Digital Culture Library Issues

More Fun with Michael Gorman

Well, we’ve already seen what Gorman (the President-Elect of the American Library Association) thinks of blogs and the blog people. Now we get his comments on Google and the Google Digitization Project in the latest issue of American Libraries.


To the quotes!

Since scholarly books are, with few exceptions, intended to be read cumulatively and not consulted for snippets of information, making those that are out of copyright available by means of a notoriously fallible search engine seems to be, at best, a misallocation of resources.

At best a misallocation of resource? It appears that Gorman believes that people are interested in the Google Dig project in order to find primary materials for research. While that might be ONE reason for something like the GDP, it certainly doesn’t strike me as the way it will popularly be used. I see the GDP being used as a quick and easy way to find quotes, to locate books when all you have is a quote (how many times have reference librarians had to spend hours figuring out where famous quote from scholar X came from?), to do intertextual comparisons that are simply not possible with print resources (I see massive digitization projects like GDP as potentially the biggest innovation in linguistic/pattern related text study ever), and yes, sometimes, to serve as a quick and easy method for those that are not near a library that has access to these works to read them.

And I really want to know what his justification for the “notoriously fallible” line is. That’s just incredibly sloppy writing, to make a judgement like that and not back it up. Then again, it appears that’s what Gorman is really good at, given his last couple of publications.

Any user of Google knows that it is pathetic as an information-retrieval system — utterly lacking in both recall and precision, the essential criteria for efficiency in such systems.

Utterly lacking? Utterly lacking?

At this point I just want to know what planet Gorman has been on for the last 5-7 years.

Google is by far the best search engine on the Internet, indexing and making searchable over, at the time of this posting, 8,058,044,651 web pages. That’s EIGHT BILLION pages. Mr. Gorman…I would love to see your suggestions for a better way to index 8 Billion pieces of disparate information.

Statements like that only show how out of touch Gorman is with the reality of information seekers.

Also, no amount of “research on search engines” is going to overcome the fundamental fact that free-text searching is inherently inferior to controlled-vocabulary systems….Google is supposed to have complex algorithms but still produces piles of rubbish for almost all searches.

And speaking of out of touch with information seekers…Mr. Gorman, there is a reason that our patrons want our OPACs to be “google easy” to use. It’s because Google, as far as the only audience that matters (the patron) gets them the information they need without the need for them to become experts in a controlled vocabulary. Would it be great if everyone memorized LoC subject headings and used them to search for what they need? Possibly. But that will never happen, and in the meantime while we’re waiting on that, full-text searches are the way people find information.

I can only guess again that Gorman actually means something like “Google produces piles of rubbish for specific kinds of searches that I can’t bother to deliniate right now” because it is a demonstrable fact that Google does provide good results. Want to know what demonstrates that? The fact that everyone uses it. The fact that it’s a freaking verb at this point in time. Heck, I can produce excellent results for Google searches, and I don’t try very hard. I have not yet had Google let me down when I need a factual answer to some question (and contrary to Mr. Gorman’s unspoken assumptions, that is what most people are after…random facts).

I can’t describe how disappointed I am in the President-Elect of the ALA. He’s not only come across as petulant and out of touch in his writings, but has repeatedly denegrated technologies that are useful and, in Google’s case, necessary for information seeking at this point in history. For someone who is supposed to be leading the ALA, it appears that his leadership might be in directions that most newer librarians aren’t very happy with. We already have to swim against the current of the established order of things in Library Land. Gorman is simply adding fuel to the fire of the next generation of librarians to come along and revolutionize our understanding of information seeking and gathering.

EDIT: A bit of conversation going on re: this topic over at

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

One reply on “More Fun with Michael Gorman”

Oh, lordy.

Where to start? I think I would counter his criticisms of Google as a search engine thus: “Okay, Mr. Gorman – show me a better tool. Now show me a non-librarian using it effectively.”

(…crickets chirping…)


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