Mary Jessamyn West was an American author of short stories and novels, notably The Friendly Persuasion. A Quaker from Indiana, she graduated from Fullerton Union High School in 1919 and Whittier College in 1923. There she helped found the Palmer Society in 1921.
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My short bio: I'm an activist librarian and early library blogger. I work for [Open Library] (http://openlibrary.org) at the [Internet Archive] (http://archive.org). I used to manage the community at [MetaFilter.com] (http://metafilter.com) for almost a decade. I'm a second generation technologist, my dad ran the project that became the book Soul of a New Machine. I live in rural Vermont, teach an HTML class at the local tech school and do basic technology instruction.
A few other links....
[My Proof] (http://librarian.net/reddit-ama.jpg)
Do you have a cat? Do most librarians you know have cats? Also, do you prefer chocolate or gummy bears?
No cats, though between my mom and sister they have three (formerly seven before the mass cat die off of last year) so I get a lot of cats in my life.
Chocolate, for sure.
>mass cat die off
Do tell more
My sister and mom each had a few cats that were old and/or infirm. So in the span of about 12 months we lost Henry and Lucky and Boo and Trixie. Great animals, all of them.
Your essay [https://medium.com/message/the-next-librarian-of-congress-e85d514fc800#.m0mtu6qw7] on what skills the next Librarian of Congress should have inspired a lot of debate on Twitter and elsewhere. What was the most interesting response you received? Have any Congresspeople or other politicians contacted you about it?
Yeah I got to talk to the white house which I discuss at length in circulatingideas' link. I also made my own blog post here
Nothing since then, nervously waiting to see what happens. I'm a big fan of Mao, the acting guy even though I think they'll probably go with someone else for the gig eventually.
The other big deal is that now LoC term limits are set to ten years (which could be renewed) and that's going to change the face of the job an awful lot.
Fellow Jessamyn here. I registered for an account just so I can ask you: what is the pronunciation guide you use for your name? (I usually go with "rhymes with specimen," but it is a constant struggle.)
Rhymes with specimen is actually what I tell people and "There's an AMY in it" when I spell it out. Jess-AMY-n
what do you think of schools who are trying to turn their libraries into maker spaces? is there a point where libraries get too techy and lose their core mission? or since we can fit the world's knowledge on a tablet are things like physical reference texts and periodicals more and more redundant in a library space?
I like makerspaces as an idea but in a broader sense. Like the places that have sewing machines, craft studios, places that people can record music and work on a lawnmower engine? I think those solve real world problems for people right now. I like 3D printers and think it's good that libraries are getting interested in them (and they're fun for programs especially for kids) but I think thinking about real-world applications of programs are as if not more important than near-future wide-appeal applications of things like 3D printing. What I want to see is code camp things where people learn to render 3D models, make websites and apps and get computers to do things. 3D printing is smart of that, but there's a bigger ecosystem to get competency in.
I might argue that even though we can fit the world's knowledge on a tablet, we're not doing that because there's no way to make a business model out of that and that is one of the larger concerns about tech vs info that I think needs to be picked apart more critically.
Would you rather fight 100 duck sized Joe Schlosses or one Joe Schloss sized duck?
Also, how are local libraries and their local governments responding to the proliferation of DRMed eBooks? Are they finding ways to "lend?" Are publishers cooperating? What non-obvious impact are eBooks and DRM having on physical libraries?
I would never fight Joe Schloss for any reason, so I guess it's the giant duck for me.
DRM is a cluserfuck for libraries for a few reasons
I work for Open Library and we lend ebooks to anyone and have an online BookReader tool. It's slick and it's STILL a pain in the ass.
There's nothing inherent to "electronic books" that should make this situation so lousy, it's all about trying to make a business out of them and people not valuing or prioritizing the libraries or the end-user experience that make the ebook environment so bad. Some publishers (Tor, notably) are trying to make things better by going DRM-free and experimenting and we're really hoping more publishers will find ways to either 1. make reasonable DRM choices in the future or 2. find acceptable to them other ways to make money and make the ebook lending experience not be a terrible joke for libraries.
What's your favorite book?
It varies but the book that I carry closest to my heart is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and the years-after sequel And Their Children After Them. Not just the photos and the stories but the idea of institutionalized poverty perpetuated by the state and the long-reaching and lasting effects of those things (that then needed to be repaired by the state).
