in the period I’ve been working in libraries (5 and a half years) that the concept has evolved to where we have stuff to say and people listen to it.

    That’s why the term, despite its limitations, is worth having. (And its creator spared from shooting. 🙂 )

  10. Hi everyone,

    I’m not really that well-known amongst you all, but I am here. I follow many of you on Twitter and like to keep myself updated on all things ‘new professional’.

    I just want to say about this whole #cliquegate thing, that when I first looked into the world of information professionals online I was really daunted by the way everyone seemed to know everyone else, and I felt like I was intruding.
    However, now I feel completely different! It is, to me, an open community where you can contribute, or not contribute as much as you like, and in a sense still belong.

    It’s like a starting a new job – yes there are people there who know each other and know what they bring to the table, but it is all about how you express yourself and act as well. It’s that feeling of being new and starting afresh that got me all tongue-tied.
    Lauren is right when she says this profession is not the place for the meek and mild. However, this online community is the place for observers and contributors alike.

    Just wanted to put that across.

    Also, I hate the word clique, reminds me too much of a terrible American high school drama.

  11. Ok. Firstly, thank you for your response, Lauren – I’m glad that everyone didn’t just agree with me, as that would have been a little, well, cliquey!

    To tackle a few points: firstly, the person who mentioned the word “clique” was definitely referring to the online community; they specifically referred to blogs and Twitter.

    Most of the arguments that Lauren made on Twitter which informed my post were also made by others, so I wasn’t solely picking on her. There is one exception to this, which is the comment about there being no place for the “meek and mild” in the profession, which I now realise that I did misinterpet and I have indeed misrepresented you in this respect, Lauren, so I apologise. I mis-understood what you meant and got carried away in my own train of thought.

    Yes, one of the bloggers whom I cited is my boyfriend. I wouldn’t have cited him if he was the ONLY person who agreed with me, as yes, that appears cliquey! The reasons I have retweeted and referred to Steve’s blog this week are a) I genuinely think he writes very well and b) I hope he won’t mind me saying this, but Steve is an example of a new professional who has needed a bit of support to develop in the new professional community! He has blogged about this a bit; he used to be very cynical about the new professional community and felt unable to identify with it totally. With my encouragement (OK, maybe some nagging), the experience of attending Monday’s conference, and the support and welcome that he has received since joining us on Twitter and starting to blog, he feels able (I think!) to get involved. This is what I mean when I say perhaps we need to make that little bit of effort to bring someone in (the online equivalent of talking to the lone person in the corner at a networking event, as discussed on LISNPN, maybe!).

    No, cliques/groups/communities exist and are not necessarily bad things. Yes, we have friends/boyfriends/colleagues in the profession towards whom we will naturally gravitate. I wish I had a full version of my paper to share with you (it’s not yet written up) as I did address this, saying that groups for specific sets of people are not bad things, we just need to be careful that we are able to engage in conversations with people outside the group.

    Thank you to Ned for pointing out what I only realised this morning: I am looking at this from the perspective of someone who is heavily involved in supporting new professionals. Maybe “advocacy” is not the right word to describe what I do and want to do (although I do feel that a united profession supports the advocacy effort as a whole), maybe it’s more “support”. There will certainly be no hand-holding or hair-stroking though – I like my personal space! 🙂 Seriously though, I do feel that it’s my responsibility to try to ensure that there is nothing acting as a barrier to the online new professional community, and, if that requires a little metaphorical hand-holding, as it has done with Steve, then that’s what I will do. I realised this morning that my plans for trying to to break down barriers are not actually that dramatic. I have been sitting on my survey data for while now, and the knowledge that someone sees us as “cliquey” has been informing my ideas and plans for LISNPN and in my role as CDG New Professional Support Officer, such as my plans to try to engage with the next batch of local LIS students face-to-face.

    When I said that it’s up to you how you act on the idea that we are clique, I genuinely meant that. As we both have said, we can’t draw firm conclusions from my survey results. It’s possible that this is not a widespread perception, it’s possible that it is, and I personally choose to presume that it is. I have nothing bad to say about those who think that it isn’t. I can see both sides and I think it’s a case of agreeing to disagree.

    Finally, Lauren, as I said earlier, we come to the same conclusion – it’s time to stop worrying about the clique and move on! Which is why I should have thought of a better title for my blog yesterday.

    There’s a lot to think about in Lauren’s post and the comments to it, so apologies if I’ve missed something that I should have commented on – someone please shout at me if so.

    Sorry for adding an essay! Thanks for reading!

    1. I think I can make an exception on the essay-comment for you, Rachel! Thank you for your input and I’m glad we agree on the main point – that we need to stop worrying about it and do/or not do whatever we choose to as best we can based on what we believe is/isn’t going on! I hope nothing I’ve said has caused offence, it was all for the purpose of entertainment/discussion and of course apology accepted on the meek and mild front 🙂

  12. Hi! An entertaining and thought-prodding post! Sorry I seem to have hit a nerve with my comments. For those who didn’t see, here’s what I wrote:

    “My efforts this week go some way to proving that this is not an exclusive bubble; indeed I feel confident that library graduates, and the library community as a whole, are a friendly and accommodating lot. But LISNPNs and #UKplings and other terminology de jure [I can’t spell as well as Lauren, alas!] (‘New Professionals’ itself being, in my case, a case in point) are unquestionably jargon, and jargon, alas, excludes. That is not to say that it should not be used (jargon is but a field of language yet to be learnt)”.

    My namechecking of #UKpling was simply as an example of a term whose meaning had bewildered me (thanks to Gary Green for subsequently enlightening me (it stands for UK Public Libraries In Need Group)). It was not meant as an attack on Voices For The Library, which I believe to be a Very Good Thing Indeed. Rather it was simply a statement to the effect that #UKpling is a meaningless term to the uninitiated. That is not to say that it hasn’t become well established and understood (through association) as referring to a #savelibraries campaign.


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