Civil Online Communication

Ten years ago, my friend and colleague Ed Tallent and I felt compelled to write a small article for Library Journal: Beware Blogging Blunders. I say compelled because, after having interviewed a slew of job candidates for various library positions, many with nascent online personae, we wanted to deliver a cautionary tale to applicants about their need to be responsible in ALL their online communications, not just in their online resumes or official documents and messages.

That was 10 years ago, but I think the advice we gave in that article is even more needed in the today of 2012, when online communication of many kinds is both the norm and omnipresent. In that long-ago article, Ed and I observed that whatever you do online, and wherever it appears, it can rise up and haunt you. We noted, Be aware that if you are doing [online communication] with your professional name, you are making a public record that is easily accessible…. Adopting a consistent, professional style and competent presentation in all communications is becoming more important as the geographical separations between us shrink… [and] the digital age increases the audience and scope of mistakes made online.

Out of curiosity, I looked up civility in Wikipedia, and it led me to Wikipedia‘s Five Pillars, one of which is, Editors should interact with each other in a respectful and civil manner. Respect and be polite to your fellow Wikipedians, even when you disagree. Wikipedia’s article on Civility is just as explicit: Stated simply, editors should always treat each other with consideration and respect.

I applaud this as one of the Five Pillars holding up the impressive online edifice that is Wikipedia, and I would hope that it would be a generally-accepted pillar of virtual society. But I don’t think we’re there yet. I continue to see communications coming across my virtual desk that are disrespectful and insensitive to others’ needs and goals, communications that reveal a basic discourtesy, irresponsibility, and thoughtlessness in the communicator that is repellent. As Ed and I said in our long-ago and faraway article, If you are responsible in your web communication, it’s a good bet that you will also be responsible in your job. And vice versa.

I can only add, as we concluded that article, With the web’s power comes responsibility. Please, please, dear readers, DO act responsibly anywhere, and everywhere, online.

More as it happens,

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980's, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early 90's (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.