You, Doc, & Michael J. Fox take the Delorean to 2045 and you go to the Public Library in Peoria, IL. What's different about the Library? What's the same?
Peoria is biggish (compared to where I am from) and those libraries--large but not huge city libraries--tend to be changing the most. I'm a terrible futurist but I think the general trends are
There's still going to be bad parking (though maybe public transpo, I have not been to Peoria, though I follow a great instagram of its cute houses) and people who need to use the resources to find job, medical information and who want to read the newspaper though it may not be in print.
I'm really hoping that by 2045 we've worked out some of our digital divide issues but I was hoping that in 1995 also and we've still got them so I am curious and not at all predictive about what that will look like.
What do you think the Librarian of Congress Succession Modernization Act of 2015, which limits the term of the Librarian of Congress to 10 years? While it may allow the Librarian to respond more quickly to technological change and will perhaps prevent a Librarian from just sitting on their thumbs, I worry that it will lead to a more politicized position and a decrease in the level of influence the Library of Congress has.
I am really not sure. I am also concerned. I think the law was put into place to avoid the Billington Effect where one person who is behind the times puts the whole institution at risk. Realistically, as I understand it, a president could just have appointed a new LoC without Billington stepping down (I might be wrong on this) but it's just never done. This is a more formal way of doing that. I think ideally a person who is still being awesome could be reappointed. A bad case scenario is that it becomes an irritating political appointment which is just a grab at whatever the Copyright Office is up to that looks like it might be worth influencing.
Hey there! Who are some people you've seen speaking at librarian conferences lately that you thought were great?
The head of the Salt Lake City Public Library who spoke at CLA (did you see him) about how they are trying a pilot program to keep the library open 24 hours to help combat the issues that SLC has with people with homelessness or housing insecurity. Really revolutionary and he's very low key talking about it.
I saw a guy speak at AKLA who gave an AMAZING talk on dealing with keeping library restrooms in good shape which is a talk that all librarians should see, will try to track down his name.
When the Jessamyn West Action Figure finally comes out what type of AMAZING push-button ACTION will it have?
With so much of my generation (Millennials) using walled apps rather than the World Wide Web, have you experienced any barriers to reaching out and encouraging young people to get involved in open access projects?
It's really challenging. I think a lot of the times one of the best entries for people who may or may not have tech skills is to get involved with bigger data projects like hackathons or something with Wikipedia or Code for America-ish things. In my HTML class I talk about the difference between getting to make Your Own Site and just putting content on another site. Like, I think there is social value in being on the sites your friends are on (facebook/Instagram) but also understanding what is going on behind the scenes so that if you see a thing you'd like to do differently, you have those options.
WIkipedia of this decade is much better looking and has better tools for people to get "under the hood" so to speak and that helps people get motivated. The biggest deal, to my mind, is having a club or group of people--I live in rural Vermont so this is sort of my-world centered--who are doing what you'd like to do and having the concepts be social and not just the person-in-basement model. I mean it can be people-in-basements, nothing against basements but one of the things I stress about OA stuff is that it's inherently social, you learn to work with other people and that has its own value as well as being good for the larger community who might use your tools.
I'm in grad school to be a librarian (graduating in may) and right now my job prospects look pretty bad. Any advice for finding a job without experience outside of internships?
See if you can take on some small projects that would show your abilities but that won't kill you in terms of time. Organize and automate a church or hobby club library and document what you did. Network and go to local professional organization events if there are any. Join some listservs or the ALA Think Tank on facebook and talk to some people there about your concerns. Get your name out and think about the work that you've done in the past and the way you could positively spin it to make it relevant to the future work you hope to have. Best of luck, I know it's challenging.
Did you ever end up having to take down the sign that said "The FBI has not been here"?
You know, it's no longer in the library that I sometimes work in but I am fairly certain we were also not visted by the FBI. I should ask some pointed questions.
I'm a public librarian who is struggling to justify the time and money I spent on my MLS. All of the jobs available in my area are dogpiled by dozens of other underemployed librarians. I've started to look at other fields in data-related positions, but this bums me out.
Do you have any advice? Are there other vocational avenues that I might not be thinking of? I'm a good goddamn librarian and I love my work but can't keep this up.
