Delay, Distract, Defer: Addressing Sabotage in the Academic Library

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In 1944, the US Office of Strategic Services released the Simple Sabotage Field Manual. Originally intended to aid the WWII-era citizen saboteur in committing small, undetectable acts of sabotage within an enemy organization, the Field Manual developed a second life on social media after its declassification, as its advice to “make faulty decisions, to adopt an uncooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit” echoed the pitfalls of modern office work. In the context of academic libraries, seemingly neutral actions that actively work to delay production may include our insistence on following proper channels, creating committees, haggling over precise language, and holding unnecessary meetings. In this paper, we argue that academic libraries find themselves uniquely susceptible to unintentional and willful saboteurs alike. As higher education’s hierarchical culture meets professional norms that stress collaborative decision-making and emotional labor, we create an environment ripe for exploitation by those unhappy with the direction of an organization. As workers charged with the stewardship of information infrastructure, and as individuals who create and implement best practices in digital cultural heritage systems, library saboteurs have the potential to derail and impede the care work essential to information maintenance. This paper explores aspects of the Field Manual that apply to modern organizations, how academic libraries can fall victim to sabotage, and ways that individual librarians and staff can identify and resist the saboteur in the next cubicle--or in their own learned library behavior.


Short paper submitted to The Maintainers III Conference, October 7, 2019.