On Awful Replies

On Thursday I posted “Do not ask questions. My pet peeve. This is useless and a waste of our time.” As many folks have noted on the interwebs (some examples at this Twitter link), it includes a lot of bad takes, including what seems to be the desire to discriminate against folks for having “mental health issues.”

I wanted to first say please don’t take that post, or any individual post, as instructive of normal hiring practices. Any one survey response is not a norm. The surveys in aggregate are also probably not a norm, because I’m not using representative sampling to gather them. So while you may glean advice or tips from individual surveys that suit your job hunting or hiring needs, that advice suits you because it speaks to you and your experience, not because it’s a universal truth. Probably. Most likely.

Unsurprisingly, the awful responses are the ones that get the most traction. For example, the “Do not ask questions” post (just that single post) had 1,004 views in one day. On an average day, the blog as a whole gets about 200 views. But the rip-roaringly awful survey responses are really only a small portion of the total.

There are two responses that I’ve seen to Thursday’s post that I wanted to talk about.

First is the anonymity. When I put out a survey, I don’t ask for contact information unless the person is willing to be non-anonymous. For the Hiring Library Workers survey, as of February 18, 2023, there are 191 responses and only 52 people provided their email. So, I do not have any contact information for the bulk of the responses. I generally can’t follow up with folks who share hair-raising opinions and I certainly can’t name them for shaming.

It seems clear to me that anonymity allows people to share the breadth of their opinions and experiences, including things that may be awful, unpopular, ill-advised, illegal, and/or discriminatory. It allows people to answer the survey off the cuff, without worrying how things will reflect on them.

It also means I can’t verify the truth, accuracy, or motives behind any of the responses. Maybe there’s just some dude in Hoboken who really likes to troll Hiring Librarians surveys. Who knows.

Anonymity feels valuable to me because it is useful to know what is out there. It is useful to be able to know about, and discuss, the details of awful, unpopular, ill-advised, illegal, and/or discriminatory hiring practices in addition to the ones that are good, helpful, and kind. And all the ones somewhere in between. I would love to hear more about your opinions on this, especially if they differ from mine.

The second discussion point that I wanted to respond to, and maybe get your feedback on, is “should I even be posting awful responses in the first place?”

I have already written in this post about why I think awful responses are valuable, but the other side of that coin is “are they harmful?”

When I restarted the blog, I thought about the harm that previous posts had caused, but I focused pretty specifically on the “What Should Candidates Wear?” survey. Not only did that survey provide a forum for anti-trans, pro-gender normative, sexist, and otherwise oppressive opinions, it was written with a large chunk of my own cis-gender, suburban-roots, white lady bias.

Are these “awful posts” also harmful? Do they normalize really shitty opinions?

I have thought not, because generally when they are popular, they are resoundingly vilified. For example, on Thursday, 896 of the visitors to the blog were referred by Twitter, and all of the Twitter posts I’ve seen express some combination of outrage and horror.

But without this context, does posting these views make it seem like they are ok?

I don’t generally put a lot of my own editorial opinion along with the responses because I want people to respond to surveys frankly. And I worry that the perception that they will be judged by me will result in people being less honest in future surveys. Or even just not bother to take them? But is this just the shitty neighbor of a “we have to be neutral” argument? Neutrality is harmful. I am now considering that maybe I should put a disclaimer at the top of each response, warning folks that the views therein should not be taken as universal truth and may indeed be very shitty.

I would like to hear what you think.

Thanks for reading and listening.

Your Pal,


Title: Thumbs down. N.J. Solon indicates his disapproval of Secretary Perkins. Washington, D.C., Feb. 2. Rep. J. Parnell Thomas, republican of New Jersey, indicates with his thumbs his disapproval of Secretary of Labor Perkins just before presenting 'new evidence' to the House Judiciary Committee today in support of his resolution to impeach the Secretary of Labor and two other Labor Department officials, 2-2-39 Abstract/medium: 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller
N..J. Solon indicates his disapproval of Secretary Perkins. Harris & Ewing, photographer. Harris & Ewing, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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