Being a librarian in a tech company if you're someone who is organized and has older school librarian skills. The hardest part is that the job shortage is totally geographical. Lot of jobs in rural places go unfilled while big cities have tons of out of work librarians. So other than "consider moving" I'd look into other titles for what you can do: taxonomy, media content strategist (for non-profits, sometimes librarians are a natural fit), teaching (since you have a "terminal degree" this is how I got my job teaching at college)
What's the best way to inspire a love of reading in children?
Parents set an example and reading with your kid when they are young really does set up good habits and help kids learn to like reading. The bigger deals are keeping this love of reading when the kids get older and their peers aren't all reading and.or when school tells them to read stuff they may or may not like. Also being on the lookout for kids who don't like reading because there is a problem (eyesight, developmental issues, bad school librarian or teacher) can help correct problems before they go too far.
Hi Jessamyn! I know you've written a bunch of things and given a bunch of talks about the "digital divide." Do you see this divide narrowing at all? Where have we made progress and how has this digital divide changed within the last five years?
The thing I tell people the most is that there are multiple divides. We've seen the economic one narrowing a lot, most people now have access to a computer+internet at their library. However, we're seeing an empowerment or inclusion divide: people who are doing real what I like to call "computing" and people who just use technology as passive entertainment and shopoing systems.
There is nothing wrong with entertainment and nothing (mostly) wrong with shopping but the internet (and the resultant culture that is being built on top of it) SHOULD be for everyone and it's mostly being run by not-everyone. Wikipedia is an example that everyone loves to hate but there are other issues like women in tech, people of color on Twitter, accessibility for people with disabilities online.
Every time you have to have a huge FIGHT to gain access, as a person who is struggling, you feel that those places are not for you. That's something that we can't fix with classes and low cost tech because it's a cultural issue.
So, the good news is that I'm seeing more people with technology that they know how to use, more people being able to solve their own technological problems but I'm also seeing a lot of people who feel that online spaces are not "for them" or who don't feel that if they have a problem with something technologically (facebook privacy settings, all the stuff on gmail that is hard if you have a shaky hand or a poor memory) that they have the toolkit to solve it.
It's challenging because there's not a huge infrastructure (yet?) for helping people past this and having people being able to find their spaces and ensuring them that those spaces are FOR THEM.
Bigger topic than just this response, but I see it narrowing in some places as it widens in others.
How has your experience as a Justice of the Peace the last few years changed your perception of and relationship with your town?
I've gotten a lot more aware of all the scutwork it takes to run a town and how much it is, or should be, everyone's responsibility.
Like I can marry people but I also need to count votes at election times and serve on a few town boards which is really hard work. People who think their house is assessed too high come to us and appeal. And as much as I'd like to say to them "Hey we'll just lower the assessment!" it means that everyone else's taxes would go up (by a teeny bit) if we did that because it takes a fixed amount of $$ to run a town, pay for schools and snowplows. I always sort of knew that but seeing more of the numbers, more of the time, and the human faces behind them has made me more thoughtful about some of my earlier knee-jerk responses about how people should run governments.
How long did it take until Google took your town out of the lake?
WAY longer than it should have. Like ... two or three months. And this was after several more months of clicking "report a problem" which, no surprise, did nothing. Here's the song I wrote
Do you have a stance on net neutrality and how would you continue your work in a non net-neutral world?
I'm optimistic that we'll be able to maintain, at least somewhat, the net neutrality that we have. I honestly don't know, if the decision had gone the other way, what I'd be doing. Like, I have a Kindle but I hacked it and use it for getting books from Open Library and never pay Amazon a dime. So I assume there will always be alternative paths that people can use that will mostly work (using encryption, Tor, what have you) but I wonder sometimes what would happen to the general patroon privacy ideals of the library if we're forced into a world without Net Neutrality. I think for now keeping the pressure on is the biggest thing.
Hi Jessamyn -
I work for a small academic library that is struggling with budget cuts, reduced staffing, and difficulty finding our voice on campus. How do initiatives like the Open Library benefit public and academic libraries that are struggling to stay afloat in the 21st century?
I'm not sure. I mean at a basic level we have resources (The Archive offers decent cost scanning services to libraries, but I am not a shill for them) but I think what might be most helpful is us being out in front of digitization/sharing initiatives and saying "We think it's okay to share your collections out in this way and we're taking some risk to do this" Money is just difficult particularly on a campus where people may feel the library is ... an older institution. One thing we do that is useful maybe not for libraries but as a model, is aggressive stats collecting, not about users personally but in aggregate. We know what people are reading, how long they read it for, how many loans we have, and we publicize the heck out of that.
