Michael Gorman vs Blogosphere

Well, the ALA President_Elect has certainly stuck his foot in an orifice with his recent comments on blogs and bloggers in Library Journal. He’s getting feedback from all over the ‘net, including Instapundit and Slashdot, arguable the two most read blogs in the world. LISNews has covered it, of course, and it’s all the rage on the various library listservs that I’m subscribed to. Other places of note: Jessamyn, Karen Schneider, and FrazzledDad. EDIT: More great stuff from Jessamyn. FURTHER EDIT: Here’s Metafilter’s take on it, with comments from all over.

Gorman’s response is that it was supposed to be satirical. Here are just a couple of noteworthy quotes from his “satirical” writing:

Until recently, I had not spent much time thinking about blogs or Blog People…I had heard of the activities of the latter and of the absurd idea of giving them press credentials (though, since the credentials were issued for political conventions, they were just absurd icing on absurd cakes). I was not truly aware of them until shortly after I published an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times (“Google and God’s Mind,” December 17, 2004).

Yeah…press credentials. Absurd idea. Bloggers have had no real impact on news stories this year or anything. Much less bloggers covering political conventions. And don’t get me started about his comments on Google from the article that is mentioned above. He’s as profoundly mistaken about that as he is about blogging. I hope that he’s aware that Google and OCLC are working together, and that Google can point people to libraries in order to find the book they need.

It turns out that the Blog People (or their subclass who are interested in computers and the glorification of information) have a fanatical belief in the transforming power of digitization and a consequent horror of, and contempt for, heretics who do not share that belief.

I’ll admit that his use of “Blog People” instead of the correct term, “blogger” might be support for his claim of satire. It just comes across sounding condescending. And I’ll be proud to count myself in the numbers of those that “have a fanatical belief in the transforming power of digitization and a consequent horror of, and contempt for, heretics who do not share that belief.” Many, many people have shown that digitization changes everything about access to information. It democratizes information, it allows for nearly costless access to information that previously would be impossible to use, it allows for transformative uses that no one ever considered before…I’m again just befuddled at his lack of understanding of the power of this stuff. It comes across like the people who, upon the invention of the telephone, couldn’t begin to understand why people would ever use one (originally it was thought that telephones would be used for educational and entertainment..piping in lessons or music to the home).

Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs. In that case, their rejection of my view is quite understandable.

Clearly Mr. Gorman is not particularly familiar with Sturgeon’s Law, because if he was he would know that given the quality of writing of ANYTHING, 90% of it is terrible. As well, Jessamyn points out that this seems to imply that we’re all running to random places and soaking it all in as the One Truth. Yes, lots of blogs are terrible. But if you actually use some information literacy skills and seperate the wheat from the chafe, you end up with the ability to stay current on much, much more than was ever before possible. RSS and aggregators are intrinsically changing the way that information is presented, filtered, and absorbed. Failure to realize this fact will leave someone like Mr. Gorman happily fiddling while Rome burns around him.

Finally, my favorite comment from the Slashdot conversation on this debacle:

A blog is a species of interactive electronic diary by means of which the unpublishable, untrammeled by editors or the rules of grammar, can communicate their thoughts via the web.

If the President of the ALA has such a low opinion of bloggers, perhaps his organization should stop giving so many major awards to them.

I think what he actually meant to say was something along the lines of:

“A blog is a species of interactive electronic diary by means of which the unpublishable — except for ALA literary award winners such as Orson Scott Card [ornery.org] or Neil Gaiman [neilgaiman.com] or Sherwood Smith [livejournal.com] or David Brin [blogspot.com] or Jane Yolen [janeyolen.com] or Dianne Duane [blogspot.com] or, oh, bugger, you know, all those other ALA award-winning authors who also blog, not that I want to imply that ALA award-winning librarians who blog, like Kathleen de la Peña McCook [blogspot.com], are bad either, and oh, yeah, I definitely don’t want to seem to be criticizing PLABlog [plablog.org], the brand new blog of the Public Library Association [pla.org], especially not when we put out a nifty little press release [ala.org] crowing about it, just last month, because that would look pretty stupid, now, wouldn’t it — er, um, what was I saying, again?”

EVEN FURTHER EDIT: So people are now digging up different quotes that Gorman has made in different publications about blogging/bloggers. Here’s one found by Rachel Singer Gordon on the NEXTGEN list:

“Unfortunately, if there are writers of genius, or talent, or even basic competence out there blogging, I have yet to find them. In the early heady days of the Internet, we were promised that, in the future, everyone could be published. Alas, that promise is being fulfilled, which should remind us all to be wary of what we wish for” (Our Own Selves: More Meditations for Librarians. Chicago: ALA, 2005:208).

And this guy is an example of a librarian that the rest of the world is going to use to judge our profession. *sigh*

7 thoughts on “Michael Gorman vs Blogosphere

  1. Nice re-design, btw …

    I do have a bit of a nit to pick, but it has nothing to do with Gorman or blogs.

    You said:

    Many, many people have shown that digitization changes everything about access to information. It democratizes information, it allows for nearly costless access to information that previously would be impossible to use, it allows for transformative uses that no one ever considered before…

    I enthusiatically agree with the last clause and I willingly acknowledge most of the first sentence. But some of that middle section makes me cock an eyebrow in a Spock-like fashion. Digitization can democratize information, it does allow for greater, broader and for the end user, cheaper access to information [my cynical side says that very little information is truly free and it’s more a question of how much gets subsidized, and whether the costs spread across a given community, but that’s what I get for hanging out with special librarians].

    I suppose my point (other than the one on top of my head) is that the devil is in the details when it comes to digitization, particularly in the current climate. There are many and great benefits to the process, but not all of them are automatic. Digitizing content doesn’t help people on the other side of the digital divide get to it, our current copyright climate encourages content owners to make material less available for the exercise of fair use rights (and first sale seems to be a dead issue entirely for digital material) and on the whole, it’s about as easy to lock down or “disappear” digital content as it is to do the same with “analog” works. And I have a one-word example for you: Elsevier.

    So while there was a lot I found questionable/dubious or was plain indifferent to in Gorman’s original editorial, there’s tons of reasonable, serious and thought-provoking questions to be asked about the Google deals and other digi projects. Which I know you know, but I just wanted to remind you, you know?

  2. It’s funny that this is just hitting some of us now, when the article was written over 2 months ago. How did this miss us? I know NexGen just heard about it – I was shocked when I read that thread today. That was the second thing I was going to post about today, but Justin’s rules of blogging got first priority (j/k Justin).

  3. I think the guy’s point is that if everyone gets to publish in our vast electronic world, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish the execptional voice of a generation or at least niche, from all the people who just want a place to trade Doom stories.

    Do “bloggers” in general deserve consideration for press credentials (the original argument)? No. Do some — those who are actual journalists with mass audiences and no interest in Doom stories — heck yeah.

    Just because you can publish a website (or in some cases follow the step-by-step instructions to creating your “own” blog) doesn’t mean you’re important enough to be considered relevant.

    Belive me … I should know.

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