I think there are some trends with bigger libraries that are not only still relevant but also sort of unique. Knowing what students are reading (again, not in the private way but in the aggregate) and knowing how the resources of the school are being used, data collection about this can help the university nominally SAVE money by being smarter about where they put their resources.
At Open Library we're decent about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good (sometimes this means our stuff can be a little... error-laden which is not always great) but I think the model of putting it out there is a good one and might be helpful for libraries that are seen as less agile. There are no easy solutions, we really don't operate under most of the restrictions an actual we-serve-patrons library has, so I'm very hesitant to dive in with suggestions because I think OL should also have more patron facing service which is where our offerings are, to my mind, not where they should be.
Who's a more famous librarian: you or Nancy Pearl? :)
Google says me, for now, but I think if you talk about people who actually had a JOB as a LIBRARIAN it would definitely be her. I mean she's really a librarian's librarian and a huge role model for me.
How does a "librarian" achieve fame? Like, are you what all librarians hope to be? Or are there other famous ones?
Well famous in this case has a lot to do with having been on the internet for a long time and lots of people knowing who I am. But realistically I'm not famous for librarianing, I'm well known because I've done a lot of things and people find them interesting.
There are many well-known librarians within the profession who are hard working and just get the job done but are not famous in the larger world (Thomas Mann, Sandy Berman, Maureen Sullivan, Loriene Roy, Michael Golrick, the #critlib team, Robert Karatsu, just to name some top of the head examples) and the profession is, honestly, mostly built on them. I think we both need each other. I have a larger idea that the profession needs a STAY/ROAM sort of thing, Most people need to stay, do their jobs well, be good people and be ethical purveyors of information. And then there needs to be people who travel (online and elsewhere) to talk about the good works these people do and get wider exposure for their ideas.
How do you think Metafilter has changed in the past 5 (or 10, or 15) years? What positive changes have there been, and what worrying changes have you seen?
I think the community is huge so you can't know everyone. The community is also split so different subsites have their own flavor more than they used to. I think there's less emphasis on getting along and more on (sometimes) getting away with things. I think after I left and some longtime ankle biters got banned, things changed but only a little. I dislike the MeTa queue but I know why they have it. I think there is a very small group of very vocal people who want MeFi to be different than it is and I think the site is having some trouble with expectation-setting in that regard. I still hang out there all the time but I'm a lot less likely to dig into a complex back and forth there now and more likely to step in, try to say my peace and then move on.
> that is one of the larger concerns about tech vs info that I think needs to be picked apart more critically.
would you mind talking more about this? i work in a library and we are really struggling with how to aggregate information from all of the dozens of different publishers and databases we deal with, none of whom have any incentive to de-silo their information or encourage discovery from outside their own website. it's difficult for users and very difficult for us to keep track of our many thousands of electronic resources which are constantly changing. honestly it seems to me that with ebooks and e-journals, in many ways things have got worse in dealing with publishers. i imagine this is part of what you're talking about, i'd love to hear some ideas on what to do about this, or if you could point me at some other resources. thanks.
I have no idea, it's really frustrating. I think starting with use cases "Our users want to be able to aggregate searching between you and the other person we buy databases from..." is good but ultimately it's maybe being clear with higher-ups that you have to have staff specifically dedicated to this bullshit which would be totally unnecessary if the world were more open access or if the publishers would work together. Like, why isn't there an Overdrive for database stuff so that you could have a third party there basically aggregating stuff for which you had a license. It's incredibly frustrating but I feel like JSTOR and Elsevier really feel like they're going to come out on top and be the One Big Company and so they have no incentive to change.
I really wish I knew because it's one of THE most challenging things facing librarianship today, this shift to digital content and crappy companies who have really difficult ways of getting at it. We can't aggregate which is more and more what users want, we need to find ways to put pressure on publishers but I'm not sure if I know how. Maybe get the National Federation for the Blind to sue them? Head scratcher.
What IS a librarian?
I understand from the article what you are doing. But what makes someone a librarian?
There are a few things that I think most librarians share. That said there are many different sorts of librarians and not all are public-facing or good with technology but this is just what I see among the people I interact with.
For me it was being surprised and happy that I could do the activist work I wanted (surrounding privacy, technology, anti-capitalism) within a framework where that was mostly ok and find like-minded people to work with. It's not for everyone. Things more move slowly than in the tech world. The pay isn't great. The status thing is practically a joke. But it's a chummy group, as a professional group, and there's no other group of people that I'd rather be with than a group of librarians.
What are your thoughts on public libraries hiring public health nurses and social workers?
It's on the rise in the US and some librarians are emphatically for it, while others seem to think it's scope creep and we don't have any business offering social services. I personally think of it more as hiring the right kind of information expert to help patrons with complex questions around health.
I don't think so much as they need to hire them directly (i.e. we give library money to nurses) but that they find ways to work together proactively for the general health of the community. So the $$$ thing is always difficult but libraries have public space that is for everyone and so them leveraging that any way they can (as a meeting space, as a safe space for people to get together, as a place where you could have incidental contact with people needing social services) seems like a natural fit. We've seen it really doing great things in a lot of places and so just like I think seeing social workers working with police so that the police gain skills in working with people with mental illnesses (you know so they don't shoot them) you can see that in libraries where people in need of services who might never make it into a doctor's office could, for example, get a flu shot. Good for that person and good for the overall health of the community. All the library does is make an introduction and offer space, but there are also grant opportunities for public service agencies working together and it makes sense that the library be part of that equation.
I'm passionate about libraries and open-access and libraries' role in international development. I'm applying to iSchools and library schools for next fall.
Do you know any people who's work I should be following who are big into libraries in developing countries? (I'm somewhat familiar with EIFL, IFLA, Beyond Access, and Room to Read)
Do you have any advice about library school? Or know which school might be the best place to emphasize international libraries? (I've considered a dual-Master's but not sure about money...)
IFLA is huge and within IFLA there are groups that are more narrow focused than others, [FAIFE] (http://www.ifla.org/about-faife) for example. I'm skeptical about some of the work done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation domestically but I think their [Global Libraries] (http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Development/Global-Libraries) project is worth watching. The [Social Responsibilities Round Table] (http://libr.org/srrt/) of ALA has an international bent and a social justice approach which has always appealed to me. There may be a local chapter in your state.
The nbig deal about library school for me is to go into as little debt as possible because the jobs don't pay well. And unless you are going into high status librarianship (big publics or big academics) most schools are more or less the same and it's the work experience and the attitue that matter the most. Good luck.
I'm pretty plugged into the scene at LC, and while I agree that Mao's a good choice (for one thing he's a trained librarian with a better sense of a library's mission as a result), the general criticism against him and Robert Newlen (the Chief of Staff for those unaware) is that they're not ready for this level of administrative duties. After all, Mao was "just" head of the Law Library a few months ago. What's your thoughts on their general lack of experience at that level?
Yeah he is super new but I think especially with the term limits, that you could give him a chance to grow into it and hire some people to help him with the stuff that isn't his wheelhouse which was Billington's thing. I'm concerned that he's just not "high status" enough to keep the James Madison Council ponying up $$ and that may be their real fear.
In your HTML class, what have been the most useful/valuable questions (and your responses to them)?
Thanks very much for doing this AMA! Happy Thanksgiving!
The most challenging thing about the class has been the idea that a lot of coding in HTML/CSS is not the code but it's the troubleshooting So students ask why a thing isn't working and a great deal of learning happens when they have to figure it out.... learning to use tools (like validators) learning to see like a machine (one missing semi-colon can tank everything) and learning to not be overconfident about their own abilities but confident in their abilities to figure things out.
How do you deal with the paparazzi?
By living in Vermont.
What advice do you have for new librarians looking to find a job in the field? I'm about to graduate from an MLIS program and know for sure that there are more qualified grads than there are jobs.
It's a mess. The big deal is to make sure you can figure out, for yourself, what makes you special and an asset to a library.
Also think about jobs that might not be exactly in your field but that you are qualified for, make the case that you are the right person.
What are your thoughts on libraries and the future of VR?
(and maybe let's pretend for a moment that Second Life never happened—more interested to hear about your take on all the new GearVR/Oculus/HTC Vive stuff coming out in the next year or so)
I feel like once they get the tech working in a nice way it's going to open up a lot of great options for people who like to organize information. I think augmented reality is going to be a big thing but we haven't seen a killer app OR a killer device yet. Like Google Glass was close but not right and some of that was JUST because of decisions made by Google, nothing inherent in the tech itself.
It's all really space age from where I sit in Vermont but I can really see how as we move more and more into Big Data, having an open way to interact with that stuff is going to be a big part of being able to continue to be a functioning democracy.
I think you mean 10 year terms, renewable.
Wise choice not fighting Schloss. He's got Drive-in Movie level Kung Fu. And King level floor work.
Do you have ideas for how these publishers can make the money they want without extorting and crippling users? Does the DRM actually increase their profit, or is it counterproductive, knee-jerk protectionism?
Also, Giant Panda or Red Panda?
A panda to have in my house, or one to fight? I could never fight a panda.
I look at iTunes as an example of DRM that doesn't make everyone furious. I mean someone people will hate DRM no matter what but for most of the rest of humanity, if it doesn't ruin their lives they can make their peace with it. So have it
I don't know the $$$ on DRM but my gut feeling is that it creates a new level of people who get paid to work for publishers (as we are losing other layers of people because of digitzation, etc) and it's creating an oogyboogy man out of "piracy!" that I think is a much smaller actual cost loss for people than they think.
Just looking, for example, on the changes that Adobe wanted to make to their DRM it's like Keurig 2.0 it's a fundamentally flawed idea that could only have occurred to someone who basically doesn't do real user testing. I mean look at the "data collection concern" in this article. WTF Adobe.
Can a mossarium really stay totally sealed and alive for a long period?
YES, it's super weird sounding to me too but I have ones that (slowly) generate gases that pop a little when you open them and there are living plants in there.
Thanks for answering! Somehow I always thought you had a cat...
I had one a long time ago. P. Zesto was also a great cat.
This book list is Art Garfunkel wonderful: I wish I started one like that years ago
The code for this rinkydink little app is available on Google Code.
Do you consider your moderation time at mefi a success?
Not a question:
I just wanted to let you know that while you were super-active on that other website (mefi) ... your comments of basic feminism taught me how far out of whack I am with feminism.
You would write simple things about men that would make me so angry that I would get away from the computer. When I finally got around to re-reading what you wrote ... I'd see that you were right time after time after time ... and that my misogyny/chauvinism has a tighter hold on me than I thought. So thank you for upsetting me so many times.
I was happy with the time I put in at MeFi though I sort of wish I had left not at the center of a big $$ crisis. I put up with more shit there than I should have and it's only seeing the site now, a year or two later, that I see what the mods are doing and think "I helped" I think they have their work cut out for them because I think the site is shifting and I think there are mods who are more and less attentive but yeah I enjoyed the time I spent there and I still hang out there.
ok i'll be the one to ask it: how do libraries remain relevant in 2015 and beyond?
I think they need to figure out what skills that are unique and particular to librarians overlap with what people are looking for and then promote, publicize and maybe reinvent themselves. Some examples
unbiased access to information - you can get it at the library, for free but people don't really understand what this means or why they should care. Libraries can and should call bullshit on more corporate control of messages that are important (elections are a classic one) but they are sometimes not out in front enough for people to realize this.
the public is EVERYONE and that is an important message in a country that nominally considers themselves a democracy. How do you promote that idea without calling people snobs who basically don't like the public? It's a challenging question.
I think we see libraries doing it right all the time, but if they're doing their job right they don't have to prove it, they just continue to exist and continue to be awesome. I think sometimes we spend too much time arguing about our relevance and less time just mic dropping about how completely amazing it is that we have these free sharing institutions operating under the nose of people who would much prefer to be selling things to people, that's sort of cool.
Does it bother you that Flynn Carsen gets to do all of the traveling instead of you?
Yes. But not as much as every time I see that show and I see that all the books on the shelves are just ... bound law books mostly.
Hi Jessamyn, welcome to reddit, I'm a fan...
Do you think metafilter's current hard-left posture, the incessant racial and gender outrage and slagging of "privileged" white males may have driven moderate and conservative voices off the site? Also...
Why is it, when people over there don't like something, sooner or later someone will call it "weird"?
I call everything weird including this question. We don't really have a first-principle agreement on your premises about MeFi. I see plenty of moderate voices there, they're just not always as loud. I think if you exclude entirely-optional MetaTalk the site isn't really that left leaning but I feel that it is trying to be decently welcoming to new users and I think it espouses a philosophy about power dynamics in online conversation that are orthogonal to the mainstream conversation. People call that hard-left but I really don't see it being moderated as if the site is run on hard-left principles.